Why menopause is actually an opportunity for self-care
DR. OLIVIA ROSE, ND
WHAT IS MENOPAUSE?
Menopause is defined as the absence of a menstrual period for 12 months. 51 years of age is the average age of onset in North America. Once in menopause, the function of the ovaries–the female gonads–drastically decline. This leads to cessation of ovulation and a decrease in the primary sex hormones–estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
But menopause is not a disease. It’s important to remember that your hormones do not need to be replaced and menopause itself does not need to be treated. Instead, this is a period of time in your life to focus on self-care and to examine the holistic ways to manage the discomforts your body is experiencing. Remember, it may take some effort and time to find exactly what works for you.
SYMPTOMS OF MENOPAUSE
Menopause is a gradual process, called perimenopause. Perimenopause is the transitional period leading up to menopause, which usually begins in your 40s. During this time, you may begin to experience your first symptoms of menopause–irregular periods and hot flashes. Every woman’s experience of menopause and perimenopause is different. The main symptoms of menopause include: hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, depression, anxiety, vaginal dryness, decreased libido and fatigue.
However, your experience with these symptoms or whether you even experience them at all will have a lot to do with how you set yourself up for this transition. In other words, the healthier you are in mind and body before perimenopause, the smoother the transition will be. This is the time to take stock of your health and to examine the lifestyle, environmental and nutritional factors that influence your well-being.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO EASE THE TRANSITION?
Yoga is an ancient practice that has been around for 5000 years. It has been proven to promote a reduction in stress, improve your mood, and promote sound sleep. Yoga serves as a wonderful tool to help manage your reaction to the stressors in your life. When you are stressed, cortisol and epinephrine hormones can increase the frequency and intensity of your hot flashes; stress hormones can also disrupt your sleep patterns. Anxiety can arise during perimenopause totally throwing you off-kilter.
The controlled breathing offered in yoga practices can help reduce the anxiety and calm your body’s response to stress. There are a wide range of yoga practices out there to choose from. If it’s your first time, look for a beginner level class and one that is accommodating if you have any challenges with mobility.
INCORPORATE DAILY MOVEMENT
If you have not started to incorporate exercise in your life already, it’s not too late! There are 2 types of exercise that are equally important here: (1) weight bearing exercise, and (2) Cardio. Weight bearing exercise is performed while on your feet either with or without an added weight to strengthen, tone and improve your bone density. Cardio exercise is any exercise that raises your heart rate.
Osteoporosis, or bone loss, is a complication of declining estrogen levels and weight bearing exercise serves as a stimulus to drive important minerals such as calcium and magnesium into your bones. Low estrogen is also linked to heart disease and, as it turns out, estrogen helps to keep your arteries flexible. Reduced flexibility of your arteries can increase your risk of heart disease. Cardio will help strengthen your heart muscle so that it can work more efficiently when you are at rest. Therefore, during perimenopause and even after menopause, exercise is essential to keep your bones, core muscles and heart strong. Examples of exercise include walking, weight lifting, pilates and interval training.
Another benefit of exercise is the hormone-balancing effect. Regular exercise increases the feel-good hormones, endorphins. According to a 2016 study, this hormone “cocktail” promotes an increase in confidence and sexual desire in post-menopausal women. Your body is meant to move. To start, consider walking for 30 minutes each day; as your endurance improves, you can start to incorporate different types of exercises into your daily routine.
REMOVE STIMULANTS SUCH AS CAFFEINE AND SPICY FOODS
Adopting a diet rich in protein, fiber and greens and low in refined carbohydrates and trans fats will set you up for a better transition to menopause. At the same time, it’s best to avoid overindulging in stimulants such as caffeine and spicy foods.
Caffeine is a common trigger for hot flashes and night sweats. Keep in mind that caffeine is found in many items including tea, chocolate, prescription and over-the-counter medications. If you are an avid coffee drinker, consider reducing your intake of coffee while increasing your water intake. Give herbal tea a try. You may discover love for a new beverage!
Spicy foods that contain hot peppers also increase your internal temperature and can therefore set you up for more intense hot flashes and night sweats.
TRY HERBAL REMEDIES SUCH AS DONG QUAI (ANGELICA SINENSIS) AND REHMANNIA (REHMANNIA GLUTINOSA)
Herbal medicine has been used for women’s health complaints for many centuries. Dong quai in particular has been used in Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years. A native plant of Europe and Asia, Dong quai is known as a female tonic and spice. It is used to treat female menstruation complaints, irregular periods, night sweats and hot flashes. Dong quai is a hormone-balancer and scientists believe it may contain mild estrogen-like qualities which work to stabilize your blood vessels, reducing hot flashes and decreasing vaginal dryness. It also contains folic acid and B12, two important nutrients in women’s health.
Traditional Chinese medicine doctors and naturopathic doctors typically recommend Dong quai in combination with other herbs such as Rehmannia. Rehmannia nourishes your adrenal glands and, in Chinese medicine, it is used to support a healthy stress response. Your adrenal glands produce your stress hormones such as cortisol and when taken regularly, Rehmannia can help your body adapt and actually thrive in stressful situations. This becomes of utmost importance in menopause as a heightened stress response can intensify symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats – no thank you!
HARMONY MENOPAUSE HERBAL SUPPLEMENTSHarmony Menopause and Harmony Menopause Max are multi-herbal formulas featuring Rehmannia and 5 other herbs, including Dong Quai and Chinese Yam. Both of these formulas provide relief from hot flashes, sleeplessness, irritability and night sweats. Wherever you’re in this transition, know that you’re not alone. There are many holistic ways to support your health as you enter menopause. Take it one step at a time and don’t be afraid to seek the guidance of a holistic practitioner.
(1) A Pilot Study of Integral Yoga for Menopausal Hot Flashes – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4110168/
(2) Sexual Function and Exercise in Postmenopausal Women Residing in Chalous and Nowshahr, Northern Iran – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4939225/
DR. OLIVIA ROSE, ND
Dr. Olivia Rose graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2006. She is now the director of Fertility Acupuncture Services, a program that brings acupuncture to couples undergoing in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination to Toronto fertility clinics.