Menopause is a subject on which there are many views and opinions, and it is experienced in just as many ways. Fortunately, there are many simple steps and natural remedies you can take to help relieve the myriad of symptoms you may face.
The average age of menopause is around 52, but peri-menopause can begin in the 30’s as hormones start to shift and fluctuations in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone start the roller-coaster of emotions and symptoms. Officially, one is not in menopause until there are no menses for 12 months. It could be irregular in timing, but as long as a woman is bleeding, she is not in menopause. Since the thyroid, adrenals, and ovaries are interrelated, the condition of these glands plays an important role in how one gets through this ‘change of life.’
What is Going On?
As most of us know, menopause symptoms can include irritability, hot flashes, problems sleeping, thinning hair, decreased libido, increased breast tenderness, vaginal dryness, food cravings, weight gain, fuzzy thinking, headaches, joint discomfort, and more.
During this change, the body starts to hold on to fat because estrogen is stored in fat, and is a very valuable hormone to be released when needed. This can create weight gain around the middle and can make it difficult to lose those unwanted pounds.
Since estrogen and progesterone production by the ovaries decreases, testosterone levels fall out of ratio and can also lead to weight gain since testosterone is primarily a male hormone. Muscle starts to diminish and metabolism starts to slow down.
What’s A Woman to Do?
Exercise: Since fat cells do not burn fat like muscle cells do, it is important to stay active. Find something you enjoy and stick with it. Walking, yoga, Pilates, swimming, biking – or anything that raises your heart rate for at least 20 to 40 minutes a day, 4-5 times a week. Make exercise fun by diversifying. Dancing is also great as long as it increases your heart rate above 100.
Herbs: Herbs such as black cohosh, dong quai, wild yam (root), St. John’s wort, sage, shatavari root extract, licorice root, and Korean ginseng can also offer relief from symptoms. Chaste tree can be helpful for those who are still menstruating. If you choose herbs, make sure you get organic forms from a reputable company.
Foods: Studies show that women with good eating habits tend to have less menopausal symptoms. So if you have been thinking about improving your eating habits, doing so to minimize menopausal and peri-menopausal symptoms should be very good incentive.
Here are a few diet guidelines…not only for menopause but for life!
Above all, avoid MSG, hydrogenated oils, “enriched” packaged foods, high fructose syrups, caffeine, alcohol, peanuts and white foods such as white flour (that includes pasta and breads), white rice, and white potatoes.
Avoid sugar! Sugar contributes to so many problems, and remember, white foods (breads, pastas) turn into sugar in your body. Avoid all artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, and yes, raw honey and agave nectar are sugars. Stevia, Xylitol, and Lacanto are acceptable natural sweeteners. Better yet, substitute sugary foods with fresh, organic fruit to feed those cravings.
Many say to increase soy (for natural estrogen), but almost all soy today is genetically modified so I don’t recommend it. Most soy is unfermented and has very high levels of phytic acid that blocks mineral absorption. Meso and Tempe are good forms of fermented soy, but make sure you get them non-GMO.
If you like salt, make sure it is a good quality sea salt with a high amount of trace minerals to balance the sodium chloride such as Himalayan sea salt.
I know you don’t want to hear this, but chocolate should be eliminated. If you just can’t go without it, make sure it is organic dark chocolate with at least 70% Cacao, and limit to no more than once or twice a week.
Get more fiber and calcium by eating more organic, green vegetables. They are a wonderful source of nutrients and trace minerals. The body absorbs 98% of calcium from green vegetables and only 2% from common calcium supplements, which are mostly just ground up rock!
Whole grains can be a good source of fiber. But from my research, ALL grains should be sprouted, and most of us eat far too many grain products, which are mainly over processed and hence, depleted of nutrients.
Eat more organic fruits and berries. Cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, bilberries, cherries, red clover, green tea, flax seed, black beans, yams, omega 3 oils (high quality fish oil), raw nuts, and as above, fresh green leafy vegetables and fruit. Eat twice as many vegetables as fruits. Eat three times a day, especially breakfast, with quality protein at every meal and some kind of raw vegetable. Increase healthy fats like raw organic butter, coconut oil, flax seed oil, and don’t worry about the calories. Focus more on nutrition content. All calories are not equal! Get as much nutrition per calorie as possible!
Increase water intake. Preferably, filtered water is best, not distilled, and everyone should be drinking • their body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 150 lbs, you should be drinking 75 ounces of fresh water every day.
Realize What’s Happening & Relax
Of course, the more you resist something, the more unpleasant it is. Stress can contribute to many symptoms, so take time to relax and continue to enjoy life. Try laughing about it! This may be the most important thing you can do, as state of mind can override many physical conditions. Acupuncture can also be very helpful, and a good massage once a week relieves stress and feels oh so good!
It is never too early or too late to start taking responsibility for your body. Look at menopause as a little adventure. Get together with friends and support each other with healthy tips and recipes. You are not alone on this road to the next stage of life!
Jill Coleman has been a registered nurse for over 21 years working at a variety of Southern California hospitals including UCLA’s Heart Transplant Step-down Unit and LAUSC County Hospital’s Trauma Unit. She has studied holistic medicine since the late 1990’s, and promotes the use of medicinal grade, whole food and organic remedies in her practice. For more information on foods and menopause, visit her blog at www.JillColemanRN.com.