Menopause is the term used to describe the cessation of menstruation and reproductive function. After a year of no periods, you are said to have gone through menopause. You must remember that menopause is not an illness but a natural phenomena or milestone in a woman’s life.
The average age of menopause is 51 years.
The years leading up to menopause are referred to as peri-menopause. This can describe a period of symptoms caused by the increasing imbalances in your reproductive hormones and can last for several years. There is no escaping – sometime in your late forties or early fifties you will start experiencing the changes associated with this transition. The changes can also start earlier – sometimes in your late 30’s. Many factors influence your health, wellbeing and hormone balance during these years. These factors include: pre-existing reproductive issues, stress levels, medications, medical conditions, stress, exercise and diet. The key to ‘surviving’ the changes is to look after yourself! The transition will be a lot smoother if you are in optimal health.
So what happens to your hormones at menopause?
Our reproductive capabilities are winding up so our bodies do not any longer have the need for the same cyclic reproductive hormones. Our bodies continue to have a weak form of oestrogen called Oestrone, which is converted from adrenal androgens in the liver, kidneys and fat cells. The feel good progesterone becomes redundant. The body attempts to release more ‘stimulating hormones’ in the attempt to trigger the body to releasing more. This gives rise to the hot flushes / night sweats.
So what changes for us when the hormones dry up?
Symptoms of menopause include: flushes / sweats, weight gain, anxiety & irritability, joint pains, insomnia, breast tenderness, low libido, vaginal dryness, decreases in bone density and mood swings. All are uncomfortable and can be lessened by good diet, exercise, weight management and nutritional and herbal medicine.
Natural prescriptions must be individualized and will vary not only from person to person, but also to the stage of menopause you are at. If you are peri-menopausal, a good liver formula can help with the flushes and balancing herbs to regulate and normalise the menstrual cycle. These include: paeonia, vitex, rhemannia and shatavari. These herbs can help to relieve some of the unwanted symptoms. The herbs change a little in the post-menopausal period, but need to be individualized to you. Caution should be taken if you have experienced or have a family history of breast, endometrial or ovarian cancer. You will not be able to take menopausal formulas containing oestrogen ‘acting’ herbs at all. You can however, safely use the liver formulas to assist with the hot flushes. Caution should also be noted with herbs such as Black cohosh. Taking large amounts for long periods of time as this herb has been associated with liver issues.
Good nutrition is vital.
It is easy when you feel flat to eat more comfort and carb loaded foods. In response to sugar and carbohydrates, the body must produce more insulin and the ovaries are a little too oversensitive to any changes in insulin levels. In return, hormone levels can be affected. It is essential that you are getting enough vitamins and minerals such as your B vitamins, zinc and magnesium to manufacture good amounts of your happy brain chemical (Serotonin) and your sleep hormone (melatonin).
One of the most common recommendations given to women at menopause is to take calcium supplements to preserve their bone density. Be sure to check the type of calcium you are taking as many are poorly absorbed and of little benefit. Vitamin D levels should also be checked and monitored, as it is vital for the maintenance of bone health. Calcium should be given with professional advice only. Did you know that when you are stressed, the body uses calcium and magnesium in the blood stream for muscle contraction and relaxation? Calcium contracts the muscles and magnesium relaxes them. We do get good amounts of calcium out of our diets but it is a little harder to get magnesium. Calcium is also very dominant to magnesium, and during stress, growth and physical activity, we burn through magnesium at a rapid rate. When we have more calcium than magnesium, we in turn get more muscle contraction (including our involuntary muscles such as the heart muscles) and less ability to relax them. This simply explains why you will feel more tense, when you are stressed.
So if you are going to supplement calcium, ensure that you have the right mineral balance. The best thing to do to maintain your bone density is to manage your stress (so the minerals are used for the right functions) and exercise regularly.
Always get individual and personalized information to suit your particular needs. Everyone is different and has differing requirements. By getting the right help, you can cruise through menopause with little discomfort.