Menopause means ‘stopping menstruation’. It is a normal change in a woman’s life and signifies the end of a woman’s reproductive years, often referred to as ‘the change of life.’ Menopause begins between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row, due to no other causes.
Some women pass through menopause with no symptoms, which others suffer a series of symptoms including:
- Changes in your period – the length of time between periods and the blood flow may change each month
- Abnormal bleeding or spotting. If your periods have stopped for 12 months in a row and you still have ‘spotting’, you should see your medical practitioner
- Hot flashes (flushes) – heat sensation in the face, neck and chest
- Night sweats, which may cause sleeping problems leading to fatigue and nervous tension
- The vagina may become dry and thin causing sex to be painful resulting in lowered libido. Vaginal infections may also increase due the dryness
- Risk of thinning of your bones – osteoporosis
- Mood changes – such as mood swings, depression, and irritability. Poor concentration or memory
- Urinary problems – cystitis, leaking when sneezing, coughing, or laughing
- Weight gain or increase in body fat around your waist
- Hair thinning or loss
Why it happens?
As women reach menopause the hormone (oestrogen and progesterone) levels decline and fluctuations in other hormones occurs. At menopause, oestrogen and progesterone production has stopped. After menopause the less active form of oestrogen called oestrone, is produced. The kidneys, liver and fat cells are important for conversion of certain sex hormones to oestrone.
Menopause that occurs before the age of 40 is called ‘premature menopause’ and may occur due to:
- Family history
- Medical treatments eg. surgery to remove the ovaries
- Cancer treatments eg. chemotherapy or radiation to the pelvic area
- Certain drugs can cause a menopausal state that is reversible if the medication is stopped
What natural therapies can help?
Supplements of soya beans or red clover contain phytoestrogens which have been found to decrease menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.
Dong quai and black cohosh – can help reduce symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes, nervousness, anxiety, hot flushes, headache, vaginal dryness, vertigo, heart palpitations and insomnia.
Sage – is an oestrogenic herb used to reduce night sweats and hot flushes. Drink as a tea.
Vitex agnus castus, commonly known as chaste tree can help balance hormones. When combined with Shatavari (asparagus root), the two herbs help balance hormones, lighten the bleed and restore a sense of regularity until menstruation stops. If fatigue is also a factor, the herb rhemannia can be combined with vitex and Shatavari, as it nourishes and supports depleted adrenal glands.
Zizyphus and St John’s wort – if you are becoming more susceptible to stress, anxiety and worry, then these herbs may help you cope better.
B group vitamins and magnesium – can help during times of stress and nervous tension.
Did you know?
- A warm environment, eating or drinking hot or spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and stress can bring on hot flushes. Try to avoid these triggers. Dressing in layers is the best way to deal with the hot flushes, as you can just remove layers.
- Vaginal dryness – natural vaginal lubricants are available.
- Sleeping problems – avoid exercise close to bedtime. Alcohol, caffeine, large meals, and working right before bedtime can also affect sleep quality.
- Mood swings – ensure you address any sleeping problems. Exercise during the day can help reduce stress levels.
- Check your breasts regularly and have a mammogram.
- Consuming legumes which are rich in phytoestrogens is also sensible. These foods include soya products, tempeh, miso, chickpeas, beans and flaxseeds.
- Regular exercise will help protect you from the increased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease that occurs after menopause. Try to get at least half an hour of exercise on most days of the week to keep your bones and heart healthy, you may find this helps you cope better with stress and anxiety too.