I generally follow a healthy lifestyle and, as far as possible, turn to natural products or treatments when I’m feeling unwell. I’m not a doctor, homeopath, or dietician, but since I’m fascinated by the workings of the human body, I’ve done much research on its functioning and ways to ensure that my body is running optimally. Those who know me well are aware of my keen interest in our wondrous human body and how to treat it with the care it deserves, so I am often asked for recommendations on what can be used to ease various ailments or symptoms. I simply share the knowledge I’ve gleaned from research, personal experiences, and success stories of others who have benefited from a natural remedy or lifestyle change.
The most recent request I received was to write an article about menopause relief. Although I don’t yet have much personal experience to back me on this topic, I have conducted a fair amount of research on this natural occurrence in a woman’s body and would like to share an overview on menopause and how to relieve some of the uncomfortable symptoms more naturally.
What exactly is menopause?
A natural decline in a women’s reproductive hormones begins to happen as she reaches her 40s and 50s. It can also occur before or after this age range.
Although, it is important to note that there are different stages within menopause. Menopause is signalled when a woman hasn’t had her period for a full year but perimenopause occurs before menopause. This is marked by a drop in the main female hormone produced by the ovaries – oestrogen, which can result in irregular periods and a range of other symptoms. Both stages have different symptoms and treatment options. Some women experience abnormal symptoms, which should be discussed with their gynaecologist or doctor. For instance, if a woman has not had her period for a full year and then starts bleeding, she should consult with her medical practitioner as this could indicate a serious health problem such as cancer.
Let’s not forget about premenopause. This is often used interchangeably with perimenopause, but technically they’re not the same thing. Premenopausal women have no symptoms of perimenopause or menopause. In other words, in the premenopausal stage, you still have periods, whether regular or not. You are also considered to be in your reproductive years. Hormonal changes are taking place, but no noticeable changes will be experienced.
Those who experience perimenopause may start to experience menopausal symptoms such as changes in their cycle, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and those notorious hot flashes. This can happen long before a woman officially hits menopause, some research indicating hormonal changes occurring between 8 and 10 years ahead of menopause. These changes happening in women during their 30s and 40s, which can occur even before the onset of perimenopause.
As a woman reaches the final stages of perimenopause, her body will produce less and less oestrogen. This hormone not only regulates the menstrual cycle, but also affects various parts of the body, such as the reproductive system, urinary tract, heart, blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain. However, it is important to remember that despite the drop in oestrogen it is still possible for her to fall pregnant. Perimenopause can last from a couple of months to 4 years. Eventually, the ovaries will produce so little oestrogen, causing a halt in the release of eggs. This then causes a woman’s menstrual cycle to cease. In some instances, menopause is induced by surgery to remove the ovaries and related pelvic structures. Menopause can also be induced by injury of these female organs.
Symptoms of perimenopause and menopause
Most women focus on the symptoms of menopause above all else but a variety of changes can be experienced during this transition.
As your oestrogen levels drop, menopausal symptoms might be experienced. Some of them can also occur while you’re still at the perimenopausal stage, such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, dry skin, fatigue, mood swings, irritability, depression, anxiety, vaginal dryness, and frequent urination. In some women, perimenopause causes an increase in cholesterol levels. This being one of the reasons why postmenopausal women are at a higher risk for heart disease. Therefore, postmenopausal women need to have their cholesterol levels measured annually, at least.
You will need to call your doctor if you experience spotting after your period, blood clots during your period, periods that are much longer or shorter than normal, and if you experience bleeding after intercourse. Possible reasons for these occurrences may simply be hormonal imbalances or fibroids, both of which are treatable. Sometimes, the reason can be more serious and you want to rule out cancer as the cause. Also, if the symptoms of perimenopause or menopause are so severe that they interfere with daily living you should contact your doctor.
Some common complications may occur as a result of menopause, such as dyspareunia or painful intercourse, vulvovaginal atrophy, slower metabolic function, weaker bones with reduced mass and strength, osteoporosis, cataracts, mood or sudden emotional changes, periodontal disease, heart or blood vessel disease, and urinary incontinence. Consult your doctor if you experience any of these complications.
Men, listen up – you too can suffer from menopausal symptoms later in life. Male menopause is known as andropause, the symptoms being very similar to those of female menopause, such as depression, fatigue, rapid ageing, irritability, sweating, body aches, flushing, and decreased sexual performance. Research has shown that andropause is real and linked to the decreasing levels of the male sex hormone, testosterone. There are a few factors that contribute to decreasing levels of testosterone in men, although it is still a bit of a mystery as to why this happens. Factors that may contribute to this are drinking too much alcohol, stress, and overheating of the testes.
Chemicals in the environment, called xeno-oestrogens, have actions similar to those of oestrogen, which are anti-androgenic, thus blocking the action of testosterone. Xeno-oestrogens are found in a range of products from pesticides to plastics. Although many of these chemicals have been banned, there are still residues found in the food chain. However, it is yet unclear as to what extent the average intake of pesticide residues is contributing to decreasing levels of testosterone in men.
Since testosterone is made in the body by cholesterol, diets very low in cholesterol can also lower testosterone levels. Vitamin E, which has high antioxidant properties, may help to protect valuable cholesterol from being damaged. If a man suspects he is suffering from andropause, it is best to test for testosterone deficiency and only, if necessary, correcting it with testosterone implants or creams. Eating optimally and supplementing appropriately is also recommended.
Perimenopause and menopause relief
There is a range of prescription and over the counter medications you can take to ease your symptoms. However, since there are many risks associated with hormone replacement therapy, I’m going to focus only on the alternative sources of relief such as natural remedies and lifestyle changes.
- Stay cool
To help manage those hot flashes where you may experience a rise in body temperature in the top part of your body, or red and blotchy skin, perspiration caused by the rush of heat, heart palpitations, and even dizziness, try staying cool and comfortable. You can do this by wearing loose, layered clothing, especially at night and during unpredictable weather. Some women feel cold after the hot flash has passed, so layers are a good idea. To reduce the chances of night sweats, keep your bedroom cool and avoid heavy blankets and duvets. If you experience regular night sweats, consider using a waterproof sheet to protect your mattress. Carrying a portable fan around will also assist in keeping you cool when you feel flushed. Lying on wet sheets during the hot summer months will quickly act as a cooling aid too. Some women have also found that hot flashes respond well to acupuncture.
- Manage sleep issues
Consider natural sleeping aids such as melatonin or cherry juice. If you regularly have trouble sleeping that is affecting your daily life, consult your doctor to assist in managing the problem so that you get a better night’s sleep. It’s important to get enough rest, which may seem impossible if you suffer from insomnia. A relaxing activity, such as gentle stretching, yoga, or taking a warm bath may also help you sleep better. Try to avoid napping during the day as this can interfere with your ability to sleep at night. Avoid caffeine at night and only have limited quantities during the day, preferably in the morning.
- Supplement your diet
Take calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D supplements. Not only will they help to reduce your risk for osteoporosis, but they will also improve your sleep and enhance your energy levels. Many women also respond well to small amounts of natural progesterone used as a cream, which is available on prescription from your doctor.
- Exercising and weight management
Exercising moderately for approximately 20 to 30 minutes daily can help to increase your energy (never underestimate the power of endorphins), improve your mood, promote your general well-being, promote a better night’s sleep, and believe it or not, even hot flashes. It is also important to reduce your calorie intake to help manage your weight and avoid eating large meals. Many women experience weight gain during menopause which can be due to a combination of ageing, changing hormones, genetics, and lifestyle. Excess body fat increases your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, especially gaining excess weight around the waist. Carrying excess body weight may also worsen menopause symptoms. A research study has indicated that women who lost approximately 4.5 kg of weight or 10% of their body weight over a year were more likely to eliminate hot flashes and night sweats. Therefore, achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight may reduce your chances of developing diseases and reduce menopausal symptoms.
- Drink beneficial juices
Here are some juicing ideas to ensure you’re consuming enough of the necessary nutrients to help alleviate or prevent menopausal symptoms: Spinach, asparagus, and kiwi fruit – sources of vitamin E; Kale, collard greens, and parsley – sources of calcium; Orange, tomato, cabbage, and grapefruit – sources of bioflavonoids; Collard greens, parsley, and blackberry – sources of magnesium. Juicing these fruits and vegetables first thing in the morning is a great way to start your day.
- Practising relaxation and breathing techniques
There is a range of relaxation and breathing techniques you can enjoy to help you to feel calm and relaxed, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, and box breathing. Also, if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you may like to try visiting places that calm you, be it sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean, a gentle stroll in the forest, sitting in a park watching children play, or lying on a lush lawn. Find unique ways that work for you. Some women find that doing breathing exercises during a hot flash minimises it.
- Talk to someone
Some women suffer severe anxiety and depression during these transitional changes in their lives. Talk to a counsellor or psychologist about your feelings of sadness, isolation, depression, mood swings, anxiety, insomnia, and even identity changes you may experience due to this life change. It is also important to share your feelings with family members, friends, and loved ones so that they are aware of your challenges and needs.
- Take care of your skin and hair
Avoid things that dry out or irritate your skin, such as excessive suntanning or swimming. Apply a daily moisturiser to reduce skin dryness. Try not to use heavy chemicals on your hair as some of the products on the market can make your hair brittle and worsen hair loss.
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol use
Exposure to cigarette smoke and secondhand smoke can worsen your symptoms. It’s best to stop smoking and limit your exposure to secondhand smoke. Alcohol can also worsen symptoms, so consider limiting your alcohol intake as heavy drinking can increase your health concerns during menopause.
- Avoid trigger foods
Common trigger foods include caffeine, sugar, and spicy foods. Some foods may trigger hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. It’s important to keep a symptom diary and also note if your symptoms are worse at certain times of the day. If you find that certain foods trigger your symptoms more than others, it’s best to limit or avoid eating them altogether. Research suggests that diets high in processed and refined carbohydrates are linked to depleted bone health and a higher risk of depression in postmenopausal women.
- Natural supplements
Soya, vitamin E, flaxseed, isoflavone, omega-3 fatty acids, prebiotics, probiotics, and black cohosh are a few other natural supplements and nutrients that may help reduce menopause symptoms caused by oestrogen deficiency. Maca root may also help alleviate menopausal symptoms, some animal studies suggesting that maca can help to protect bone health. Traditionally, it has been used to enhance fertility and sex drive. Some claims indicate that it improves energy and stamina too. I can personally account for some of the benefits of taking maca. I was low on energy recently and after approximately 10 days of taking extra strength maca capsules, I felt a marked difference in my energy levels.
If you’re interested in finding out more about these supplements or would like to purchase them, you can do so here.
- Eat vitamin-and mineral-rich foods
Dairy products like yoghurt, milk, and cheese are calcium-rich. Calcium is also plentiful in green, leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collard greens as well as in sardines, tofu, and beans. Calcium-fortified foods such as certain cereals, fruit juice or milk alternatives are also good sources.
Our main source of vitamin D is sunlight as your skin produces it when exposed to the sun. However, as we age, our skin becomes less efficient in producing it. If you don’t go out into the sun much or cover your skin when outdoors, it is important to either take a supplement or increase your vitamin D food sources by including eggs, oily fish, cod liver oil, and other foods fortified with vitamin D in your diet. Remember that a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D may prevent osteoporosis than can occur during menopause.
Be sure to eat lots of fruit and vegetables to help prevent menopause symptoms. They’re also low in calories and fill you, so help with weight management. They may aid in preventing several diseases, including heart disease which is important as the risk of heart disease increases after menopause.
Since phytoestrogens are naturally occurring plant compounds that can mimic the effects of oestrogen on the body and may help to balance hormones, you may want to consider increasing your consumption of these foods. In Asian countries, such as Japan, few menopausal women suffer from hot flashes. It is believed that it is because they consume a large amount of food high in phytoestrogens, such as soya beans, soy products, tofu, flaxseeds, linseeds, sesame seeds, tempeh, and beans. Although the evidence is mixed in this regard, it is suggested that real food sources of phytoestrogens are a better option than supplements or processed foods with added soya protein.
A decrease in oestrogen levels can cause mucus membranes to dry up. Therefore, during menopause women may experience dryness. It is important to consume 8 to 12 glasses of water daily to help reduce these symptoms. Hormonal changes can cause bloating and drinking water can reduce this problem too. Since water helps you to feel full, it can also assist in weight loss.
Eat regular meals as irregular eating may worsen some menopause symptoms. Skipping meals may also hinder weight loss in postmenopausal women. A regular intake of high-quality protein, such as meat, fish, legumes, nuts, eggs, and dairy may prevent the loss of lean muscle, help to regulate mood and sleep, and also aid in weight loss.
It has been found that both an improved diet, appropriate supplementation, and regular exercise seem to be the most effective aspects in preventing and alleviating menopausal symptoms. Remember, perimenopause and menopause are transitional phases indicating an end to your reproductive years – a natural cycle of life, not an illness.
Although there are lifestyle changes to be made, not all aspects are negative. Since there are so many available treatments, there is no need to suffer unnecessarily. Experiment with a variety of foods and supplements and use what works best for you.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only. No material contained herein is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment before undertaking a new health care regime, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read.
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Authored by Delilah Nosworthy