A kinder, gentler menopause

To understand why menopause has such widespread effects on the body and mind, we must first understand what menopause is and what estrogen does.

Menopause is the natural progression out of the childbearing years, marked specifically when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and producing estrogen. For most women, this happens between the ages of 46 and 52.

In the years leading up to this, there will be a gradual decline in estrogen production, creating a period known as peri-menopause. This is where symptoms of menopause begin to appear.

Remember, estrogen plays a role in many systems of the body, not just in the reproductive system.

There are estrogen receptors in the cells of the pituitary gland, liver, bone, cardiovascular system, and GI tract, to name a few. Estrogen also appears to keep weight down. It keeps skin soft and moist, regulates our internal thermostat, assists in proper bone formation, and protects from heart disease, among other things.

It’s no wonder then, that some of the symptoms of menopause include mood swings, hot flashes, irritability, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, dry skin, memory lapses, bone loss, and fatigue.

However, one of the major nutritional changes that you can make to ease the transition to menopause is to add phytoestrogens to your diet.   Phytoestrogens mimic the estrogen produced naturally in the body, which can help produce a milder menopause. Soybeans are the highest source of phytoestrogens, but also consider adding foods like organic tofu, nuts, seeds, alfalfa, yams, fennel, flax, oats, barley, beans, legumes, and lentils to your diet.

Also, eliminate as many processed foods as you can.

In a study of Japanese women who follow a traditional diet of soy, fish, and rice, it was noted that they experienced milder symptoms of menopause than women in Western Societies.   It is believed that this is due to the isoflaves contained in the phytoestrogens being consumed. The rate of consumption for Japanese women is 20-40mg of isoflaves per day. In the West, our consumption is just 5mg per day.   For reference, a 3 oz serving of organic tofu = 23mg of isoflaves.

It would seem that the symptoms that bother us the most are weight gain and hot flashes. Perhaps because many of the other symptoms are unseen?

Some lifestyle recommendations that I would make are as follows:

Adding a moderate, weight-bearing exercise daily will counter the effects that a loss of estrogen has on the body. It will also:

  • build muscle mass
  • build stronger bones; lowering the risk of osteoporosis
  • increase metabolism
  • decrease the risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease
  • increase joint and muscle strength
  • increase insulin resistance
  • aid in the mobilization of stored estrogen from fatty tissues

Exercise that counts as moderate weight-bearing could include:

Walking, hiking, lifting light weights, dancing, etc.

Cleaning up your diet in the years leading up to menopause and losing any excess weight that you may be carrying may lead to a gentler menopause with fewer, less severe symptoms. Drink plenty of filtered water, and eat your veggies, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and fibre.   Again, eliminate as many processed foods as possible and be sure to supplement 1200-1500mg of calcium daily.

Supplements that should help throughout menopause include evening primrose, vitamin E, B6, vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium. As a side note, lecithin will help to emulsify vitamin D and is excellent for brain health.

For relief from hot flashes, essential oils and herbs offer natural support and relief.  Clary sage, ylang-ylang, peppermint, frankincense, and cypress oils have been proven to lessen or eradicate hot flashes.

Herbs to try to include black kohosh, licorice root, mint, hops, and red clover.

On the bright side, many women who have made it through to the other side describe this stage of life as the most liberating. It’s just getting through it that’s hard!

– as published in Smiths Falls Hometown News –

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