The menopause is a natural part of ageing that typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, as a women’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the the average age for a women to reach the menopause is 51, but it can occur earlier in your 30s or later in your 60s. Around 1 in 100 women experience the menopause before the age of 40.
Every woman will experience different symptoms and their severity varies a lot. “Common menopausal symptoms are: hot flushes, night sweats, excessive anxiety, low mood, vaginal dryness, low libido, arthritic-like joint pain, fatigue, memory lapses and cosmetic changes to skin, hair and nails,” explains Eileen Durward, menopause expert at A.Vogel.
As you start going through menopause, you hormones will fluctuate, which can cause a lot of the uncomfortable symptoms. Initially, your periods are also likely to change; they may become more irregular, sometimes more heavy, sometimes lighter. So one of the key things to support yourself through the change is making sure you’ve got a good supply of key nutrients that help to balance our female hormones.
“These include B vitamins, especially folate and B6, magnesium and zinc,” advises Marta Anhelush, clinical nutrition manager at BioCare. “Additionally, natural sources of plant oestrogens (also known as phytoestrogens or isoflavones), found in red clover, soya or flax seeds, can be helpful when our natural oestrogen levels drop. They are very effective at reducing hot flushes, fatigue and other menopausal symptoms.”
Jayne Wilson, wellbeing expert at Wassen, also recommends vitamin B6 and magnesium: “Vitamin B6 is proven to support the nervous system, regulate hormonal activity in the body, contribute to energy metabolism and also healthy psychological function. Foods containing vitamin B6 such as chickpeas, tuna, salmon, chicken and potatoes can therefore help keep your energy levels healthy and your hormones in balance.
“Along with B6, magnesium is important for energy release and is proven to help with tiredness and fatigue, often experienced by women during the menopause. Try to eat foods containing magnesium including dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage and broccoli.”
For hot flushes and night sweats, Durward suggests trying sage: “Hot flushes and night sweats are the symptoms that cause most distress, and a simple, non-hormonal solution is sage extract.
“For a broader range of the low oestrogen symptoms listed, go for fermented soya isoflavones, which gently raise oestrogen without any of the problems often associated with HRT. Don’t use these if using hormonal contraceptives though.
“For anxiety, which can be an intense problem during this time, try a good magnesium supplement, alongside a vitamin B complex and additional L-theanine.”
Nutritional therapist Rose Holmes, education and training manager at Rio Health, recommends adaptogenic herbs: “Since menopause is a time of physiological and associated psychological change, adaptogenic herbs may help a woman adjust to the changes. Rhodiola rosea, muira puama, suma, damiana and maca are adaptogenic herbs which can help alleviate hormonal change symptoms and give natural boost to energy.”
There are other simple lifestyle changes that can help further to minimise symptoms of the menopause. Anhelush recommends managing your stress levels: “I find that a lot of women that suffer more from menopausal symptoms are those who are very stressed or don’t sleep well. Sign up to a yoga class, watch a comedy programme, go for a long walk or do some mindfulness regularly and I can guarantee you’ll see wide-ranging benefits to your health!”
Durward agrees: “The most important factor is stress levels. The more highly stressed you are, the less able your body is to carry out menopause adjustments without trouble. Your adrenal glands can produce ‘back up’ hormones to buffer the fall in oestrogen and progesterone, but they won’t be able to do this if they are flat out from producing endless adrenalin to deal with your stressful lifestyle.”
She also recommends drinking plenty of water: “The importance of water cannot be over-emphasised; it truly is one of the menopause’s best medicines and we have so many women come back to us saying how quickly adding extra water has improved their symptoms. The symptoms most easily improved with extra water are: flushes and sweats, anxiety, joint pain, itchy skin, fatigue, palpitations and headaches. Have one large glass of warm or room temperature water upon rising, plenty of plain water throughout the day and a small shot glass of warm water just before getting into bed.”
It’s also a good idea to watch your portion sizes. Wilson explains: “As we age our metabolism slows down and muscle function declines, which means we need fewer calories. As oestrogen levels decline during the menopause, our fat cells produce low level oestrogen to compensate, hence the body holds on to fat to protect itself. This is why portion control becomes important and a good rule of thumb that your plate should be the size of your upturned palms placed together. The carbohydrate portion should be no larger than your fist, protein the size of a deck of cards and as much vegetable or salad as you want.”
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