Many women still think that menopause marks the beginning of a downhill slide. But contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, nature did NOT design us to fall apart or to suffer. Irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, weight gain and dry skin in the months or years leading up to menopause are just symptoms of hormonal imbalances that need to and can be addressed.
Here are some tips for taking control of your health and remaining vibrant, sharp and beautiful into menopause and beyond.
First of all, we do not suddenly stop producing estrogen altogether in menopause – our levels just drop by somewhere between 40-60 per cent, just enough to stop us having babies. Chinese medicine sees this as a positive shift – one that gives us an opportunity to cultivate renewed chi or life force.
Second, many women of all ages suffer from estrogen dominance, not deficiency. Estrogen dominance occurs when we don’t have enough progesterone to balance estrogen. It happens naturally as we age and it can also be caused by poor diet, xenoestrogens and stress.
Out of balance with progesterone, this estrogen then becomes toxic to the body, causing assorted problems of which weight gain is only the most obvious – and the one most of my patients complain about the most. Excess estrogen turns food into fat that you can´t lose no matter how much you diet. It also increases depression, mood swings, fluid retention, bloating, fatigue, headaches, foggy thinking, memory loss, aches and pains, as well as more serious problems including cancer.
The solution is to restore hormonal balance by compensating not for a presumed lack of estrogen – as is often the case with hormone replacement therapy – but a genuine deficiency in natural progesterone. The best way to do this is to ask your doctor to prescribe a bio-identical progesterone cream. In addition to helping balance estrogen levels in your body, progesterone cream offers protection against breast and endometrial cancer, is a natural diuretic and contributes to the formation of new bone tissue.
Diet and lifestyle
While progesterone is probably the most effective way to counter estrogen dominance and therefore an effective anti-stress and anti-aging hormone, it’s also important to remember that we can counter the age-accelerating influences of excess estrogen simply by adjusting certain things in our diet and environment.
Eat more phytoestrogens
Many vegetables contain plant compounds that are useful for easing the symptoms of menopause and for protecting against many kinds of estrogen-dependent cancers. They exert a weak estrogenic effect on our cells and prevent the body from absorbing stronger, more dangerous forms of estrogen. Some of the highest concentrations of phytoestrogens can be found in: soybeans and soy products, tempeh, flaxseeds, oats, barley, lentils, sesame seeds, yams, alfalfa, apples, carrots, pomegranates, wheat germ and coffee.
Tip: The healthiest soy products are the fermented ones like miso and tempeh.
Limit animal products
Animal products are acidic and leach calcium out of your bones in as your body tries to neutralize the acidity. This promotes osteoporosis. Meat and dairy are also a source of saturated fats and contain no fibre. Studies suggest that eating less fat and more fibre can help keep estrogen levels from fluctuating.
Doing everything at breakneck speed is a major downside of modern living. Many of us feel we can’t cope and there are never enough hours in the day.
So far too many of us are stressed.
Stress is the major progesterone robber and negatively affects the adrenal glands which are the very foundation for hormonal balance. But there are also internal influences – if you have parasites, candida, some infection or inflammation – then this too compromises adrenal function. Stretched to exhaustion point, more and more women heading towards menopause now fail to ovulate every month as their adrenal system goes into fight or flight and the ovaries shut down in favour of survival. Progesterone can´t then be produced by the ovaries or at the adrenals – the alternative source that is also not working. So the women become progesterone deficient and estrogen dominant. A fast-food diet of sugar, caffeine and refined carbohydrates exacerbates the problem, leading to a damaged metabolism.
Making time for relaxation
Whether it’s a bath, an evening with a book, massage, or yoga, is important when you’re dealing with stress, as is getting to bed on time (or early). Avoid caffeine and sugar. Yoga, acupuncture and meditation can be used to reduce sleep problems, hot flashes, mood swings, stress, and pain in the joints and muscles. Sometimes gentle movement and a quiet mind that’s free of stress are the best remedies for menopausal symptoms.
When menopause hits, sometimes the last thing on your mind is sex. However, having more of it will help increase blood flow to the area and decrease the vaginal dryness and discomfort that often accompany menopause. If you’re having trouble getting in the mood, try adding maca powder to your smoothies or drink it separately in another beverage.
Maca powder can also decrease the anxiety and depression that sometimes appear with menopause and it can also increase libido in postmenopausal women without influencing the reproductive hormones. It’s also a great way to destress.
Use maca instead of caffeine for a healthier afternoon boost. Caffeine is also acidic, so try just to have just one in the morning
Coconut oil is great both as a skin moisturizer and a deep conditioner. Menopause often brings drier hair and skin with it. This is a sweet-smelling, amazing moisturizer that’s free of all the chemicals you’d find in store-bought lotions and hair products that promise the same soft skin and manageable hair.
Get some sun! Just a few minutes a day will help your body produce the vitamin D it needs to process the calcium you consume via leafy greens (not dairy!), which will lead to stronger bones that are less prone to fractures when you’re older. You already know that sun exposure can boost your mood, so a little sunshine is particularly good if you’re suffering from mood swings, anxiety or depression associated with menopause.
Eat cruciferous veggies
We all know the benefits of eating cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower. These vegetables contain a compound known as DIM, which is very effective for helping your liver detoxify excess hormones and prevent estrogen byproducts circulating too long, which can raise estrogen levels and cause hormonal imbalance.
Though no foods contain progesterone, the following micro-nutrients can help boost your levels:
- Vitamin C: sweet potato, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, papaya, pumpkin, broccoli, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and lemons.
- Zinc: oysters, shrimp, shellfish, pumpkin and cashew nuts
- Magnesium: cashews, leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, black beans, lentils and other legumes, cacao, mackerel and brown rice.
- Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, almonds and avocado.
- Vitamin B6: russet potatoes, salmon, tuna, bananas, spinach, walnuts, sweet potatoes, beans and prunes.
There’s so much you can do to make things better. It’s in your hands. You just might need a bit of help to get started!
For nutritional consultations on a wide range of health issues, contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114 or visit www.foodwise.life for your personalized nutritional program!