Menopause – for many women, this mid-life change becomes a new adventure of body and soul. In fact, many women discover new appetites or paths to pleasure. During this new time of self-discovery and change, women should endeavor to nourish a sense of emotional well-being while honoring their body – their physical “temple” of life!
So join a yoga class. Stretch. Talk with others about their experiences – women are masters at learning and sharing their solutions to the personal challenges that they experience during this new journey through life. And the journey gets easier for you once you realize you’re not alone.
Remember: menopause doesn’t make women “crazy” – it makes us look inside ourselves. If we don’t, then we soon start to feel crazy … so don’t be afraid to delve into the person within.
The Change – or – “What is happening to my body?!”
The physical changes that accompany menopause are no less dramatic than those we experienced during puberty. Our bodies are naturally designed to produce less of the hormones that regulate the rhythm of the menstrual cycle, as well as potential pregnancies. To put it simply, your ovaries produce less estrogen.
When this happens, your body tries to stimulate your ovaries to make up for the lack of estrogen – which results in a big swing in blood and hormone levels (at least for a little while) until your body finds a new rhythm.
These surges cause blood vessels to dilate – and we suddenly feel hot or sweaty. During the onset of menopause, other hormones that help us manage stress may also rise and fall – sometimes leaving us feeling tired or “moody”. These are the so-called “hot flashes” and “mood swings” women experience during menopause.
“When does Menopause Start?”
It was thought until fairly recently that the earlier periods began (“menarche”), the earlier menopause would occur. Now researchers are not certain. Premenopause is usually a gradual process, so women may not know exactly when it begins.
If a woman is reasonably healthy and older than thirty-six, an irregular cycle may be a sign of premenopause. Premenopause commonly begins in the fourth decade of life, but may start as early as the thirties or even the twenties.
High-stress lifestyles, heightened economic and social worries, global pollution, rising gynecological surgeries, and other twenty-first-century factors may contribute to early onset of premenopause, even among healthy women.
Other factors to consider are personal health history, nutrition, ethnicity, climate, and other social factors – all of which may influence one another. Talking to other women in our families can provide invaluable information, even if the ages at which our female relatives started menopause are not an exact predictor.
Tips for Menopause – Nutrition
There is a huge amount of information out there regarding the types of foods to eat (and not eat) during menopause. The important thing is to eat healthy. Don’t smoke; and if you do – quit. Try to move away from high animal-based protein and high saturated fat intake (beware the American meat-and-potatoes diet!). Similarly, you’ll want to avoid a high salt intake, so just say “no” to fast food.
Try to increase the number of fruits and vegetables you consume, especially those rife with phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are active plant compounds that have weak estrogenic receptor activity, and can contribute to your body’s fight against age-related ailments and several different forms of cancer – though as you’re aware, there is no “magic wand” to prevent these diseases.
Phytoestrogens are found in legumes, soy, apples, carrots, garbanzo beans, garlic, green beans, peas, red clover, barley, oats and rye, citrus fruits, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, bilberries, and grapes (whole fruit with skins, not just grape juice). Soy foods, sprouted lentils, raw snow peas, and cooked green peas naturally increase healthy levels of estrogen; use these according to your personal taste.
To reduce several menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, changes in skin and hair, joint pain, mood), include essential fatty acids such as Omega-3’s from vegetable sources such as flax or chia seeds (1000mg/day, about 1-2 Tbl./day or as standardized extracts, usually in gel caps). Non-vegetarians may prefer Omega-3 fish oil (1000-3000mg/day).
Tips for Menopause – Exercise
As mentioned earlier, staying active is key. Exercise has many benefits, not the least of which is changing tissue to dense muscle. Instead of trying to lose the weight that often adds to our waistline and hips during menopause, exercise keeps our bodies strong and prevents bone thinning.
Research tells us that 20 minutes a day 3-4 times a week during the day is ideal but if evening is the only time to fit in a good walk, that is far better than skipping it altogether. In addition, practice pelvic floor exercises for five minutes a day to strength the muscles that make up your pelvic region.
Tips for Menopause – Sex
Many women find that symptoms associated with hot flashes and vaginal dryness decrease with regular sex. Sex stimulates secretion of moisture and germ-fighting enzymes in the mucous membranes of vaginal walls. Using sexual energy and releasing it through orgasm, as well as having a healthy attitude toward your changing body, are your best means of controlling the physical discomforts of menopause.
Both sex shared with a partner and masturbation stimulate vaginal moisture and brings germ-fighting enzymes into the mucus produced by the glands in the vaginal wall. The blood flow from the head and heart all the way down to the pelvis from happy movements will help restore moisture and dynamic balance in the tissues.
If you experience discomfort in intercourse, or if vaginal dryness persists despite desire, your vagina may have an infection or the membranes may be thinning. As always, consult your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about your sexual health.
Remember – “Maintain a Positive Outlook”
Exercise, nutrition, and healthy relationships with those around you will help you more than any single “treatment” for a healthy menopause. It will also help stave off concerns such as depression, heart health, and even hot flashes.
Remember, most women experience mood swings during and after menopause, and these are usually not a major health risk. Still, women are 4x more likely to have these kinds of emotional symptoms, even if you’ve never had any previous history of depression (Harvard study of Moods and Cycles, 2006).
And it never rains, but it pours: women with hot flash symptoms were twice as likely to develop depression. So if you or someone you know is experiencing depression because of the onset of menopause, talk to a mental health professional. What you’re going through is completely normal.
Finally, embracing the opportunity to re-invent ourselves is more successful than trying to “go back to normal” since menopause is simply a natural part of life’s progression. It can be liberating to see that we control what our “new normal” can be – so embrace your change. With the right knowledge, steps and support, you can be ready for whatever this new stage in your life’s journey brings to you!