Menopause, also known as 'the change of life', occurs in women from their late forties onwards. Age that it starts varies due to genetic and lifestyle factors. It is a period of time in a mature woman's life marked by the stopping of her menses (period) due to decreasing levels of reproductive hormones, particularly oestrogen. This means the woman has finished with her child-bearing years but that is ALL that is finished! Some women embrace their menopausal years as their fun, fantastic "me" years! Oestrogen has many roles to play in a woman's body and lowering levels have an effect on certain functions. Symptoms can arise during this phase and can last anywhere from 1-10 years. I thought I would outline a few of these changes and include alternative tips for managing them.
Oestrogen has a 'bone protective' effect and so with lower levels in older age, bone disease such as osteoporosis is of greater risk. To ensure bones don't lose their density, taking a good daily calcium supplement and exercising daily (including resistance exercise such as weights, pilates and swimming) will reduce the risk of bone problems.
Emotional changes are unfortunately part of menopause just like any major hormonal swing (think of pregnancy and PMS!) and talking about how you feel with your peers, friends and family, your doctor, counsellor or natural therapist is very important. Also relaxing and reducing stress wherever possible can ease the moodiness and anger you may be feeling. See list below for some stress reducing ideas.
The lubrication we experience during arousal is also thanks to hormones and sex can become dry and painful if that lubrication has diminished. Using natural lubrication gels (best are made from kiwi fruit extracts such as the brand 'SYLK' or an organic coconut oil) will enable the sex life to get right back on track. Hey, it might even get better as contraception doesn't need to be an issue anymore!
Certain foods and herbs can also have 'oestrogen-like' activity in the body and can therefore reduce symptoms of menopause. Eating more soya based foods such as tofu, tempeh, and soya milk, and eating flaxseed meal or oil, will help with symptoms like hot flushes. Herbs such as Black Cohosh and Red Clover can be taken in tincture, tea or tablet form and can display an 'oestrogen-like' action also. There are many supplements available from healthfood stores and pharmacies to help with menopause symptoms that may contain these herbs.
And of course menopause would not be complete without hot flushes! Below is a list of ways to reduce these occurring by staying away from certain triggers.
Hot flushes can be triggered by a variety of stimulants such as:
- Spicy food (cayenne, chilli, ginger, pepper)
- Acidic foods (pickles, citrus, tomatoes, capsicum)
- Hot drinks
- Caffeine (coffee, black tea, cola's)
- Alcoholic drinks including wine, beer and spirits
- White sugar
- Hydrogenated or saturated fats (meat, margarine, butter) try and use olive and flax oils instead, and eat more organic chicken and fish. Stick to very lean red meat occasionally.
- Stress! So make sure you have a relaxing outlet as stress is part of life, for eg. yoga, tai chi, walking, swimming, art and craft, meditation, gardening, visits with friends, baths and spas, massage, reading, watching a movie. Every day, do something for yourself that makes you feel relaxed.
- Hot weather - can be unavoidable so make sure your clothing feels light and loose and is a fabric that can breathe
- Hot tubs and saunas
- Tobacco and marijuana
- Intense exercise, especially sex! (In these cases I think the flushes are worth it!)
- Anger, especially if you can't express it, so if you feel like there is suppressed anger in you - beat up a pillow or yell in your house or car - get it out!
Whatever you experience during menopause, don't let it be an excuse to sit life out. Embrace it and run with it and show the world what a powerful and beautiful woman you are!
By Alisha Forbes Clinical Naturopath & Herbalist
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