Menopause happens to all women, but the degree of symptoms each will experience can vary dramatically. Some of the effects of menopause are influenced by genetics, but there is still much a woman can do to prepare her body and mind for “the change.”
Menopause is defined as the date of a woman’s last monthly period and is caused by a reduction in reproductive hormones released by the ovaries, which control fertility. Estrogen and progesterone levels both fall markedly, giving rise to a range of signs and symptoms including vaginal dryness, hot flashes and mood swings. Hormone reduction is gradual, however, so the transition tends to occur over a period of years. Like childbirth, menopause is a natural change of life, but that does not mean it is free from discomfort.
We all know that a healthy body needs healthy food, and this is doubly true during menopause. When the body is undergoing dramatic changes in hormone levels, providing it with all the nutrition it requires to react accordingly will make menopause easier to navigate. Calcium-rich foods (such as milk and dairy products, sesame seeds, almonds, kale, spinach and broccoli) are important both for hormonal and bone health, and since a woman’s bone density tends to decrease after menopause it is very important to build strong bones.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are vital for effective hormone production, so eating oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon and plant EFAs like sunflower seeds, hemp seeds and linseed will ensure that your body is not limited in this department. Good quality protein is necessary for good health at all stages of life, as are plenty of fruit and vegetables to provide essential vitamins and minerals.
Foods containing B vitamins, particularly niacin (B3) and pantothenic acid (B5), are of great help in ameliorating depression and mood swings. These include chicken, turkey and fish for niacin and yogurt, avocado and legumes (lentils, chick peas, etc.) for pantothenic acid. Boron is an especially important micronutrient, because it helps the body to preserve the estrogen it has. Avocados, walnuts, almonds, honey, pears, red grapes, bananas and chickpeas all contain appreciable levels of boron.
It is also beneficial to avoid certain foods, and women who eat more sugar experience more hormonal problems than those who moderate their sugar intake, both in pre-menopause and during menopause itself. The usual culprits of caffeine and alcohol may also trigger hot flashes and affect hormone production, leading to more frequent and greater mood swings. Limiting your intake of all three of these is likely to greatly ease your passage through menopause.
The role of eating phytoestrogens (plants that mimic the effect of estrogen in the body) during menopause is still under debate, but there is evidence that increasing your intake of soy products such as tofu can reduce the level of menopausal symptoms. However, if you are a woman who has recently had an estrogen-dependent cancer such as breast or ovarian cancer then you should continue to avoid soy products and other phytoestrogens.
There are several important herbs that many women have found helpful during their menopausal years. These include chaste tree berries (Vitex agnus-castus), which are helpful hormone balancers, and several herbs that are known to enhance estrogen levels such as black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) and hops (Humulus lupus). However, hops are a depressant and should be avoided by women with a tendency toward depression. With this in mind, regular teas of chamomile, lemon balm and rosemary can help with periods of irritability and sadness.
Exercise keeps the body healthy, and regular walking and other aerobic activity is helpful during menopause. Gentle yoga can assist with joint pain and promote flexibility. Continuing sexual activity is particularly recommended during menopause to keep vaginal muscles elastic and maintain a healthy blood supply to the genital area.
The physiological changes that accompany menopause may leave a woman feeling tired as her body responds to fluctuating hormone levels. Rest and relaxation is therefore very important during this time of transition and adjustment to a new phase of life. Women who have much to look forward to in their life beyond their fertile can view these changes as a natural part of becoming older.