Menopause - a journey
“There is no power greater in the world than the zest of a postmenopausal woman”, anthropologist Margaret Mead
Food is Fuel | Sleep is Essential | Movement is Medicine | Stress is Toxic
Menopause signals the end of the reproductive years and a new beginning for women. It is a natural part of our life cycle and for many a positive experience. In many cultures women do not experience any negative symptoms, however the western style diet and lifestyle appears to contribute significantly to debilitating symptoms that can last for many years for some.
Menopause happens in three stages:
- Perimenopause when you still have periods, but they may begin to change and become heavier or lighter and symptoms of hot flushes, etc begin to appear.
- Menopause when ovarian function begins to decline, and periods cease.
- Post-menopause commences 12 months after your last period.
What is Menopause?
- The permanent cessation of menstruation.
- Average age of onset 51 (it can occur as early as 40 and as late as 55)
- Menopause is typically diagnosed after 12 months without a period.
- Menopause can last between two years and eight years - this time is referred to as perimenopause.
- Early onset of menopause can be due to a stressful and toxic environment, smoking, excessive drinking or being severely undernourished.
- Carrying additional weight can delay menopause into the fifties.
- Common symptoms can include: hot flushes; night sweats, mood swings, reduced libido, vaginal dryness, hair loss, forgetfulness, headaches, facial hair, facial wrinkles, muscle loss and tone, insomnia, joints ache, loss of bladder tone resulting in stress incontinence.
Sounds like great fun, but the good news is eating a clean diet, supplementing with specific nutrients, reducing your stress levels, and adopting a healthy approach to life with regular exercise can support your body through this transition and turn it from a negative experience to be endured to a life changing positive one.
Here is what happens
At birth we are born with c.1 million eggs and this drops to c.300,000 to 400,000 at puberty however, only c.400 eggs will mature and be released during ovulation. Scientists estimate the probability of you being born at about one in 400 trillion!!! You are truly a miracle!
Prior to menopause, oestrogen is produced mainly by the ovaries. When menopause approaches, women have very few eggs left and their absence results in a drop in progesterone and oestrogen production. The adrenal glands respond to the falling hormone levels and secrete increased amounts of the male sex hormones, androgens, which are converted to oestrogen by the fat cells. Progesterone plummets completely, which was required during childbirth years to sustain pregnancy. These fluctuating hormones give rise to the menopausal symptoms.
Low Oestrogen symptoms:
- Painful sex due to a lack of vaginal lubrication.
- Susceptible to urinary tract infection (UTIs) as oestrogen maintains the lining of the bladder.
- Irregular or absent periods
- Low mood issues
- Hot flushes
- Tender breasts
- Prone to headaches or migraines
- Feelings of depression
- Problems concentrating
- Tired for no reason.
Low Progesterone symptoms:
- Headaches or migraines
- Mood changes, including anxiety or depression
- Irregularity in menstrual cycle
- Painful and heavy periods.
It is important at this stage to explain the relevance and importance of the toll chronic stress can cause on the transition through menopause and the role of the adrenal glands.
We have two adrenal glands, the size of a grape and located at the top of each kidney, weighting c.5 grams. The glands secrete hormones which are made from cholesterol (a very important hormone) and include:
Aldosterone helps to maintain the body’s salt and water levels and regulates blood pressure. Chronic stress can deplete the production of aldosterone causing the kidneys to lose excessive amounts of salt and water, leading to severe dehydration and low blood pressure.
Cortisol is involved in the response to stress and illness and helps to regulate the body's metabolism. Too much cortisol can cause elevated blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type II diabetes.
Adrenal androgens are produced in large quantities in males and in smaller quantities in females. During menopause androgens are secreted and converted to oestrogen in response to the fall off of oestrogen produced by the ovaries.
The problem with leading a very stressful life is the constant secretion of these stress hormones which can be very toxic to the body. Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include waking at c.4am wired and unable to return to sleep and maybe in a cold sweat, low blood pressure, blood sugar imbalance, difficulty dealing with stressful situations, changes in mood, brain fog and sore, painful knees (Mother Nature's way of slowing us down!).
This adrenal fatigue can often coincide with menopause, and this can result in severe and debilitating menopausal symptoms. Having possibly reared children, maintained a full-time or part-time job, managed a home and all that life entails for many women, when we rock up to menopause the body is often severely depleted and the adrenals are exhausted leading to a difficult transition through menopause.
What can be done
This is an ideal time to to undertake a health assessment to ascertain where your health is at, what imbalances are detectable and to learn about the tools that will facilitate healing and enable your body to be brought back into balance.
Sláinte Wellness Health Assessment
I can't recommend enough the testing that I have been trained to do and how it nearly always reveals the root cause of symptoms presenting. Start your health journey today and take the guess work out of your journey, book in for a full health assessment and together we will go through the various testing of your metabolic function with the support of live and dry blood analysis. The testing will enable us to customise a Health Plan that is unique to you and your needs and enable healing to take place that will support you through this transitory phase of your life.
Food is our fuel and the right diet will give your body all the nutrients it needs to make this transition a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some tips:
- Begin by eliminating all processed foods, sugar, white flour products and minimise alcohol. Instread eat real food, as Mother Nature intended.
- Lemon and water is a great way to start the day to flush out toxins and boost digestion.
- Porridge is a wonderful, nutritious breakfast do ensure to cook on the hob and add in loads of nutrients – nuts and/or peanut butter, fruit, tablespoon of flaxseed oil, collagen and sweeten with some honey.
- Lunch – homemade soup with sourdough bread or a big green salad. Always include a protein in each meal to balance blood sugar levels and slow digestion.
- Dinner – ¼ protein, ¼ carbohydrates and ½ plate of three types of vegetables. Consider swapping two meals a week for a vegetarian/vegan meal.
- Hydration - Weight (kg) / 8 x 0.25 = litres required. Avoid drinking too much with meals as it will dilute your digestive enzymes.
Phytoestrogens for perimenopause and menopause support
Research has shown that Asian women tend to eat far more phytoestrogens and suffer far less with menopausal symptoms than women in the western world. Phytoestrogens have a hormone-regulating effect without increasing the oestrogen levels and particularly helpful to reduce night sweats, hot flushes and anxiety.
Soya contains isoflavones (phytoestrogens) which prevent the harmful effects of oestrogens and xenoestrogens. Isoflavones are also found in chickpeas, soy, lentils, alfalfa, fennel, kidney beans, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp and sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and linseeds (flaxseeds).
Cruciferous vegetables help to protect against oestrogen-sensitive cancers, balance hormones, support the liver to remove excess oestrogen by-products and alleviate menopausal symptoms. Include cabbage, watercress, broccoli, pak choy, Brussels Sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard and turnips.
Other food sources include celery, garlic, grains, fruit (apples, plums and cherries), herbs/spices (sage, fennel, cinnamon), seeds, sprouts.
B Complex – essential for hormone and energy production. Excellent for mood swings, irritability, tension, anxiety, and depression. Ensure the supplement contains minimum 25mg and I prefer to use a supplement with Folate rather than Folic Acid.
Vitamin C – 500mg twice daily. Vitamin C is essential for a healthy immune system to not only fight off viruses and bacteria but also to keep cancer and other diseases in check. Vitamin C can significantly reduce hot flushes, it is required to build capillaries, produce collagen for our bones and it is important to help maintain elasticity in our skin.
Magnesium – 350mg daily. Many of us are deficient in Magnesium, it’s natures relaxing nutrient. It has been scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure, ease tension and eliminate cramps. It is great for insomnia and many other functions in the body. Craving chocolate can indicate a magnesium deficiency.
Omega 3 essential fatty acids – 1,000mg of fish oil (containing 700mg of EPA and 500mg DHA) or if you are vegetarian, I recommend Flaxseed Oil (2-3 tbsps. a day). EFA's are required to nourish the skin, hair and nails, they have anti-inflammatory properties which can help with achy joints and essential for brain function.
There is a lot of information regarding the medicinal effects of herbs and the support they can offer for hormone balancing. It is important to remember that these herbs are not recommended if you are currently taking HRT, as they could affect the efficacy of the medication. If you are on other medications, please ensure to check for contraindications before using herbal medicine.
Dong Quai is a gentle and very effective herb to support oestrogen modulation. It can help ease night sweats, hot flushes, sleep disturbances, vaginal dryness, and fatigue.
Ashwagandha (my favourite for sleep disturbances) this is a great herb to help support your stress response. If you are in a constant state of stress, it can disturb your sleep and you can wake around 4am feeling wired and unable to go back to sleep. Remember, when stress goes up all other systems go down e.g. reproduction, digestion, thyroid, etc.
Black Cohosh has been clinically proven to help reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flushes and night sweats.
Milk Thistle is an important herb to help support the liver which has over 500 functions and essential for detoxification and the removal of old hormones.
Life balance is so important to allow you the time to nourish your soul and reduce your stress. It is similar to the advice given regarding oxygen masks on aeroplanes or trying to run on empty batteries - it just won't work because you will be completely depleted. Here are some tips and recommendations for your lifestyle that are as important as the food you eat and the air you breathe.
Exercise – aim for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day to support your lymphatic system, mental health and overall fitness.
- Exercise helps to manage blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides and fibrinogen.
- Exercise can help keep your weight at a healthy level.
- Exercise can increase bone mass. Strength training and impact activities (like walking or running) can help to offset the decline of bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis and reduce low back pain.
- It is also proven to help reduce stress and improve the mood.
Mindfulness – is about quietening the mind and coming out of your head and thoughts. We can spend our time consumed with worry and anxiety that really won’t change any situation, but it can have a detrimental effect on our stress levels and health. Being mindful means being in the here and now, being aware of what is happening around you and in your body. Take time to breathe, whether it is in the shower or driving the car, sitting for your breakfast or putting your face up to the sun, start making it a daily habit to stop, quieten your mind and breathe.
Sleep – aim for 7 – 8 hours sleep each night and lights out before midnight. It is important to calm the mind before sleep and avoid using screens. Reading is a great way to unwind and relax the mind. A cup of camomile tea and two ashwagandha capsules before bed will help to ensure you have a good and restful sleep.
Sea Swims - if you have access to the sea or a lake, you might consider building a daily dip into your routine. Swimming in the cold water has been scientifically proven to boost mental health and modulate your stress response. It can also have a significant impact on your body temperature that can last throughout the day.
Date night – good healthy relationships are key to good health. This could be with your other half or with the girls but ensure to prioritise time to nurture the relationships in your life.
I hope you find this information of use and remember that the menopause is not a disease or a deficiency but a journey to a different stage in life that has so many benefits and it can encompass a fantastic mind, body, and spiritual journey. Nourishing your body and wellbeing during this transition can provide the perfect environment for you to thrive and grow and enjoy this new you.
Here is what Fiona had to say after attending for a health assessment:
My advice to all women is do not delay, don’t wait for the symptoms to appear, and then wonder is this all part of the process. Take control of your health today and you will reap the benefits into the future.
This blog is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Please seek assistance for any medical concerns.