Menopause: Self Help
Whether you take medication or not, all the evidence and advice from the panel of experts who joined me at my menopause awareness event last month points towards the benefits of healthy living to help ease symptoms of the menopause (see my blog Menopause Guide for more information about menopause causes, symptoms and treatments). The changing levels of hormones result in many changes in your body, which your body needs to adapt to causing it a lot of stress.
Cutting down on any extra stresses for your body to deal with, such as smoking, alcohol, caffeine and unhealthy diets can help ease menopause symptoms. So can increasing the amount of protein you eat. 1-1.2g of protein per kg of body weight is recommended, which for a person weighing 9 stone looks something like a piece of steak about the size of a pack of cards, 3 average-sized rashers of bacon or slices of ham, or a quarter-pounder beef burger, but rye bread, eggs, pulses and beans are also good sources of protein. Protein is needed to repair and replace building blocks of our body tissues, such as collagen, which degrades when levels of hormones, such as oestrogen decline.
Foods containing phytoestrogens can also be beneficial. Phytoestrogens are compounds naturally found in some foods that mimic the effects of oestrogen in our body. There is some evidence that eating foods such as flax seed, fruits (including plum, pear, apple, grape and berries) and vegetables (including beans, sprouts, cabbage, spinach, soybeans, grains, hops, garlic and onion), that contain these compounds can “top up” our falling levels of oestrogen.
Getting a good amount of protein in your diet is also important for people who are exercising. For people leading up to and after menopause the evidence points toward resistance training. This is basically some form of weight training, such as free weights, weights machines in gyms, body weight, resistance bands or Pilates reformer machines. This kind of exercise helps strengthen muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones preventing injury, pains, stiffness and fractures. Exercise can also reduce risks of cardiovascular disease and events, such as strokes, that can be mild risks with taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT – the gold standard medication given to women to treat the menopause). There are also many other benefits of exercise, including releasing feel-happy hormones (endorphins), relaxation, increased skin and muscle tone and vitamin D from sunlight if exercising outdoors. Sunlight is needed to make vitamin D, which is needed to uptake calcium in the body to keep bones strong (in the UK the Government advises a daily vitamin D supplement between October and March due to low sunlight levels for people to get their recommended allowance of 10micrograms – 400 International Units per day).
Mental health and stress
Many people go through menopause at a time in life when they may be caring for children and/or relatives, running a house and holding down busy jobs. The stresses of modern life can be high and chronic stress can affect hormone balance in the body exacerbating menopause symptoms, due to long term production of stress hormones such as cortisol. Common menopause symptoms of mood changes, anxiety and insomnia alone can affect people’s lives, work and relationships adding to life stresses. Guidance for doctors is that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is extremely effective for treating anxiety, and evidence points to its benefits for insomnia as well as specific menopause symptoms such as hot flushes. CBT is a talking therapy that focusses on changing the way we think, which can, in turn, change the way we act and behave. But there are many other ways to reduce stress through taking time out to relax, be mindful, meditate and just do something you enjoy.
So, the overall message and advice on tackling the menopause is to eat well, sleep well, exercise and relax. If you feel you want the help of HRT for any length of time, then speak to a healthcare professional knowledgeable about the menopause to help you weigh up risks and benefits of HRT to you.
Non HRT Medications
There are a large number of medications that can be prescribed to help ease different symptoms associated with the menopause. Not all medications contain hormone replacement to top up lowering or low levels of some sex hormones in our bodies, that naturally decline as we reach the menopause. For people who do not wish to or cannot take HRT, for example people recovering from certain types of breast cancer, there are other options you can discuss with a menopause specialist.
Further information / References
Information for this blog was collated from a large number of references, which can be provided if needed.