Manage the menopause

Natural health tips to ease the symptoms of the menopause

The menopause can be a difficult time for many women – physically, mentally and emotionally. Every woman is different of course, but the menopause generally tends to occur between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.

During this time of change, oestrogen levels decline, leading to a decrease in bone mass and an increased risk of osteoporosis. In addition, declining oestrogen levels can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

Typical menopausal symptoms range from hot flushes and night sweats to vaginal dryness, depression, libido problems and insomnia. While this is undoubtedly a tough period in any woman’s life, there are many natural solutions that can help to ease the process. Here we speak to the experts to get their advice and tips.

Try some yoga!

Certain yoga practices may help to calm the hot flushes associated with the menopause, says Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, a yoga therapy specialist with menopause support website Health & Her (healthandher.com). She explains: “Roll your tongue either back on itself or curling the edges round to make a straw shape and breathe in slowly, taking the air over the surface of your tongue, allowing it to cool as you do. Relax the mouth and breathe out through your nose. Repeat this seven times; it might look funny but it works! Think of it as human air-conditioning; it works on the same principle as a dog panting with its tongue lolling out to cool. It’s a great way to lower the temperature of the tongue, mouth, head and possibly the throat and rest of the body when you’re having a hot flush.”

Add soy to your diet

“Diet forms the cornerstone of health,” says clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer. “And this becomes even more important during the menopause when hormones are fluctuating. The right nutrition can have a big impact on hormonal health by nourishing and helping control and eliminate unpleasant menopausal symptoms. Add soy products, rich in isoflavones, to your diet. There is much research to suggest that eating whole soya foods rich in Japanese and Chinese cultures can have a positive effect on menopausal symptoms. However, products need to be made from whole soya rather than soya isolate or soya protein isolate to gain benefit from the isoflavones. Other isoflavone-rich foods include chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans.”

Increase your fibre intake

“There are two types of fibre: insoluble found in wholegrains and vegetables which aid good bowel movements, and soluble found in oats, beans and fruit,” says Suzie Sawyer. “Both are essential in the diet and especially to help with detoxifying ‘old’ oestrogens. Whilst it’s the lack of oestrogen causing menopausal symptoms, the body needs to effectively excrete those it’s utilised; eating a fibre-rich diet is the key.”

Encourage production of the ‘happy hormone’!

“Depression is, unfortunately, a very common symptom of the menopause,” says Suzie Sawyer. “The body makes serotonin, our happy hormone, from foods containing the amino acid tryptophan. The good news is that it’s widely available in a variety of foods including fish, wholegrains, soya, beans, eggs, bananas and oats, so make sure you’re eating some at every meal, if possible. Plus, if you’re having trouble sleeping, have a small tryptophan-rich snack before bedtime; serotonin also produces melatonin, our key sleep hormone.”

Get moving

“Any exercise that stresses the bones, such as skipping, can slow down the loss of bone density associated with the menopause,” says GP Dr David Edwards, a specialist in male and female sexual dysfunction. “Brisk walking or aerobics release endorphins, the feelgood hormones in the body which can help alleviate low mood and anxiety, common feelings during the menopause years. Pilates and yoga are good for flexibility while pelvic floor exercises help protect against urinary incontinence as you age.”

Take time to relax

“Oestrogen is known as a soothing hormone, which helps us feel calm and in control,” says Dr Meg Arroll, a behavioural change psychologist working with pelvic floor specialist INNOVO. “When levels dip, moods can swing dramatically. These more psychological symptoms are often some of the first to develop during the menopause but are not as commonly associated with it compared to vasomotor symptoms such hot flushes and night sweats. Psychological techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mind-body exercises such as yoga have been shown in studies to help put the brakes on this rollercoaster, allowing women to feel, once again, back in control of their emotions.”

5 top supplements for the menopause

Women’s health expert Dr Marilyn Glenville lists her top five supplements for soothing menopausal symptoms.

Phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens have a balancing effect on hormones and there are a number of herbs that are helpful for the menopause including sage, flaxseeds, hops and red clover. Sage has been shown to decrease hot flushes by 50 per cent after four weeks and by 64 per cent after eight weeks. Red clover has also been shown to significantly reduce hot flushes and night sweats.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is vital for your bone health and prevention of osteoporosis as you don’t absorb calcium well if you are deficient. It is also thought to play a major role in breast and bowel cancer prevention and to be important for immune function and particularly helpful in the winter when there is more flu around. Vitamin D can also help with joint pains and arthritis which are more common around the menopause.

Omega-3
Deficiencies in this nutrient can look like symptoms that may occur through the menopause and beyond such as dry skin, lifeless hair, cracked nails, fatigue, depression, dry eyes, lack of motivation, aching joints, difficulty in losing weight and forgetfulness.

Multivitamins and minerals
I always recommend that women take a good quality multivitamin and mineral that is formulated specifically for the menopause.

This supplement should contain vital nutrients for bone health, good levels of antioxidants to help slow down the ageing process, and other important vitamins and minerals, such as the B vitamins and chromium, to help keep blood sugar levels balanced. It should also contain calcium, magnesium, manganese, boron and vitamin D3.

Vitamin C
This helps in the manufacture of collagen which makes up a large percentage of the bone matrix, so vitamin C is an important nutrient for bone health. Vitamin C also gives strength and elasticity to your skin so helps to reduce wrinkles.

Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD is the UK’s leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health. She is the author of books including Natural Solutions to the Menopause and Natural Alternatives to Dieting. Visit www.marilynglenville.com

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