Menopause Survival Guide:
The Help You Need Before, During and After Menopause
Sometime between the ages of 45 and 55, most women begin their journey to menopause (although for some women it can start even in their 30s). For each woman, the journey is unique. Some will notice no symptoms whatsoever, other than the absence of their monthly period, but for many (upwards of 75 percent of women or more), symptoms ranging from hot flashes and weight gain to mood swings and depression surface.
Leading a healthy lifestyle, including eating healthy, relieving stress, and regular exercise, is one of the best ways to breeze through menopause.
Ironically, by definition menopause lasts only one day. The term refers to the day you haven’t had a period for 12 months in a row. The rest of the time you’ve been treading through night sweats, irritability and the myriad of other menopause symptoms is actually perimenopause, which refers to the time leading up to menopause along with the year after.
What are the Signs of Perimenopause?
In the time leading up to menopause, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms (and they may change or come and go), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
- Changes in pattern of periods (shorter or longer, lighter or heavier, more or less time between periods)
- Hot flashes (sudden rush of heat in upper body)
- Night sweats (hot flashes that happen while you sleep), often followed by a chill
- Trouble sleeping through the night (with or without night sweats)
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood changes, feeling crabby (probably because of lack of sleep)
- Trouble focusing, feeling mixed-up or confused, forgetfulness
- Hair loss or thinning on your head, more hair growth on your face
Further, menopause results in lowered estrogen levels (by the time a woman reaches menopause, her estrogen levels may drop 40-60 percent) that impact your body in multiple ways. Because of this, after menopause women are more likely to experience:
- Osteoporosis (women lose an average of 25 percent of their bone mass from menopause to age 60)
- Heart disease
- Poor bladder function
- Deterioration in vision
- Increased wrinkling of the skin
- Poor muscle power and tone
- Poor brain function and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease
You do not, however, have to simply suffer in silence or feel that menopause signals and end to your vim and vigor. On the contrary, many women really come into their greatness after menopause, and there are many strategies at your disposal to help you relieve perimenopausal symptoms and enhance your well-being for many years to come.
Is Hormone Replacement Therapy the Answer?
Prior to 2002, about 30 percent of women took Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), often after being reassured by their doctors that the therapy would not only relieve their menopause symptoms but also help prevent heart disease.
However, this type of therapy is no longer widely recommended as study results came out showing the therapy not only significantly increased the risk of breast cancer, but heart disease, stroke, blood clots and dementia as well.
The dangers of HRT (synthetic estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone) first came out due to the government-funded Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study. Launched in 1991, the study was intended to test the effects of postmenopausal hormone therapy on the risk of diseases, however it was stopped early when the serious risks came to light.
Compared to women taking a placebo, those who took estrogen plus progestin HRT had an:
- Increased risk of breast cancer
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of blood clots
- Increased risk of dementia
The findings were widely publicized and word spread fast to many women currently taking the synthetic hormones. Even the FDA released a statement pointing out that the risks of HRT exceeded the benefits:
“On May 31, 2002, the WHI study of conjugated estrogens 0.625 mg/day, plus medroxyprogesterone acetate 2.5 mg/day in postmenopausal women was stopped after a mean of 5.2 years of follow-up because the test statistic for invasive breast cancer exceeded the stopping boundary for this adverse effect and the global index statistic supported risks exceeding benefits.”
Fortunately, the number of women using HRT dropped by half when the study results came out, and in 2003, just one year after millions of women stopped HRT, breast cancer rates had already fallen by 7 percent — which amounted to about 14,000 fewer cases of breast cancer that year alone!
Natural Bioidentical Hormones: What You Need to Know
Many experts recommend natural, bioidentical hormones such as estriol as a safe alternative to synthetic varieties. Chemically identical to the hormones produced in your body, bioidentical hormones are typically produced by a compounding pharmacist.
They received widespread media attention in 2009, when Oprah Winfrey announced they had made a big improvement in her menopause symptoms. For this reason, you may want to consider bioidentical hormones along with lifestyle changes.
Ask your doctor if bioidentical hormones are a good choice for you.
Lifestyle Changes can Make Dramatic Impact on Menopausal Symptoms
A handheld fan and cool washcloths can help you cool down during a hot flash.
A healthy lifestyle has been proven to help lessen the severity of menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, mood swings, sleeplessness and more. These strategies should be your first line of defense and can be put into action long before your first symptoms begin.
A healthy diet that focuses on fresh, whole foods, including raw foods, fruits and vegetables and avoiding sugar and trans fats, will keep your body well nourished through menopause. Be sure you’re also getting plenty of vitamin D during this time.
Putting too much on your plate can lead to increased feelings of “forgetfulness” and will also certainly make you more tired and moody. Make stress-relief a priority in your life by:
- Setting aside time to do something you like everyday.
- Learning to say “no” if you feel overwhelmed.
- Incorporating relaxation, such as taking a warm bath or doing yoga, into your daily routine.
- Surrounding yourself with positive-minded friends and family..
“Exercise compensates nicely for declining levels of estrogen,” said Wolfgang Kemmler, PhD, who led a study on the topic. The German study of 78 early postmenopausal women found that women who exercised for one hour (with both aerobic and strength training) four days a week experienced fewer:
- Mood swings
- Bouts of insomnia
… than women who did not exercise. They also had the added benefits of:
- Maintaining bone mass
- Losing 2 percent body fat and one inch from their waists
- Reducing cholesterol by 5 percent
On the other hand, women who did not exercise lost 8 percent of their bone mass and had increases in body fat, waist measurements and cholesterol.
Further, according to the Mayo Clinic, exercise like yoga, which is integrated into the MySheaNetics.com program, can help to reduce the number of hot flashes in perimenopausal women.
Quality sleep is important for you to feel your best. It may help to create a relaxing bedtime routine, including taking a bath before bed, brushing your teeth, getting into your PJs and turning on some soothing music that will let your mind know it’s time for slumber.
Once you are in bed, listen to a relaxation CD like the “Sleep Easy” CD to help you “shift gears” and relax into sleep.
|“As I grow in age, I value mature ladies most of all. Here are just a few of the reasons senior men sing the praises of older women:
Yes, we geezers praise older women for a multitude of reasons. These are but a few.”
–Frank Kaiser, SuddenlySenior.com
Natural Remedies to Ease Symptoms
You can also supplement your healthy lifestyle with the following natural remedies that offer menopause symptom relief:
- Phytoestrogens: Found in fermented soybeans, flaxseeds, chickpeas, whole grains and more, phytoestrogens produce a weak estrogen-like activity in the body, which may help offset some of the estrogen loss that occurs during menopause.
- Black Cohosh: Studies show that the herbal supplement black cohosh may help relieve menopausal symptoms, especially hot flashes.
- Natural progesterone: Producing the proper levels of progesterone in your body is key to keeping you hormonally balanced, and therefore more energized. Ask your doctor to check your progesterone levels. You should not take this hormone unless you levels have been tested and will be re-tested on a regular basis.
Check with your doctor or health care practitioner if a natural remedy is an appropriate choice for you. Some comprehensive formulas support female hormone balancing with an array of botanicals (including black cohosh), along with supportive vitamins and minerals.
- For Hot Flashes: Regular exercise and eating flaxseeds may help reduce severity and frequency. You should also dress in layers so you can cool off easily, and use moisture-wicking bed linens and clothing to help with night sweats. You may notice certain triggers as well, such as a hot room, spicy foods, alcohol, etc., so do your best to avoid these.
- For Vaginal Dryness: Over-the-counter lubricants can help relieve dryness, as can olive oil or vitamin E oil.
- Avoid smoking: This can increase hot flashes and may bring on menopause earlier.
- Embrace your life and your body: A positive mental outlook on your life and your physical image will do wonders to keeping you feeling strong and vital at any age. Optimism has been verified as a successful strategy to prevent mental and physical illness, and is a skill you can learn, like riding a bike!
As leading meditation expert, Mary Maddux, creator of the “Pure Relaxation CD”, wrote, “I think what we’ll find is that we can not only do away with some myths about aging which limit our quality of life, but also discover some of the “perks” of aging that we often ignore.
There are lots of role models who have led the way for us. Did you know, for example, that:
- Martha Graham danced professionally until she was 76?
- Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals at the age of 78?
- Georgia O’Keefe continued painting well into her 90s?
Vitality in “later life” is not just for the famous. Undoubtedly everyone knows at least one person who is living a vital, fulfilling life “despite” their age. This is really the way it should be — life should become better as we age.”
Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry; 54(26): 9852-9857
FDA.gov “Estrogen and Estrogen with Progestin Therapies for Postmenopausal Women”