Managing the menopause

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Our natural health experts offer their tips on how to get through ‘the change of life’.

Often referred to as ‘the change of life’, the menopause can be a difficult time for many women. The menopause happens when the ovaries no longer produce eggs. And as the ovaries manufacture the hormone oestrogen, when they stop functioning the levels of oestrogen in the blood begin to fall. This disrupts the menstrual cycle and leads to menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats, loss of libido, vaginal dryness, mood swings and aching joints.

In the UK, the average age at which women go through the menopause is 51, but this can vary depending on our genes and ethnicity. Here we take a look at some of the most common symptoms and how to manage them naturally.

Excessive sweating and hot flushes

Hot flushes and night sweats are the classic symptoms of the menopause. “If you’re experiencing hot flushes, avoid clothes made from synthetic fabrics and wear layers instead to keep warm,” advises Dr Marilyn Glenville, women’s health expert and author of Natural Solutions to Menopause (www.marilynglenville.com). “Also, watch what you eat and drink. A hot drink before bedtime can often trigger night sweats or even make them worse.

“Try to stay away from caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods. Remember that caffeine can be found in both food and drink (chocolate, caffeinated soft drinks, energy drinks, coffee and tea). It can cause your blood vessels to expand, making you sweat more, which can increase the hot flushes. You can also take vitamin C – bioflavonoids help to strengthen the capillaries, improving blood flow and so reducing hot flushes”.

Bone loss and back pain

“During and after menopause, when oestrogen levels are low, the process of bone loss starts to speed up and it can lead to osteoporosis,” explains Michela Vagnini, a nutritionist with Nature’s Plus (www.naturesplus.co.uk). “That’s when women should keep their bones healthy and strong by following a healthy diet and maintaining a good exercise routine, including weight-bearing exercises.”

The hormonal imbalances associated with the menopause can have a significant impact on our muscles and joints. Oestrogen strengthens the muscles and ligaments, so when the levels of this hormone fluctuate we can become more vulnerable to injury. Together with the normal wear and tear of ageing, this can cause chronic back pain. Lynne Robinson, founder of Body Control Pilates (www.bodycontrolpilates.com) and author of Pilates for Life, recommends practising pilates to strengthen your back and improve your core stability. “Unlike other sports and exercises, pilates is done in safe and supportive positions to cut out the risk of strain on joints,” she says.

Vaginal dryness and itching

Vaginal dryness can affect women of all ages, but it is particularly common during the menopause. “Normally, mucus membranes located at the mouth of the uterus keep the vagina moist,” says Dr Glenville. “Oestrogen helps these membranes to produce lubrication and stay plump and soft. The lubricant is slightly acidic so it protects the vagina from foreign bacteria, keeping it free from infection. Low levels of oestrogen also cause the vagina and surrounding connective tissue to lose elasticity and the tissue that lines the vagina to become thinner and more fragile.”

Dr Glenville recommends eating enough essential fatty acids in order to balance your hormones and to consider supplementing your diet with fish oil. “A low- or no-fat diet can make your whole body drier, including the vagina,” she says. “It’s also important to stock up on phytoestrogens, as research shows that foods rich in phytoestrogens, such as soya, chickpeas, lentils, flaxseeds and so on, can change the cells of the vagina so that they become more soft, elastic and moist. Vitamin C is a great nutrient when it comes to collagen formation. It gives tissue elasticity and, taken daily, can ease discomfort.”

Mood swings

Hormonal imbalances, (low oestrogen, which influences the production of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’), sleep deprivation and sweating can strongly affect mood levels during the menopause. “Sometimes simply getting enough sleep and changing your diet can alleviate the symptoms,” says Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at www.nutricentre.com.

“We’ve all heard of fish being great ‘brain food’ and there is a reason for this. Almost 60 per cent of our brains are made up of fat, and about half of that fat is DHA omega-3 fatty acids, which really can only be found in fish. Omega-3s are known as ‘essential’ fats because we cannot make them in the body and therefore need to get them through eating oily fish and taking a good, high strength supplement. They are needed for the brain cells to actually ‘pick up’ our neurotransmitters (i.e. serotonin) so they can be utilised by the brain cells more efficiently.”

Keep your symptoms at bay

Dr David Mantle, medical adviser at nutritional supplements company Pharma Nord (www.pharmanord.co.uk), offers three top natural tips to keep menopausal symptoms at bay.

1. Limit daily stresses
Stress can have a huge impact on the severity of menopausal symptoms. This is because chronic stress causes the adrenal glands to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol at the expense of oestrogen and progesterone. Take steps to reduce stress by spending time outdoors and taking up a low intensity hobby such as yoga.

2. Up your nutritional intake
A healthy diet provides the many vitamins and minerals required for the body to produce oestrogen and progesterone hormones. A number of nutritional deficiencies can contribute to menopausal symptoms, including magnesium, zinc, calcium and vitamins C, D and K. Deficiency of magnesium, for example, can result in heart palpitations and muscle tremors.

3. Try supplements
HRT has been found to reduce blood levels of coenzyme Q10, a vitamin-like substance needed by our cells for energy generation. Taking a high quality CoQ10 supplement could help to overcome tiredness and fatigue associated with the menopause. Polyunsaturated fatty acid omega-7 can help with intimate dryness, experienced by around 40 per cent of women, as well as dry eyes and dry skin. Clinical studies have shown that natural ingredients such as French pine bark, rose hip extract and amino acids may help with symptoms such as loss of libido, hot flushes, night sweats, irritability, vertigo (dizziness) and headaches.


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