It’s widely accepted in modern society, that menopause and peri-menopause are ‘disorders’ caused by falling hormone levels that need to be ‘cured’. Women often fear this stage and the many symptoms that may be experienced. But in fact peri-menopause and menopause are part of the natural journey that all women are on. A gradual transition phase between active and inactive ovarian function that involves biological and physical changes.
In more traditional cultures, this stage of a woman's life can pass with few symptoms. There are a variety of explanations for these differences; diet, lifestyle and cultural attitudes to ageing all play a role.
We can prepare and support the body for this transition, providing the body with the right ingredients and environment it needs to thrive, we can influence the way our body responds to the hormonal changes, and we can be better equipped to make the transition easier.
Stages of the Menopause Journey
Monthly menstrual periods are regular and hormone levels are predictable throughout the cycle. Some early symptoms such as hot flushes and poor sleep may start to appear.
Ovarian function starts to decline, levels of oestrogen and progesterone start to fluctuate and period can start to become irregular, with short cycles, long cycles or skipped periods.
There are a wide range of possible symptoms including hot flashes, insomnia, changes in cognitive function (memory, attention, clear thought, learning), night sweats, mood changes, anxiety, lowered resilience to stress, low libido, changes in skin tone and hair quality, weight change, joint pain, low energy and headaches and migraines.
The severity of symptoms and the length of the peri-menopause will vary for each individual woman.
A woman’s last menstrual period is defined as the menopause, and a full year must pass before a woman is post-menopause.
Ovarian function has now declined, however women continue to make some oestrogen for the rest of their lives via the action of aromatase enzymes on androgens produced in the adrenals. As hormone levels start to decline, particularly oestrogen, it’s crucial to pay particular attention to those adrenal glands to ensure we still have an adequate supply of oestrogen as we age.
The adrenal glands control our response to stress. Chronic stress, even low grade will affect the adrenals ability to regulate the various hormones it produces.
Supporting the Journey
Due to concerns surrounding the side effects of HRT, the use of natural alternatives has increased for the support of menopausal symptoms.
Providing natural support before and during the transition phase involves optimising health overall to ensure the body has everything it needs to deliver a smooth transition. Ideally support for the body would start as early as possible and long before any symptoms have started to appear.
It’s never too early to start thinking about this. It’s also never too late, no matter where you are on the journey, whether you’re thinking 10 years ahead or are already experiencing symptoms, now is the time to take action.
There are a number of lifestyle, dietary and supplement factors that can play a key role in supporting the body through the various stages of transition.
- Regular exercise that raises the heart rate at least 4 times per week
- Good sleep hygiene, ensuring you get adequate quality sleep
- Self-care, reducing stress and finding ways to support your mental and emotional wellbeing. This should be of paramount concern, do things that fill you with joy, every day.
- Eat 3 well balanced meals per day, choosing organic whole foods as much as possible.
- Include good quality protein (poultry, meat, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas) and fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, oily fish)
- Increase the variety of fruit, vegetables and herbs, aim for 30+ different types each week
- Include 1-2 portions of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels, kale) everyday. They contain a substance called indol-3-carbinol, which is converted into diindolymethane in the body and is used for healthy hormone balance in the body.
- Have a daily portion of fermented foods (keffir, sauerkraut, live yogurt, kombucha)
- Add phytoestrogens rich foods (miso, flaxseed, chickpeas, tempeh). Phytoestogens can help to balance our own oestrogen particularly through perimenopause and menopause.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol
- Avoid refined, processed, convince foods They have little nutritional value and can place a burden of toxicity on the liver
- Avoid too much sugar and sugary drinks
There are a number of key nutrients and botanicals that will help to replenish nutrients needed in higher amounts during this time. That will support a reduction in common menopausal symptoms and target key areas of longer term health outcomes such as bone health, cardiovascular health and cancer risk, which are of increased concern for postmenopausal women.