If you’re between 45 and 55 years old and you’ve not had a period for about 12 months, then it’s possible you could be in the menopause. This means you’re probably experiencing unfamiliar symptoms which could be as mild as a headache or as severe and debilitating as hot flushes or even a prolapsed uterus.
Of course, you don’t just wake up one day and suddenly you’re in the throes of menopause, symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop (perimenopause) and last around four years after your last period.
Menopause affects women in different ways, but the most common symptoms – night sweats, hot and cold flushes, extreme tiredness, sleeplessness, low mood, vaginal dryness and atrophy and reduced interest in sex – are caused by declining and fluctuating levels of sex hormones, mainly oestrogen and progesterone. You may also suffer from difficulties like bladder prolapse or other bladder complaints or joint pain, or even osteoporosis, which can come as a result of the lower levels of oestrogen in the body. In fact, there are a variety of symptoms that women could experience with the menopause.
On 18th October it was World Menopause Day. Now, you may not think of it as something to celebrate, after all, those are some pretty challenging side effects, but it is an important day to raise awareness. The menopause is a natural part of ageing, and once we accept it's happening and understand how to manage the symptoms, we can move forward with our lives in a positive way.
How to tame the flame
The menopause may seem like a gruelling part of the ageing process but managed well it doesn’t need to be so debilitating.
There are a variety of relieving herbal remedies, not least the use of herbal plants such as Agnus Castus for mood – thought to rebalance a woman's hormones, Sage, Evening Primrose, Red Clover and Black Cohosh for sweats. Please consult your health professional before self medicating with herbal remedies and do your research to ensure quality and safety.
Exercise that’s known for its cardiovascular benefits, so running, swimming or any exercise that raises your heart rate can help to relieve your menopausal symptoms by lifting your mood, improving sleep and helping strengthens muscle around the knees, hips and spine. Exercise can also help maintain your healthy bone density, cardiovascular health and manage osteoporosis .
Proper relaxation is important so ensure you make time for a calming evening ritual. A good Pilates class helps to strengthen the body and calm the mind, both beneficial for managing symptoms.
One of the fundamental aids in managing the symptoms of the menopause is a healthy diet; include plenty of sources of calcium in your diet, including lots of green vegetables, limit the sugar, alcohol and caffeine, and stop smoking. Eating plenty of good fats such as nuts and seeds, olive oil, oily fish and avocados can be helpful too.
Sunlight gives us lots of lovely vitamin D, which can help to ward off osteoporosis and is essential for many body functions, so get outside for plenty of walks, especially if the sun is shining. Your bones will appreciate it, as will your state of mind at this turbulent time.
We can’t discuss the menopause without mentioning HRT. In the past, opinions have been divided as to its health benefits, with the media reporting that it can increase the likelihood of breast and ovarian cancer. However, since then, views have changed and there seems to be more evidence that HRT is beneficial for a number of reasons. It is worth speaking to your doctor about the various HRT options and whether this is the right path for you. Whether or not you take HRT, you may still benefit from the lifestyle changes I’ve mentioned here.
The menopause is not only a time when we experience changes in our body but also a time to reflect on what this stage of life means for you as a woman. It is likely that whatever your symptoms you will feel a little disconcerted from the change. Be kind to yourself, take time to exercise and eat healthy, nourishing food and the menopause can be an uplifting time in your life.