A little while back, my sister mused over her own, very challenging journey through the menopause here. This week, Zodleblog’s resident naturopathic nutritional therapist Bex Sullivan, muses over yet another uniquely female affliction and the bit that comes before the menopause; the perimenopause and, what you can do to alleviate the symptoms ‘naturally’!
Quite simply perimenopause is the transition stage in a woman’s reproductive life that begins, on average, 4 to 5 years before menopause. During that time, your ovaries gradually produce less oestrogen, causing FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone, the hormone responsible for developing the eggs in our ovaries) levels to rise and menstrual cycles to shorten. Periods then become fewer and far between until finally oestrogen levels drop off completely and ovulation (and finally menstruation) stops. When you’ve gone 12 months without a period, perimenopause ends and menopause officially begins.
The onset of menopause is natural and it’s normal but, for many women the symptoms that come with this process can really impact on day-to-day life. In the western world, the menopause is still commonly treated as a disease state and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is routinely prescribed to alleviate the symptoms. Many women I speak to are concerned about the potential side effects of taking these drugs and want to know what they can do to help get some relief from the symptoms without resorting to pharmaceuticals.
Well, the good news is that there are plenty of things you can do. We know that hormone levels are largely influenced by how we eat, sleep, and exercise, so a few changes in diet and lifestyle can really go a long way to help.
Balance that blood sugar – In some cases this could be the absolute kicker for waving goodbye to those pesky symptoms. When blood glucose concentration drops the adrenal gland releases adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. This spike in cortisol is known to set off hot flashes and disturb sleep patterns so focus on eating whole foods such as whole grains, quinoa, beans and legumes to help to keep blood sugar more stable.
Avoid refined sugar at all costs, making sure you check those food labels for any hidden nasties.
Get exercising – As the body goes into perimenopause the function of the hypothalamus (the bridge between the nervous system and the endocrine hormonal system) is altered potentially causing symptoms such as hot flashes. Endorphins (the feel good hormone) we produce when we exercise are critical for proper functioning of this tiny gland; so get your trainers on and go and find something active that you enjoy!
Tone down the heat – Some people find spicy and heat producing foods such as cinnamon and ginger can exacerbate hot flashes, so laying off the hot stuff may help keep them at bay.
Have some ‘me’ time – Life can be pretty stressful at the best of times, but as we know, stress equals cortisol and, cortisol spikes equals hot flashes. So, if you’re a busy bee who’s plagued by this symptom then it’s time to apply the brakes and slow down!
Yoga, tai chi, meditation or even just half an hour with good book can all work wonders to reduce cortisol levels. If you feel a hot flash coming on then a deep breathing exercise can be a great way to stop it in its tracks. Check out some apps like Breath2relax, Breathing Zone or Universal Breathing – Pranayama, to help guide you through.
Ditch the fags – We all know the health implications of smoking, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of decades but, many women don’t realise that smoking can exacerbate some of the more unpleasant symptoms of perimenopause. Studies have proven that quitting the ciggies can help reduce both the severity and intensity of hot flashes and may also improve sleep patterns. One more excellent reason to ditch the evil weed!
Get some flax in your life – Lignans are a type of polyphenol most abundant in flaxseeds, although they’re also found in other seeds (pumpkin,sunflower and sesame seeds to name a few), berries, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Lignans have weak estrogenic activity so when you eat a diet high in these compounds they can work to supplement your falling oestrogen levels and promote a more optimal balance. Lignans have the added bonus of being highly beneficial for the heart and cardiovascular system. This is of great importance as the risk of cardiovascular disease rapidly increases with the onset of menopause.
Hit the herbs…
Sage is an age old remedy sworn by many to reduce hot flashes, night sweats and boost brain function. Seep a few sage leaves in a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice overnight. Drain the resulting liquid off in the morning and swill it back. Alternatively, enjoy a nice hot cup or three of sage tea throughout the day 🙂
Dang Quoi is touted as a symptom relieving wonder herb that has been used in chinese herbal medicine for thousands of years. The herb is high in phytoestrogens and can work to relieve vaginal dryness, tame hot flashes, and stimulate circulation. But do approach with caution as use of the Dang Quoi is contraindicated with a number of medications. Avoid if you are on blood thinning meds or if you have heavy bleeding or fibroids as Dang Quoi increases circulation and therefore it could increase bleeding.
In many traditional cultures around the world, the menopause is celebrated as a positive process for a woman and the unpleasant symptoms many suffer in the west often don’t exist. Menopause is anticipated as a time of wisdom and renewed creativity in a woman’s life and is a milestone at which women are honoured. So let’s start a menopause revolution and celebrate this new phase in our lives with a few tweaks here and there to make it as happy and healthy a transition as possible! 🙂
Thanks Bex – invaluable advice as always, although I’m not entirely sure I want to throw a party in my perimenopause’s honour just yet but, I will celebrate the fact that there are steps us gals can take in order to alleviate the symptoms ‘naturally’…
If you have any questions for Bex or, would like her to investigate a naturopathic nutritional therapy topic in the name of ‘intelligent ageing’, please leave your comment below.
**If you’d like a private consultation with Bex, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org**