Menopause. If you’re one of the 1.28 Billion women in the world, menopause will eventually become a part of your experience.
Learning how to understand and recognize the symptoms of peri/menopause, as well as to understand the ways in which you can naturally manage them, can help make the transition a smooth one.While many women look forward to the day when they won’t have to worry about their cycle each month, far more worry about the impact that perimenopause and menopause can have on their bodies and their health. Concerns about increased cancer risk and side effects of hormone replacement therapy, as well as the decline in the way our bodies function, can make the concept of “menopause” seem like something to dread.
Symptoms of Perimenopause/Menopause:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- mood swings
- vaginal dryness
- urinary incontinence
- unwanted weight gain
There are even greater concerns about the impact of menopause on our health, including:
- increased risk of heart disease
- incidence of breast cancer
- decreased muscle mass
- bone loss
The good news is, you CAN minimize the symptoms of Peri/Menopause, naturally!
I’m going to be fifty years old this year. Given that the average age of onset of menopause is 51 years old, it’s safe to say that I will be experiencing menopause pretty soon. Up until two years ago, however, I didn’t realize that perimenopausal symptoms can affect women up to ten to fifteen years before they actually experience symptoms and in many cases can be more bothersome.
I first reached out to my OB/GYN after experiencing irregularities in my cycle, wild mood swings, and heavy bleeding. I wasn’t quite forty-eight at the time, but the symptoms were new to me and while I wasn’t worried, I knew it was important to check in with my doctor.
I’m a firm believer in being proactive when it comes to my health. It’s much easier to address problems when they are small and manageable. There’s nothing to gain by procrastinating or waiting. I believe it’s better to be told that there’s nothing concerning than to ignore my symptoms and be told that if I’d come sooner, I would have had a better outcome.
My doctor performed an ultrasound, drew blood and within a few days I was told that I was experiencing a symptom very common to perimenopause: Estrogen Dominance
According to Dr. Christiane Northrup a board-certified OB/GYN physician and a graduate of Dartmouth Medical School and Tufts New England Medical Center in Boston, “Estrogen dominance has been linked to allergies, autoimmune disorders, breast cancer, uterine cancer, infertility, ovarian cysts, and increased blood clotting, and is also associated with acceleration of the aging process” and while these things can occur in situations where estrogen dominance is prolonged, there are concrete actions you can take to ensure your continued health.
7 Ways To Naturally Manage Perimenopause/Menopause Symptoms
Hot Flashes/Night Sweats:
Increase your intake of plant-based foods: Eating a diet high in plant-based foods isn’t only good for your heart and your waistline, it can help with hot flashes. Plant-based foods provide your body with essential nutrients and for some women, can improve symptoms of hot flashes. Soy-based foods such as soybeans, tofu, and soymilk, as well as ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil, contain phytoestrogens or naturally occurring plant estrogens that can help offset the effects of hot flashes and its annoying companion, night sweats. Plant-based foods are also high in fiber which helps regulate emptying of the bowels and maintain estrogen balance. When stool sits in the large intestines for too long, estrogen (which is excreted in our stool) can become reabsorbed through the lining of the colon, leading to estrogen imbalances.
Please note, that while increasing your consumption of soy-based foods to manage symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats, women with estrogen dominance should avoid them, as regular consumption of soy-based products or plants high in plant estrogens can contribute to estrogen dominance.
Eat a well-balanced diet: In addition to increasing your intake of plant-based foods, it’s important to remember that heart-healthy unsaturated fats, DHA, and Omega-3’s such as those found in fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts/seeds, and natural nut butters are important for not only promoting hormone balance, but supporting healthy brain and nerve function as well. Vitamin B12, found in meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs is an essential nutrient (meaning our bodies don’t produce it) which is also key in minimizing contributing factors to depression and other nervous system dysfunctions. B12 also supports red blood cell production and the production of the oxygen-carrying portion of the red blood cell. If you’re a practicing Vegan, supplementation is particularly important since animal meats and fish are where the natural sources of B12 occur. Marmite (or yeast extract powder) is a popular source of B12 for practicing Vegans.
Eating regular meals with an emphasis on fresh, whole, minimally processed foods throughout the day can help stabilize blood sugars which also affects mood and ensures that your body is getting the nutrients it needs.
Maintain Regular Sleep Habits: You’ve heard the old adage, “Practice makes perfect” and the importance of establishing a positive sleep routine should not be underestimated. Setting a regular routine isn’t just beneficial for cranky toddlers, it benefits women in both perimenopause and menopause as well.
In addition to going to bed at the same time each night, reserve at least an hour before your bedtime to relax with no screen time. Try reading a book, soaking in a hot bath, and minimizing noise and light. Temperature plays a factor in sleep and the management of hot flashes, so be sure to dress in light cotton pajamas and drink a full glass of water before you go to bed (remember, dehydration can promote hot flashes). Limit alcohol consumption, since alcohol itself disrupts REM sleep (which is one of the reasons you feel so awful after a night of binge-drinking). If quitting caffeine isn’t on your “to-do” list, limit your caffeine consumption to no later than noon and be sure to move your body every day.
If sleep is elusive there are natural sleep aids, including the use of essential oils, such as lavender, or herbal remedies such as Chamomile or Valerian which can both be steeped as teas. Use caution when using over-the-counter products, though, as many can be habit forming. Melatonin, in particular, should be used with caution, as taking it on a regular basis can suppress your body’s own natural melatonin production leading to an increase in symptoms of insomnia.
Use natural supplements: Vaginal dryness isn’t only an annoyance, it can be painful! If you notice discomfort before or after menopause, Vitamin E oil can be used as a natural way to combat your symptoms. You can purchase Vitamin E capsules over-the-counter in bottles, but my suggestion is to purchase them packaged in individual blister packs to ensure that they don’t get contaminated. You have two options when using them: 1) Wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water, then insert the capsules intravaginally like you would a tampon or treatment for a yeast infection. The heat from your body will cause the capsule to melt, releasing the oil naturally. 2) Using a sterilized needle, pierce the side of the Vitamin E capsule and use your fingers to apply the oil both internal and externally.
Note: Since Vitamin E is oil-based, use with condoms is not recommended as it can break down the latex. This is not a concern if you are truly menopausal which is defined as the first day after twelve consecutive months of NO PERIODS. If you are unsure, consult your OB/GYN.
Kegel Exercises: They aren’t just for post-partum Moms anymore! In fact, just like other parts of your body, pelvic floor health is just as important to maintain. Urinary incontinence doesn’t just affect women who have just had babies, incontinence can occur during perimenopause/menopause due to loss of elasticity of the tissues in your vagina and urethra, as well as the thinning of pelvic floor tissues and their supporting structures. Weakness of the pelvic floor muscles can also occur due to a sedentary lifestyle as well as from not maintaining pelvic floor health. This can lead to a prominent bulge in the abdomen known as Diastasis Recti. If belly bulge is an issue for you, download my FREE ASSESSMENT TOOL here and find out how you can correct it.
Unwanted Weight Gain:
Decrease your consumption of alcohol and caffeine: If you’re standing there with a glass of your favorite Cab in hand while reading this post, chances are this item on my list elicited a huge eye-roll! The truth is, a number of habits can affect the frequency and severity of perimenopause/ menopausal symptoms and alcohol consumption one of them. While advice like “maintain a healthy diet” and “get regular exercise” might seem like a given, regular alcohol consumption affects menopausal symptoms–like unwanted weight gain–as well. Are you having trouble losing weight? Read here why you should “Lose the Booze.”
It has also been scientifically proven that the consumption of caffeine not only increases the frequency and severity of hot flashes, caffeine artificially increases stress hormones. Hellooooo! Caffeine jitters = fight or flight which, long term, has a negative effect on health.
Minimize stress: When our bodies are stressed or we stay in “fight or flight” mode, our bodies release cortisol. Cortisol is great if you’re being chased by a bear, because, who has time to stuff food in their mouths while they’re running? Umm, NOBODY!
Prolonged stress, such as having a stressful life, a stressful job, working out for hours a day, or in the case of our caffeine example, consuming caffeinated beverages on a regular basis, causes the body to produce too much cortisol. Too much cortisol in the body doesn’t just decrease your immune function or increase joint inflammation, it promotes the storage of fat right around your midsection!
That’s right! Your body perceives constant stress like it does a real bear and we all know if you’re being chased by one, you’re going to need the energy to run like hell–and what better way to store energy than in the form of fat? While this may seem a tad unfair, it’s how our bodies were designed.
Finding time each day to decompress is an excellent way to mitigate the effects of stress. Having quiet/alone time, going for a long walk, listening to music, reading a book, or even soaking in a hot bath are all ways to decrease stress. Feeling too busy or like you don’t have time? Schedule your “me time” in so that you’re sure to have a chance to relax and recharge!
Move your body: ‘While activities such as yoga, walking, cycling, running, yoga and swimming are all excellent ways to promote your overall well-being during menopause, I’m not talking about just any type of exercise!
Weight lifting and resistance training are both ways to maintain bone, joint, and muscle health as we age! If there was only one type of exercise that I could recommend, hands down my recommendation would be weight lifting! The benefits of weight lifting at any age, but particularly as it pertains to perimenopause/menopause, are almost too numerous to count! My favorite benefit, however, is the fact that weight lifting increases muscle mass. Muscles are considered “metabolically active” which means they burn energy (also known as calories) whether at work or at rest! In my program Six Weeks To A Better You® I refer to weight lifting as the “Holy Grail” of weight loss and with good reason. I can’t think of a better way to stave off the unwanted weight gain!
If weight lifting seems intimidating, many local gyms or YMCA’s offer free consultations with a personal trainer who can show you proper technique and form and if working out at a gym is not in the budget, online Coaches can be beneficial as well. Just make sure the Coach or the program you purchase is backed by a Certified Professional and that you’re cleared by your Physician.
Have a comment or question? I’d love to hear from you!!! Please let me know if you enjoyed this post or leave suggestions for future topics! Xo Trish