Menopause is ‘The change’, ‘the climacteric’, ‘the time of life’ call it what you will, it is an unavoidable fact that all women go through the menopause. However, for many women this natural process is a time of anxiety and distress due to the various symptoms that can accompany it. Some menopausal changes can also be brought about by treatments for cancer, including chemotherapy, ovarian ablation and hormone therapy. Whatever their cause you can make things easier.
When your hormones are imbalanced, or you have painful and irregular cycles, and your just not feeling your best as your emotions and anxiety go from being miss angry to miss tearful in a moment, life for you and your family isn't much fun.
The changes that women go through can sometimes be difficult to understand what is happening to them and it isn’t until a conversation with another woman or a GP that menopause is considered.
Why do women go through menopause?
The menopause refers to that time in every woman’s life when her periods stop and her ovaries lose their reproductive function. Usually, this occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the average age is 51. In a few exceptional cases women may become menopausal in their 30s, or even younger. This is then known as a premature menopause, or premature ovarian insufficiency which I have written articles on how to manage, but ultimately it is no different to menopause that affects all women.
The menopause is influenced by hormones or more correctly, by a change in hormone levels. During a woman’s fertile years, her ability to produce an egg each month is associated with the release of three reproductive hormones (oestradiol, oestrone and oestriol), that are referred to collectively as oestrogen. Oestrogen is mainly produced by the ovaries, though small amounts are also made by the adrenal glands and by the placenta of a pregnant woman.
It is oestrogen which stimulates female characteristics at puberty and controls a woman’s reproductive cycle: the development and release of an egg each month (ovulation) for implantation in the uterus (womb), and the way in which the lining of the womb thickens to accept a fertilized egg. The monthly period happens because no implantation has taken place – there is no pregnancy – and the lining of the womb is shed.
As women get older, their store of eggs in the ovary decreases and their ability to conceive diminishes. At this time, less oestrogen is produced, causing the body to behave differently. However, the body does not stop producing oestrogen overnight, and the process can even take several years, during which symptoms arise gradually. This gradual change is called the ‘peri-menopause’ and can start at the age of 35 and most certainly in your early 40s.
At around the age of 45-55 years, the monthly cycle can stop completely so no more ovulations, no more periods and no more pregnancies. This is the menopause.
What happens and how does it feel?
For some women this loss of reproductive ability may be deeply felt, and for all women the menopause is a personal experience, not just a medical condition. However, the diminishing release of oestrogen from the ovary as women advance into their 40s is often the cause of symptoms which can be distressing and may need medical attention.
Hot flushes are the most common symptom of the menopause, occurring in three in every four menopausal women. Other common symptoms include night sweats, sleeplessness, vaginal dryness, irritated skin*, more frequent urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections, low mood and a reduced interest in sex. Symptoms vary hugely in duration, severity and what impact they have between women.
Formication can be defined as itchy skin or a crawling feeling as though tiny insects are on the body. This usually occurs early in the menopause or soon after the last period and does eventually disappear on its own.
All the common symptoms of the menopause are associated with a decrease in the body’s production of oestrogen. Oestrogen lack can affect many parts of the body, including the brain, causing changes in emotional well-being, and the skin, influencing its elasticity and thickness.
Once the ovaries have ceased their production of oestrogen, other changes take place which may have more of an effect on long-term health. Most commonly these changes affect the strength and density of bones, increasing the risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. The bones of the female skeleton depend on oestrogen to maintain their strength and resistance to fracture. However, while there’s no mistaking a hot flush or vaginal dryness, there are no obvious symptoms of osteoporosis is the first sign is usually the fracture of a bone. It’s for this reason that osteoporosis has been called “the silent epidemic”.
There is also some evidence that oestrogen deficiency is the cause of some chemical changes in the body which make women after the menopause especially vulnerable to heart disease and stroke.
How can I manage my symptoms?
In clinic, we use a combination of Chinese Medicine Acupuncture, Aromatherapy and Nutrition to help get the best of outcomes the management of menopause. There is much research supporting the effects of Acupuncture and Aromatherapy as well as understanding nutrition when you are going through menopause and we have had many successful outcomes for women who feel empowered and get their lives back and most importantly feel they are themselves again.
For women going through menopause, hot flashes can be one of the most uncomfortable symptoms, studies have seen that acupuncture helps to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes and the reduction in the severity and frequency for up to 3 months.
among menopausal women. This is certainly the result we see in clinical practice and for longer to!
We are seeing more and more women choosing to manage symptoms using a natural approach rather than hormone therapy with its use of medication that contains oestrogen or progesterone. Such treatment has positive actions but can increase the risk of other health conditions, including stroke, heart disease and cancer.
It's no wonder more and more women are looking for natural treatments to help them manage the transition of menopause.
Nutrition forms a part of the management of menopause and very similar to the foods used to boost your fertility or reproductive system, we use foods that help manage hormones and balance out the symptoms caused by the changes of this inevitable change for us women.
Foods rich in iron, omega, calcium and vegetable-based proteins are usually high on our prescriptions, along with vitamins and minerals to boost the immune system to help reduce the inflammatory conditions that an imbalance of hormones can cause. We see a high number of women that experience pain in their hips or have pain in their arms and shoulders not relating to anything in particular which all seem to be related to a change in hormone, but it is no wonder that the inflammatory system turns up a gear, as the chemical changes of our body take hold. However, we must remember that as we go through menopause, we have an increased risk of bone problems due to the changes of hormones.
I also question the pathology of fibromyalgia for this reason and see many women who have gone through menopause and see some correlation.
Foods that have oestrogenic like properties called phytoestrogens can also help but should be considered if you have had breast cancer or undergoing treatment as some breast cancers are oestrogen fed and therefore should be avoided in these cases. It is also advisable to avoid foods that can increase the hot flashes such as hot spices, caffeine, and sugar.
Supplements to help can include, turmeric, sage, magnesium, starflower oil, CoQ10, and B complexes but to name a few, however to get a better idea of what your body needs it is always best to find out exactly what is lacking in your nutritional diet and get a tailored approach to managing your health more affectively.
However, in general, you can manage your menopause symptoms by;
Eating foods rich in Calcium, Vitamin D
Regular exercise to help maintain a healthy weight
Regular nutrition of vegetables and fruits – every day!
Ditch the alcohol, caffeine, and sugar foods
Increase the number of phytoestrogens you eat daily
Water is the essence of life so drink plenty
Eat omega and vegetable-based proteins regularly
For all women that are experiencing the symptoms of menopause, you don’t have to put up with the symptoms that can make you feel pretty horrid and miserable, as you can make a difference and manage your health to bring back the inner sparkle of health to enable you to feel healthy, happy and be you again.