Menopause, part 1

In Ancient Greece, when women reached menopause, they celebrated being freed from the “curse” by having orgies as they no longer had to fear falling pregnant (there is something to think about!).

The menopause is part of the normal cycle of a woman’s hormonal life, when the menstrual cycle ceases. It should be seen as the Greeks did, as a time of great potential. The children have grown up, you are wiser and more mature, and it is time to begin an exciting chapter in one’s life. The menopause tends to occur between 45-55, although it can occur as early as 35 or as late as 65. Chemicals such as chemotherapy or over exposure to certain drugs can trigger early menopause.

At the time of menopause, women do still produce oestrogen, but not enough to prepare the womb for pregnancy.  It is the levels of progesterone that plummet or disappear completely. The ovaries continue to produce some oestrogen for a good decade after the onset of menopause.

For most women the menopause happens in 3 stages:

  1. Peri – menopause: When you still have periods, they may get heavier or lighter, and symptoms such as hot flushes start to appear.
  2. Menopause: When ovarian function declines and periods stop.
  3. Post menopause: This begins 12 months after your last period (Here is where the true insanity begins).

Throughout this time signs of ageing will start to appear, skin starts to wrinkle, facial hair may increase and muscles loses tone. (I am not selling the up side very well, I know).

Many women may suffer hot flushes, insomnia and joint aches and pains as the hormone levels begin to tapper off. It is also at this stage that the body becomes less able to absorb calcium and osteoporosis can begin to develop.

Vagina dryness and thinning of the vaginal wall will also follow as the blood to the area becomes restricted. BUT, regular intercourse increases the flow of blood to the area and will maintain both moisture production and wall thickness, so don’t give up!

This is also a time when mood swings and depression can kick in quite hard, but most of you will have been used to a week a month of feeling like this from your days of menstruation. The good news is that by eating the right diet, taking the right supplements, getting some exercise and using natural hormone replacements, virtually all these symptoms can be avoided or alleviated naturally.

I am not going to bang on about the HRT / No HRT debate, whatever works for you do it, but here are a few of the side effects of taking orthodox HRT:

  • Increased risk of high blood pressure.
  • Gall bladder and liver problems.
  • Increased risk of breast and uterine cancer.

It does though maintain your bone density, but only while you are taking it. Should you stop, whatever you have retained you will lose very fast.

HRT does not use true progesterone, buy a synthetic hormone called progestogen, this often has side effects of irritability, liver dysfunction, vaginal bleeding, and blood clots. It also reverses the positive effects that oestrogen has on the heart. So although it is very affective and now the doses have been very well researched and prescribed, there are other natural options which we will come on to next time.

FOODS TO AVOID

  • In general avoid the typical western diet of white flour, full fat dairy and fatty meats.
  • Many pesticides contain chemicals called xenoestrogens, they mimic oestrogens to try and stick to an organic diet.
  • Non-organic meats and poultry are full of oestrogens to make them fatter, so again eat organic.
  • Minimise foods stored in plastic containers and don’t microwave in plastic boxes as this the plastic is full of xenoestogens and it will leach into you food.
  • Cut down on stimulants such as coffee and alcohol, these will affect you blood sugar and trigger hot flushes.

FRIENDLY FOODS

  • Eat lots of fresh organic fruit, vegetables and nuts. This is where you will find your absorbable calcium NOT in milk.
  • Soya gets a bad wrap, but it is full of Isoflavones and will help protect against the negative effects of oestrogen and xenoestrogens. Eat it in its traditional form, miso, soya sauce and tempeh.
  • Chickpeas, soya beans, lentils, alfalfa, fennel, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are all full of Isoflavons. Natural flax seed oil is a great essential fatty acid and will help reduce aches and pains and keep your skin looking younger and your vagina lubricated.
  • Brassica vegetables protect against oestrogen sensitive cancers such as breast and ovarian cancers. So eat plenty of cabbage, broccoli, pak choy, sprouts, kale and turnips.
  • Brazil nuts and sesame seeds are full of absorbable calcium.
  • Vitamin B12 has been shown to help reduce irritability, bloating and headaches associated with menopause, so eat oily fish, eggs and good quality meat.
  • Use dried seaweed in your cooking, such as kombu, this is rich in iodine and will help to support your thyroid (this can begin to develop problems during menopause).
  • Garlic will keep your cholesterol down.
  • Drink plenty of water; this will help regulate your body temperature.
  • Avoid hot drinks and spices if you suffer with hot flushes.
  • Valerian tea will help with your sleep
  • Dr Marc Farah