Menopause marks the end of the monthly cycle of menstruation, and the end of a woman’s reproductive years. Most women generally reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average being around 51 years old.
Menopause tends to be viewed as an unwelcome disruption in a woman’s life, with most women suffering from some common unpleasant symptoms.
The types of symptoms, when they start, and the length that you experience them will differ from woman to woman. How you manage your symptoms will also impact your overall menopause experience.Changes to your menstrual cycle is commonly the first sign of menopause, although some women may experience symptoms such as:
- Hot flushes and night sweats;
- Joint aches and pains;
- Reduced libido;
- Vaginal dryness;
- Sleeping difficulty;
- Urinary problems;
- Mood swings;
- Poor concentration.
Managing menopause symptoms
Good nutrition can help prevent or ease certain conditions that may develop during and after menopause. Aim to eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need, and avoid certain foods to better manage your menopause symptoms.
- Avoid stimulants like coffee, alcohol, chocolate and spicy foods, which can cause hot flushes.
- Avoid snacking on sugary foods, which can cause a sudden drop in blood glucose levels.
- Eat more complex carbohydrates to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
- Eat legumes, nuts and seeds, which contain vitamin E, zinc and calcium, to combat dry skin.
- Look for protein foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan, which helps manufacture the neurotransmitter serotonin. Foods like turkey, cottage cheese, and oats helps control mood swings and improve sleep.
- Increase your intake of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K to maintain good bone health.
- Eat phyto-oestrogen-rich foods like tofu, miso, seeds and soya milk to keep hormones in balance.
Exercise can help
Regular exercise is a great way to prevent weight gain and loss of muscle mass - two frequent side effects of menopause. It can also help relieve stress and enhance your overall quality of life.
Aim for at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. Strength training can help build and can boost your metabolism, while yoga is a proven relaxation technique that can help soothe hot flushes, irritability and fatigue.
Smoking can make it worse
Research published in the online journal Menopause showed that smoking can cause the earlier onset of menopause, and other studies have shown a link between smoking and frequent hot flushes. The associated risk of osteoporosis, coronary heart disease and lung cancer, make it even more important to avoid smoking.
Wearing layers of clothes means that when a hot flush strikes, you can quickly cool off by removing a layer. Also keep a bottle of cool water with you at all times, and consider keeping a small fan by the side of your bed.
Deep breathing is another great way to cool down during a hot flush, as slow, deep breathing will lower and stabilise body temperature.
Hormone replacement therapy for those with severe symptoms
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) effectively reduces many of the unpleasant side effects of menopause, and is sometimes recommended for women suffering moderate to severe menopausal symptoms. Talk to your healthcare provider if you are suffering from severe symptoms and they will advise if HRT is an option for you, and help you choose the best course of action.
Showers, not baths
Hot baths are usually relaxing and enjoyable, but they can trigger a hot flush during menopause. If you find yourself uncomfortable following a bath, try a cooling shower instead.
Sleep is essential
Sleeping well will improve your mood, memory and concentration, so sticking to a regular sleep schedule is important. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool, avoid electronics, and if you can’t sleep then get up and have some water before returning to try again.
Research shows there may be link a between menopause and depression. If you think this may be affecting you seek advice from your doctor.
Natural and herbal medicines like black cohosh, red clover and soy isoflavones are commonly used to treat menopause symptoms, however clinical trials supporting their use is inconclusive.
Acupuncture may help women suffering from some of the most common menopause symptoms, including mood swings and hot flushes.
Blackcurrant oil is extremely rich in vitamin C and a range of other nutrients, and has been known to be effective in easing breast tenderness associated with menopause. Evening primrose oil is another popular choice.
When to get help
If you are concerned by symptoms you think might be related to menopause, speak with your GP or other health professional. You might like to discuss things like:
- Your personal and family health history;
- Lifestyle changes you can make;
- The potential benefits and risks of HRT and whether or not this is an option for you;
- Any other medicines/treatments you are considering taking.
Due to the decrease in hormone levels, women who have experienced menopause have certain other long-term health risks. These include thinning of the bones, an increased risk of heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke.
It’s important to keep up Pap smear tests, breast checks, and to watch your diet, blood pressure, and cholesterol to ensure good cardiovascular health. After menopause, changes to the spread of body fat and body shape can affect with your overall health, so speak to a practitioner about maintaining your general wellbeing.
Menopause is a natural part of life and not something you should be embarrassed about. Talk with your doctor freely, and never be afraid to ask for help. And if you have friends the same age as you - talk to them!
All information in this article is intended for general information purposes only. Information should not be considered medical advice and is in no way intended to replace a consultation with a qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.