By Soraya Madell
Medical Content Writer
Hot flushes, low mood, night sweats and fatigue…these are common symptoms of the menopause that can feel inevitable when you start experiencing them in middle age.
This is the time when a change in the balance of the body’s sex hormones affects your menstrual cycle so that your periods eventually stop completely.
Some menopausal women experience few symptoms. For others, the fluctuation in hormones can lead to a host of unpleasant symptoms from the physical, such as hot flushes and poor sleep, to the emotional, such as anxiety and depressed mood.
What can you do to alleviate menopausal symptoms?
The good news is that there is plenty you can do to limit the negative effects of the menopause on your health and wellbeing.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), for example, is an effective treatment for menopausal symptoms and can be taken in a variety of forms to suit individual women.
Whether you decide, with the advice of your women’s health professional, to go down the route of medical intervention, it is also reassuring to know there are many lifestyle changes that you can adopt to take back control of your health.
Lifestyle factors, such as changing your diet and introducing activity into your daily routine, can make a significant difference to your experience of the menopause.
As Hormone Health’s registered dietitian Nigel Denby points out, you can take control of your symptoms rather than let the menopause control you.
He said: “When I am working with my clients to help them manage their menopausal symptoms, I always suggest they view this as a positive time for change. It’s a chance to review their lifestyle and make some changes that they’ve been thinking about, possibly for years.
“This is the time they can get control of their weight, start to get more active or perhaps just eat more healthily – your menopause is going to happen like it or not. You can decide to fight it or accept it and embrace it as a time of opportunity and a terrific new phase in your life.”
To get you started on your lifestyle plan, here are 10 of the most effective natural ways to manage the menopause:
Boost your bones: plummeting levels of the bone-protecting hormone estrogen during the menopause can put you at risk of brittle bones which break more easily. Protect your bone health by taking up a weight-bearing exercise such as dancing, racquet sports, Zumba or running which will build strong bones.
Say yes to soya: more research is needed although some studies have found a diet rich in isoflavones, estrogen-like plant compounds, may protect against hot flushes. Good sources are soya, tofu, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds or you can try a good quality isoflavone supplement.
Work up a sweat: there’s some evidence that being physically active can reduce hot flushes. A study at John Moores University, for example, found that women who followed a gym-based 16-week exercise programme had fewer hot flushes compared with a group that did not exercise. One theory is that being physically active may make your internal temperature controls more efficient.
Relax with yoga: US research has found that women who attend yoga classes sleep better and experience less insomnia than those who did not practise yoga. Combined with more intensive activity, such as brisk walking or a dance class, should help you sleep even better.
Avoid triggers: cut down on food and drinks that are likely to trigger or worsen menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. Spicy food often contains the heat-producing compound capsaicin, which makes hot flushes worse, while both caffeine and alcohol can increase blood-flow to the skin and make you feel flushed. Consider swapping your morning coffee for a healthy herbal tea.
Be active, feel happier: Numerous studies have linked regular exercise to improved mood and reduced depression. Swedish researchers, for example, found that aerobic exercise may increase levels of a certain enzyme that could make you resistant to depression. Other research has found that walking or cycling to work helped commuters cope with stress. Some exercise, such as tennis, can also be sociable and have a mood-boosting effect while simply going for a brisk walk regularly is likely to help.
Skip the sugar fix: avoid refined sugars in the form of cakes, biscuits, chocolate and sweets which will raise your blood sugar, followed by a sharp dip, leaving you feeling even more tired. Sugary foods will also contribute to the middle-aged spread around the stomach that some menopausal women are prone to and increase your risk of heart problems. A healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels and ensure you are in good health to cope with any menopausal symptoms.
Choose healthy carbs: switching to complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal pasta, bread and rice, and brown grains will help balance your sugar levels and make you feel fuller for longer so you resist the temptation of a sugary snack.
Go herbal: herbal supplements, such as St John’s wort for low mood and black cohosh for hot flushes, are reported to be helpful by some women. However, herbal remedies have not been as rigorously tested as medicines so more research is needed. If you would like to try herbal or complementary therapies, you may wish to seek the advice of a qualified women’s health professional or registered dietitian who can advise you.
Eat for healthy bones: foods rich in calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones, especially as you lose bone mass during the menopause. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you may need to boost your calcium intake with a supplement. You may also benefit from taking a daily vitamin D supplement, especially in winter months, as this vitamin is produced through exposing your skin to sunlight.
Whichever dietary and lifestyle changes you choose to make to minimise menopausal symptoms, remember that it may be worthwhile consulting a women’s health professional or registered dietitian for professional advice.