Taking the Pause Out of Menopause

By on July 17, 2017

Hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain, are the menopause trio every woman dreads. Like puberty, menopause is a natural transition in a woman’s life that marks the end of her reproductive years.

When a woman’s menstrual period stops for one full year due to the end of egg production in the ovaries, that woman is said to be in menopause. The period of time leading up to menopause is termed perimenopause, and postmenopause is the period of time after menopause.

While many women breeze through menopause with little to no signs of the transition, some women are literally desperate to feel the next breeze to combat their terrible hot flashes.

Once the ovaries stop producing eggs, there is a drop in estrogen production. Our adrenal glands are supposed to pick up the slack, and produce more estrogen. The adrenal glands are hormone-producing glands that are perched on top of the kidneys. They are best known for their cortisol or stress hormone production. Given the stress associated with life’s demands, our adrenal glands are often not up to the task of compensating for the drop of estrogen in a woman’s body during menopause.  As a result of the drop in estrogen, some women develop a number of menopausal symptoms including: hot flashes, vaginal dryness, low libido, insomnia, mood swings, and weight gain to name a few.

In North America, stress is an epidemic. We have busy and demanding schedules that keep cortisol levels constantly high. A consistently high level of cortisol in the body is damaging both physically and mentally. Persistently high cortisol levels can also lead to menopause-like symptoms before menopause. Moreover, high cortisol can also worsen existing menopausal symptoms. The drop in estrogen associated with menopause can also negatively impact cortisol levels in the body.  Estrogen helps to maintain healthy cortisol levels, so a side effect of menopause often includes an increased stress response.  To combat the negative effects of stress, leading a healthy lifestyle, practicing relaxation techniques, and supporting your adrenal glands can all help to minimize or prevent menopausal symptoms.

The changes in a woman’s hormones can cause more than just the annoying and possibly debilitating symptoms. These hormone changes can affect bone health, heart health and blood sugar regulation in the body. In addition, the risk of developing some cancers increases too. So, the importance of a healthy lifestyle becomes even more critical once a woman reaches menopause, not only to prevent the dreaded uncomfortable symptoms, but also to support healthy aging.

There are a number of popular of natural supplements with many beneficial effects to help manage the symptoms of menopause.  Black cohosh, chaste berry, red clover, and sage, to name a few, have been used successfully by many women to help combat hot flashes, vaginal dryness, low libido, etc.  However, natural does not necessarily mean 100% safe.  It is important to work with a naturopathic doctor to ensure the supplements you are taking are safe and effective for you.

Eating a nutritious diet is essential for a healthy and symptom free life, especially as we age.  Although this may seem like common sense, it is often the one area we neglect to make changes to because it can be inconvenient and hard.  However, with a little planning, eating a whole foods diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats can help balance hormones and decrease menopausal symptoms.

If eating a healthy diet was not hard enough, many women also struggle to find the time and/or motivation to get physically active.  Yet, the benefits of exercise are well studied. Exercise not only improves cardiovascular and bone health, but it has been shown to directly improve the symptoms of menopause, such as decreases in hot flash frequency, improved sleep quality, reduction of cholesterol, improved mood, and blood sugar regulation. Being physically active four or more days a week for 45-60 minutes can have remarkable effects on a woman’s health in the menopausal years. Aerobic and resistance/strength training are an excellent source of exercise, but even walking at a good pace has been shown to have health protective effects.

While women may struggle with menopause symptoms, they should not be debilitating or severe. Leading a healthy lifestyle is one excellent way to make the transition in menopause easy.  Leading a healthy lifestyle includes: quitting smoking, decreasing alcohol consumption and making healthy diet and exercise choices each day.  If you are in doubt or struggling with the right plan for you, it is always a good idea to consult with a naturopath.  An individualized health assessment, hormone testing and a physical examination can all help guide a treatment plan to meet your specific health goals.

Jennifer Hendry-Lynn, HBSc, ND has a family practice in Cambridge, Ontario at  ReAlign Health. To book an appointment call 519-650-1630.  Visit: www.realignhealth.com

About Charleen Wyman

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