It doesn’t seem fair does it? The physiological transitions we experience as women with their associated psychological symptoms seem never ending. Cycles of hormonal jostling and physical changes that at times are challenging.
Puberty to periods to pregnancy and just as we bid farewell to our child bearing years so we move into the next phase. Perimenopause and Menopause. It’s funny that we never really delve into that topic during biology lessons. Couple that with an almost muted dialogue on the subject and it can come as something of a shock. Dry vagina and anxiety did I hear someone whisper?
Menopause is categorised as the time when periods stop altogether (for at least 12 months). This can happen anytime between the ages of 45-55. Before this time, you may feel the symptoms of menopause begin called perimenopause and this can occur months or even years before your periods stop (and after).
A fall in oestrogen levels cause a number of the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. In the short term as oestrogen levels decline periods could become less regular and you may experience some common symptoms such as:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Anxiety and low mood
- Vaginal dryness
- Low libido
- Joint and muscle stiffness
- Urinary problems
Longer term effects of low oestrogen increase the risk of osteoporosis, stroke and heart attack.
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to alleviate symptoms naturally, most notably through dietary and lifestyle choices.
Due to the increased risk of heart disease and stroke try to cut down on saturated fat and reduce your salt intake.
- Choose reduced fat diary or cut down on the cheese. Hard cheeses are better for you and those stronger flavours will mean you need less on the plate such as parmesan.
- If you eat meat trim any visible fat, remove the skin and cut down on your red meat consumption.
- Substitute or pad out meat dishes such as curry or stew with beans and vegetables.
- Grill, poach and steam instead of frying or roasting.
- Check labels for fat and salt content. Over 5g per 100g fat is considered high and more than 1.5g of salt on the packet is too much. An adult should only consume 6g of salt per day.
- Cut out salty snacks altogether.
- Increase your fibre intake.
- Eat more wholegrain foods.
- Eat oily fish.
- Introduce beans and pulses into your regular diet.
Calcium and vitamin D are essential nutrients during and after menopause to lessen the risks associated with osteoporosis due to a drop in oestrogen. Vitamin D is actually present in so few foods that a supplement is recommended for menopause. Plenty of sunlight will also help to replenish your D vitamin level.
Good sources of calcium include:
- Low fat diary.
- Leafy green vegetables.
- Sesame seeds.
- Dried figs.
- Soya beans
Phytoestrogens are natural compounds found in plants similar in structure to the oestrogens in our body. Two significant phytoestrogens you may have heard of are Isoflavones and Lignans.
Good source of Isoflavines:
- Vegetable protein such as Tofu
Good source of Lignans:
- Seeds – pumpkin, sesame, sunflower.
- Cashew and peanuts.
- Cereals, oats, bran and whole-wheat.
- Vegetables – broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts are very good.
- Fruit especially apricots, strawberries, peaches, pears and cherries.
Flaxseeds are the richest source of Lignans you can eat. In studies flax has shown to reduce night sweats and hot flushes. Some studies show that 40g of flax per day has similar effects to HRT.