GUEST POST by Lisa Davies
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her menstrual periods stop and do not re-start. This can occur anytime between the age of 40 and 55. When menstruation stops you will no longer be able to get pregnant. If it occurs before the age of 40, this is classed as premature menopause and is usually caused by illness such as cancer and radiotherapy treatments, auto-immune conditions or surgery to the uterus.
The time leading up to menopause is called perimenopause. This phase can begin two years prior to your periods stopping or it can begin as early as eight years before. It is characterized by changes to your cycle such as irregular periods, a shorter or longer cycle length or your periods becoming heavier or lighter. Of course, you shouldn’t immediately suspect that your fertile days are numbered if this happens to you. There are lots of other causes for these types of symptoms including pregnancy and breastfeeding, stress, changes to your routine, nutritional deficiencies, sexually transmitted infections or hormonal imbalances. If you have noticed changes to your menstrual cycle and then your periods ceased and have not returned in a year and there is no other identifiable cause, you have probably been through menopause.
Symptoms of Menopause
Some women sail through midlife without any menopausal symptoms while others seem to have the book thrown at them. Symptoms can include:
- Hot flashes – a sensation of heat that occurs in the upper body. Your face may be noticeably red in color. Some women sweat profusely or shiver.
- Dry skin around the vagina – this is caused by a drop in the levels of estrogen in your body. Lack of estrogen results in thinner vaginal walls which can make you more susceptible to infection. You might also be more prone to bladder infections and sexual intercourse may become painful. Hormonal changes and discomfort could lessen your desire for sex.
- You may experience mood swings or cry for no apparent reason. This side-effect is more common if you had mood swings as part of pre-menstrual syndrome or you had post-partum depression in the past.
- Your bones could become weaker and prone to fractures. This is called osteoporosis.
- You may also gain weight but it is not known if this is related to menopause or simply due to aging.
You’ll be glad to know that simple lifestyle adjustments can make all the difference and can make living with menopause easy. Women who experience a lot of menopausal symptoms may be deficient in certain nutrients or may not be consuming enough foods with natural estrogens (phyto-estrogens). If a woman has a diet with lots of plant estrogens, it can help to ease menopause symptoms and reduce the need for hormone replacement therapy which can have dangerous side-effects. Some of the foods that contain naturally occurring estrogens are whole grains, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, fruits and beans including soy and products made from soy. In fact, despite its bad reputation in other areas, soy is considered the best anti-menopause food by many medical academics and women’s groups. Evidence from observational studies has found that Japanese women have milder menopausal symptoms because they eat more soy than American women. According to the North American Menopause Society, some women who eat soy can convert it into a equol, a compound that is made from isoflavone and produced by the body’s natural metabolism. Equol appears to reduce menopausal symptoms which may be why soy helps but not all women can produce it. It depends on the amount and type of friendly bacteria in their gut. 50% of Asians can produce it, compared with 20-30% of Americans.
Soy can reduce hot flashes, night sweats, improve bone and heart health and may even have a beneficial effect against breast cancer.
The Menopause Diet Planner
To try to reduce or prevent symptoms from occurring you should include various phyto-estrogens and omega 3’s in your daily diet. Here is an example of a diet plan:
Breakfast: A bowl of cereal with soy milk and milled flaxseeds on top. Flaxseeds were shown in one small study to reduce vaginal dryness, hot flashes and mood swings, but the findings have so far not been replicated. However it is known that they are rich in omega 3’s and so may protect you against arthritis. As bone problems are more common after menopause, this is important. Walnuts and pumpkin seeds also contain the same omega 3, so you could add these instead of flaxseed if you wish.
Lunch: Tempeh Salad
This is an alternative to chicken salad. You will need:
Tempeh (a soy product)
Red bell pepper
Mixed salad leaves or bread
To prepare you need to boil the tempeh for around 10 minutes and then leave it to cool. After it has cooled, cut it into cubes (unless it is already pre-cut). Add one sliced stick of celery, 2 blended red bell peppers and one dill pepper, three scallions and some chopped parsley. Then add half a cup of mayonnaise to one tablespoon of mustard and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste and then refrigerate for half an hour. You can then combine it with salad leaves or simply add it to toast.
For an evening meal you could try steamed fish for the omega 3’s, with broccoli and cauliflower and a glass of red wine. Red wine contains reservatol, a phyto-estrogen that has the added benefit of being anti-cancerous!
Other drink ideas include good old fashioned water (there are many health benefits to being properly hydrated), fruit juice and soy milk enriched with calcium. Calcium is important for preventing osteoporosis post-menopause.
There are additional things you can do to ease the menopause. These include making sure you get enough exercise (women who exercise have less symptoms) so go for a walk instead of getting in the car and getting more sleep – try to go to bed at the same time each night if your symptoms are keeping you awake. It can help stabilize your sleep patterns if you are in a routine. If hot flashes are bothering you, you could leave a window slightly open or put an electric fan on to keep your bedroom cool. You could also remove the comforter and have a sheet.
Take a vitamin supplement to make sure you have all the nutrients you need and try to avoid caffeine. Caffeine is well known for making pre-menstrual syndrome worse and it can also make menopause worse!
If you’re having sexual difficulties, talk it over with your partner and a doctor and try using a lubricant to make things easier. Life needn’t be over just because you’re over 40.
If you haven’t had the menopause yet and just want to know what to expect, don’t panic. You may not get any symptoms but you can kiss goodbye to monthly cramping!