It is only relatively recently that we have begun to understand the full impact the menopause can have on some women. It remains taboo in some respects and many women have no idea what to expect.
The menopause means the time in woman’s life when her periods gradually stop and her ovaries lose their reproductive function. It’s the natural hormonal decline that causes the menopause. Up until the menopause, the female hormone - oestrogen - is produced mainly by the ovaries and it stimulates the expression of female body characteristics and controls a woman’s reproductive cycle. As women get older, the number of eggs in the ovaries decreases and less oestrogen is produced, eventually causing physical and mental symptoms associated with menopause. The average age of a woman reaching menopause is 52 in the UK. Most symptoms last around four years from your last period. However, symptoms can last up to 12 years.
Women don’t just stop menstruating though; they go through menstrual irregularity, perhaps very heavy, painful periods and often increased premenstrual symptoms such as breast tenderness, joint aches and headaches. Other symptoms include insomnia, mood swings, irritability, aggression, weepiness, panic attacks and forgetfulness. These often lead to women mistakenly being treated for depression.
Diets high in animal fats, dairy and sugar and low in plant wholefoods can disrupt your hormone balance. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, cornflakes, cakes, milk chocolate bars, jam and sugary drinks have a rollercoaster effect on insulin production (insulin is the hormone needed for sugar processing in the body). Excess insulin can trigger increased levels of testosterone, which in turn disrupts the production of oestrogen and progesterone and this can make the menopausal symptoms worse. Erratic insulin levels can also cause hot flushes by dilating the blood vessels. This is the reason why eating less refined carbohydrates and sugar and more wholegrains, nuts and seeds, unsaturated fats and fresh fruit and vegetables can reduce the impact of the menopause as well as PMT.
Falling oestrogen levels can lead to a decline in bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis, as this multi-tasking hormone is involved in making the cells that form bone. A wholegrain varied vegan diet is the most protective diet for bone health. Soya can help combat hot flushes and protect your bone density because of the phytoestrogens (or plant oestrogens) it contains. These natural plant hormones may even help combat some of the psychological and emotional symptoms.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an effective treatment for hot flushes and night sweats and can help combat vaginal dryness and ease an overactive bladder (that “gotta go” problem). It protects your bones too and can also reduce mood swings and improve a general sense of well-being.
Types of HRT
· Oestradiol is a replica of oestrogen, derived from plant sterols from yam and soya and used in most of the HRT formulations available in the UK and Europe.
· Conjugated equine oestrogen is actually a horse oestrogen derived from horse’s urine. It is found in the Premarin range of HRT, extensively prescribed in the US and obviously, to be avoided. Premarin is simply a shortened version of the words ‘pregnant mares’ urine’ – not something you’d want to swallow!
“Balancing sex hormones via HRT is as important as giving insulin to a diabetic or thyroxine to someone with a thyroid deficiency.” Juliet Gellatley BSc Zoology & Psychology; nutritional therapist, DIP CNM
Many women find HRT dramatically eases their menopausal symptoms. However, there are some risks associated with it; HRT slightly raises your chance of developing the following conditions:
· breast cancer
· ovarian cancer
· blood clots
· deep vein thrombosis
Whichever way you move forward, rest assured you are not alone! Viva!Health has more information and advice available – we can help! Read Menopause Madness! Are you a Hostage to Hormones? What are the Solutions? By Juliet Gellatley
See The Safety of Soya fact sheet
Find out what you need to eat each day here.