There comes a time in every woman’s life where they no longer menstruate and they are no longer fertile. This is what is known as the menopause, a completely natural and normal part of the aging process. (We should point out that men also reach the state where they are no longer fertile naturally and this is known as male menopause or andropause.) It is important to note that just because menopause is a natural process, this doesn’t mean that you should not seek help if the symptoms you experience are serious or difficult to cope with.
What is the Menopause?
Menopause is a natural part of aging for women. It is a time in a woman’s life when menstruation begins to slow and eventually stop. Years before menopause actually sets in the ovaries begin to slow the production of testosterone, progesterone and estrogen. Each of these hormones are equally important in the role that they play within a woman’s body.
Estrogen is essential for the proper function of many organs within the body including the heart, skin, breast, reproductory organs and our internal thermostat. Progesterone is important because it not only works in conjunction with estrogen to aid in pregnancy and it works on the nervous system as well as soothing the brain. While women in general produce significantly less testosterone than men do, what they do produce is a key component for the woman’s sex drive.
There are in total three types of menopause. For women there is perimenpause and post menopause. As mentioned there is also male menopause or andropause.
• Andropause – this is when the man’s sex drive decreases, anxiety will increase and a man may start to get depressed and moody and feel as though they are a failure. This is due to a decrease in the production in testosterone in men. This will typically begin when a man is in his forties, it is possible for it to have an earlier or a later onset.
• Perimenopause – as we stated the decline in production starts in a womens late 30’s, perimenopause actually begins when you start noticing signs and symptoms of menopause. You are still menstruating at this time. Hormone levels are rising and falling in an uneven manner which can produce hot flushes or other symptoms. This can last 4 or 5 years or even longer.
• Postmenopause – this starts after you have gone 12 months without a period. The ovaries are producing significantly less estrogen and no progesterone. No more eggs are released. The years of life that follow are known as postmenopause.
Symptoms of Menopause:
This is a list of the most common symptoms of menopause. Keep in mind that the onset of these symptoms can begin long before you have gone a full year without a period.
• Irregular periods
• Vaginal dryness
• Decreased fertility
• Hot flashes
• Mood swings
• Problems sleeping
• Thinning or loss of hair
• Decrease in breast fullness
• Increase in abdominal fat
What Causes the Menopause?
The ovaries start to produce less estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. This starts in the late 30s when there are not as many potential eggs that are ripening in your ovaries. The ovulation process at this point also become less predictable. The changes that your body is going through become more evident when you are in your 40’s.
This is when you will notice your period is either becoming longer or shorter and is either heavier or lighter until the ovaries shut down. It is more common than not for your periods to taper off before they stop however there have been women who reported that they had “normal” periods right up until the ovaries shut down.
Diet and Lifestyle Advice:
While there isn’t a way to stop menopause or a need to stop menopause, the symptoms can become quite difficult and bothersome. There are a number of lifestyle choices you can make that will help you deal with the temporary symptoms of menopause.
• Vaginal discomforts – by using a water-based over the counter vaginal lubricant or moisturizer to decrease vaginal discomforts. Staying sexually active is also beneficial.
• Hot flushes – by getting regular exercise and dressing in layers. It is also a good idea to figure out your triggers. For some women it can be alcohol, warm rooms, hot weather, spicy foods or hot beverages.
• Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor – you may have done these when or after you had a baby, these were called Kegel exercises.
• Get proper sleep – try to avoid too much caffeine prior to bedtime and make sure that you are getting your exercise during the day. You may also want to consider relaxation exercises such as meditation, and image guided muscle relaxation exercises.
• Stop smoking – smoking increases your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer and numerous other dangerous health conditions. Smoking can also make hot flushes worse and cause earlier onset of menopause.
• Eat Well – consume a healthy diet make sure that you are getting enough fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains. Limit the amount saturated fats, sugars and oils. Make sure that you are getting 1200 to 1500 mg of calcium and about 800 units of Vitamin D daily. Increase your intake of organic soya and tofu products – soya contains phytoestrogens which have been shown to help re-address the imbalance of hormones.
The Conventional Approach:
It is important to note that menopause itself does not require treatment. When a person seeks treatment they are seeking treatment for the symptoms associated with menopause. The symptoms are temporary but can become severe and require treatment. In that case there are a number of conventional approaches available:
The most common is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It is considered one of the most effective treatments, but it does not come without risks. HRT increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer. Women who only took estrogen had an increased risk of blood clots and stroke. The FDA actually recommends that if this treatment option has to be used that the lowest possible doses are given for the shortest periods of time.
There are also low dose antidepressants that can be prescribed to help treat hot flushes. Antidepressants carry with them their list of risks and side effects. Clonidine which can be given in a pill or patch is also prescribed for hot flushes but carries very unpleasant side effects.
A Natural Approach:
The good news is that there is much that can be done naturally to help ease the symptoms of the menopause, without any unpleasant side effects.
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NB. This information is in no way intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are unsure as to the suitability of any of the products or recommendations with regard to your condition please consult your doctor. If your doctor does not approve of complementary medicine it may be helpful to find one who does.