I know that I’m certainly not in the menopause phase, but many of the women I’ve helped as 1:1 clients have been either perimenopausal or in the throes of menopause. Things like insomnia, hot flashes, unexplained weight gain and even brain fog are no fun. Not so surprisingly, and why I love the world of holistic health so much, there’s so much you can do to prepare and treat menopause, naturally.
The reality is that menopause is a completely natural period of change that all women go through. While it’s true that for some women it can be a very difficult period with a lot of uncomfortable symptoms, it can also be a relatively easy for some women. It just takes some preparation.
Women have a finite amount of eggs, which are stored in their ovaries. Menopause describes the changes that happen around the period of time when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and a woman stops menstruating, which marks the end of her reproductive period. With the stop in production of eggs, hormone levels start to massively change. Menopause usually occurs between ages 45 and 52 but some women experience premature menopause, even before their 40s.
There are multiple stages of menopause and the whole process takes place over several years. The last few years of perimenopause (which can start as early as 35 in some women), when estrogen production decreases more quickly and menopause is approaching, is usually when most women experience the most dramatic symptoms. It is a radical hormone shift.
Some of the symptoms experienced during this time include:
The short explanation is that in a normal cycle, women release a number of different hormones to prepare the womb to receive a fertilized egg, to trigger ovulation, and then shed the lining should fertilization not occur. As women run out of eggs and head into menopause, estrogen levels decrease, progesterone levels either drop off or stop altogether, and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) becomes higher.
The majority of menopause symptoms occur when the delicate balance between estrogen and progesterone becomes out of whack. If you take the symptom of vaginal dryness for example, vaginal dryness occurs because the fall in estrogen means thinner vaginal walls and less blood flow to the area.
Int menopause, the estrogen produced by the ovaries drops significantly and the adrenal glands and fat cells compensate by producing their own estrogen. The adrenal glands also release stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine, so if the adrenals are already overworked due to things like years of stress or blood sugar imbalances, the adrenals have a tough time also producing the estrogen and progesterone and you can start to see worse menopause symptoms.
Natural preparation and treatment for menopause symptoms requires a holistic approach that covers diet, nutritional supplementation in some cases, lifestyle factors like exercise, sleep and managing stress, and supports the adrenal glands. If you’re in good health, your hormones will stabilize themselves and you can rely on natural levels of milder estrogens coming from your adrenal glands and fat cells.
Progesterone and estrogen affect how your cells respond to insulin. If your blood sugar levels are already imbalanced leading up to menopause, this can make your symptoms like fatigue, cravings, mood swings and weight gain much worse. Blood sugar imbalances can also lead to excess cortisol release, which of course can put additional stress on your adrenal glands. To balance your blood sugar levels, cut down on convenience foods, refined sugars, excess caffeine and alcohol and focus instead on nutrient and fiber-rich vegetables and complex carbs. It’s also important to eat good quality protein and healthy fats at each meal. You can always follow our meal plans, so that you have a proper plan and delicious recipe ideas to keep your blood sugar in check.
It’s not uncommon to see women who have spent years burning the candle at both ends and putting others first, to reach perimenopause and realize they have an adrenal imbalance. As I mentioned before, if your adrenal glands are off leading into menopause they won’t be able to produce sufficient estrogen to make up for the decline in production by your ovaries and you’re going to have a way harder time in menopause. You can start by testing your cortisol levels to make sure your adrenals will be able to take over hormone production, incorporating stress management techniques, finding an exercise routine that works for you, and making sure you’re doing what you can to get enough good quality sleep.
Estrogen is needed for bone formation, which is why women have a great risk of osteoporosis following menopause. Strength training helps to improve bone density and strengthens your skeletal muscles, it also improves your metabolism which also slows as a result of menopause. If you’ve never lifted weights before, consult a professional before undertaking a new routine.
Testing your hormone levels can be a helpful exercise for anyone approaching menopause, but if you’re someone who lives a high stress life, you feel burnt out, exhausted or have brain fog, your sugar cravings are out of control, or you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it’s particularly important. We offer the ability to test your sex hormones, thyroid hormones and adrenal hormones to understand your baseline levels and what might need to be adjusted to make menopause as pleasant as possible. Click here to learn more about that.
Phytoestrogens are plant estrogens found in foods that may help balance hormones. Phytoestrogens are tricky compounds in that they can both mimic estrogen and act as an estrogen antagonist, which means they behave in the opposite way of the estrogen produced by humans. During perimenopause, increasing phytoestrogen intake can counteract the effects of the hormonal imbalances women begin to experience and help to balance hormones naturally. Some research suggests phytoestrogens may help reduce hot flashes and bone and cardiovascular health in perimenopausal women. While soy is the best known phytoestrogen, the research on soy is a bit conflicting. For that reason, I recommend opting for phytoestrogens founds in a variety of whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Xenoestrogens are either synthetic or natural substances that behave like estrogen in the body. When xenoestrogens enter the body they increase the total amount of estrogen and are stored in our fat cells. Rather than balancing hormones they can create imbalances linked to increased risk of some cancers, endometriosis and diabetes. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but some examples of xenoestrogens you should try to avoid include pesticides on your food, some chemicals in skincare or body care products, chemical cleaning supplies and plastic.
There are a number of nutrients that are important for your adrenals and thyroid: things like B vitamins, magnesium, and selenium, to name a few. Cleaning up your diet is of course step one, but you want to make sure these body systems have the building blocks they need to do their job properly and to resolve any imbalances, and in some cases that involves supplementation.
Working with a nutritionist to address imbalances and optimize your health now, can make the difference between a smooth transition through menopause and some very uncomfortable years. I’m confident that the above are good starting points for many women. That being said, there’s no substitute for having a specific program that is tailor-made for your symptoms, preferences and lifestyle. Click here to book a free 15 minute info session with a Nutritionist on our team.
Written by: Natalia Bragagnolo, RHN