Menopause is defined as occurring 12 months after the last menstrual period, and is a natural process that happens to every woman. The age at which it occurs differs but it is usually between the ages of 45-55, with the average being 51. Although menopause means the end of a woman’s fertile years, you can remain healthy and full of vitality and sexuality if you take good care of your physical, emotional and mental health. What’s the secret to a smooth transition into menopause and beyond? Start looking after yourself early on! Taking care of your body through diet, lifestyle and preventative medicine throughout your fertile years will make a big difference as to how your body transitions into perimenopause and menopause. And if you’re already there, don’t stress- there’s a lot you can do to keep your body both physically and mentally vital, as well as minimise the irritating symptoms that come with menopause.
Antioxidant-rich foods for healthy ageing
Eating a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods is key to healthy ageing, as antioxidants provide protection to the cardiovascular system, help prevent cancer and degenerative diseases, protect joints, reduce inflammation AND they are the best investment towards looking younger!
Vitamin C enhances collagen synthesis, Vitamin E decreases wrinkles and CoQ10 protects our skin from damage caused by ultraviolet light A resulting in wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and sagging skin. Focus on consuming foods rich in antioxidants daily such as a wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds (especially brazil nuts, walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds) lean chicken, beef, fresh fish and green tea.
Phyto-oestrogens for menopause
Phyto-oestrogens are plant-derived compounds which exert a hormone-like effect within the human body. They are oestrogen-modulating so work by exerting an oestrogen-like action within the body when natural oestrogen levels are low, which is the case in menopause. Phyto-oestrogen rich foods include soybeans, wholegrains, flaxseeds, legumes and many herbs. Isoflavonoids and lignans are the two phyto-oestrogens that have been extensively studied, with research showing that these nutrients are converted by the beneficial bacteria in our gut into compounds which have an oestrogen-like activity. So in order to reap the benefits it is vital that your gut health is in top shape. Consuming foods high in phyto-oestrogens as part of your daily diet can help to reduce symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness, however it is important to note that highly processed soy or genetically-modified soy should not be included, only organic and preferably fermented soy like tempeh and miso. Flaxseeds are a great option, however make sure they are freshly ground and stored correctly as they are highly unstable and oxidise easily (store as whole flaxseeds in fridge and grind immediately before use).
Unfortunately, menopause comes with an increase in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease so it’s important to develop good habits surrounding regular exercise to minimise this risk. Aim for 30 minutes daily and keep it interesting- join a class if you feel exercising with others will help to keep you inspired and motivated- Pilates, swimming, Zumba and yoga are all great options. Exercise also improves self-esteem, mood and frame of mind and is key to maintaining good mental and physical health throughout menopause and beyond.
Menopause can be a time of increased stress and emotional vulnerability, as the hormonal status of your body shifts and adjusts, leaving a woman feeling more anxious, flat or overwhelmed than before. Support networks become so important here, so nurture your female friendships and set aside regular time during your week to spend with your friends doing things you enjoy. After all those years of continuously giving to your children, partners and family members it’s now time for you to do some of the things you’ve always wanted! If you feel you need more support or someone to talk to, don’t hesitate in seeking out professional help.
Symptom management – herbal medicine and hot flushes
One of the biggest complaints women have during their menopausal years is the irritating and uncomfortable symptom of hot flushes. In fact, a nine-year study undertaken in a sample of Melbourne women demonstrated that only 17% of women did not experience hot flushes during the transition into menopause! So what can you do to decrease the occurrence and severity of hot flushes? Herbal medicine may just be the answer.
Sage has been used traditionally in folk medicine as a treatment for excessive sweating and hot flushes, and the fresh leaves are reported to have the best effect. In fact, a study was carried out to determine just how effective sage is in relieving hot flushes, with 71 women given a once-daily dose of fresh sage leaves over a two-month period. The results were amazing- there was a 50% reduction in symptoms by 4 weeks and by 8 weeks it had increased to a 64% reduction. It’s a simple and effective treatment as a tea so keep fresh sage leaves in your fridge (or better yet grow a small plant yourself!) and consume daily.
Other herbs that have been shown to be effective in decreasing hot flushes are Black Cohosh, Hops, Zizyphus and Red Clover. Your Naturopath can prescribe an individualised herbal formula for you, along with more diet and lifestyle tips to make your transition through menopause a smooth one.
Bommer S, Klein P & Suter A, 2011, First-time proof of sage’s tolerability and efficacy in menopausal women with hot flushes, Advances in Therapy 28(6) 490-500 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21630133
Guthrie JR et. al. 2005, Hot flushes during the menopause transition: a longitudinal study in Australian-born women, Menopause 12(4) 460-7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16037762
Hechtman L 2012, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine
Sunita P & Pattanayak P 2011, Phytoestrogens in postmenopausal indications: a theoretical perspective, Pharmacognosy Review 5(9) 41-47 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210008/