Moving through Menopause
Menopause is a gradual process that occurs in every woman’s life, when the ovaries stop producing eggs. Defined as the permanent and natural cessation of menstruation,menopause is generally diagnosed after 12 months of having no period. The average age at which this occurs is 51 years old, but it can happen at any time from the ages of 55 to 65.
Menopause gets a bad name - it’s commonly associated with uncomfortable symptoms and tends to be viewed as a negative period of a woman’s life. However, it’s a completely natural process that needn’t be accompanied by so many negative side effects. With the right diet and lifestyle, you can support your body to move through the natural process with ease and balance.
Here are some tips to effectively manage menopause and to reduce or eliminate the negative side effects of hormonal imbalances:
Get daily physical movement
Important for overall general health, exercise has also been shown to decrease menopausal symptoms and to improve energy levels, mood, and circulation. In studies, even 3.5 hours of activity per week showed a significant beneficial change in menopausal women with associated symptoms compared to no exercise at all.
Depending on your physical fitness and energy levels, this can be anything from walking outside or gentle yoga to strength training (strength training is an excellent choice for menopausal women, as it supports bone health). Exercising outdoors gives you the added benefit of vitamin D from the sun and the calming, anti-anxiety effects of being in nature and walking daily is one of the best forms of exercise.
In addition to all the health damage smoking causes, it can also also trigger premature menopause. Among the problems associated with smoking are low libido, fatigue, anxiety, lowered immune function, and nutrient deficiencies, all of which are linked to or worsen menopausal symptoms.
Eliminate junk food
Sugars, refined carbohydrates, and fried foods all create inflammation in the body & destabilize blood sugar levels, which leads to hormonal disruption and worsening of menopausal symptoms.
Decrease alcohol consumption
Alcohol depletes vitamins and mineral levels, and is often loaded with sugar, which spikes your blood sugar levels, leading to crashes & hormonal disruption. It also creates more work for the liver, which is often already overloaded with toxins to process. If the liver can’t properly eliminate excess toxins & estrogens in the body, then hormonal imbalance & inflammation will follow - along with menstrual, fertility, and libido problems.
Try Yoni Steaming: Steaming helps improve stagnation and remove old residue in the vaginal canal and womb space. Blood from years of incomplete menstrual cycles can build up in the uterus and increase menopause symptoms. Doing vaginal steams can assist the body with cleansing the uterus, speed up blood flow, and improve circulation, which enhances the body’s own cleansing mechanisms.
Adding herbs to the process can enhance the effects. Beneficial herbs include: lavender, nettle, rose, calendula, chamomile, dandelion, and mugwort.
Increase essential fatty acids (especially omega 3)
Vital for overall health, essential fatty acids (EFAs) decrease inflammation and are important for hormone production & immune function. The body cannot synthesize EFAs on its own - they must be acquired through the diet. The standard American diet is lacking in these fats, so many people are deficient. Great healthy fats to include in your diet are wild-caught salmon, free-range eggs, grass-fed meats, olive oil, cod liver oil, anchovies, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds. A fish oil supplement of at least 1000 mg of EPA & DHA can also be beneficial - just make sure it comes from a clean source and from wild-caught fish.
Support the adrenals
The health & function of the adrenal glands dictates many processes in the body and contributes to our overall health & vitality. Poor adrenal function can result in fatigue, moodiness, weight changes, low libido, and cravings that are also related to menopausal symptoms. Those suffering from adrenal fatigue are more likely to experience menopausal symptoms because the transition of the body undergoing changes is an added stressor. The adrenal glands are the backup system for hormone production when the ovaries start to decline in function - they take over production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. If these glands are exhausted or impaired, they won’t be able to do a very good job and hormonal imbalances will likely occur.
There are many herbs and supplements that can support the adrenal glands: Ashwagandha, vitamin C, the B vitamins (a B vitamin complex is a great supplemental option), rhodiola, schizandra berry, and maca. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, reduce or manage stressors, and include plenty of whole foods in your diet such as colorful fruits and vegetables.
Increase fiber intake
Fiber promotes proper digestion and satiety, and helps reduce cravings. It helps stabilize blood sugar levels to promote longer lasting energy. It also helps balance hormones by assisting with the elimination of excess estrogens. Adding more whole fruits and vegetables as well as chia seeds, psyllium husks, or flax seeds to your diet is a great way to increase your fiber intake naturally.
Support a happy liver
Proper liver functioning is needed to properly eliminate toxins from the body, which affect the balance of hormones. A sluggish liver leads to a buildup of toxins, inflammation, and oxidative stress, and worsens menopausal symptoms. The liver must be processing toxins efficiently to prevent excess toxins and estrogens from circulating and being reabsorbed in the body.
Supportive foods for liver detoxification include: cruciferous vegetables (brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) and bitters (herbs, arugula, dandelion, chamomile, etc). Cruciferous vegetables support the liver’s abilities to properly detoxify as they contain indole-3-carbinol, a powerful antioxidant, and DIM, an estrogen metabolizer. These are also important for healthy hormone balance and said to be protective of cancers.
Supportive herbs include: milk thistle, dandelion root, and licorice.
Probiotics support digestion, which will ensure proper nutrient absorption and elimination of toxins & excess estrogen. A healthy gut will affect all systems of the body as the microbiome is now referred to as our second brain. The vagus nerve communicates directly with the brain and if there is unhealthy gut flora or any dysbiosis, then brain function and mood will likely be impaired. Poor digestive functioning (bloating, gas, indigestion, constipation, etc.) is a common complaint during menopause because the microbiome helps break down estrogen, protect against foreign pathogens, and support healthy immune function.
Probiotic-rich foods to include: in the diet include raw sauerkraut, kefir (if dairy is tolerated), tempeh, kimchi, and kombucha. You can take a live probiotic supplement.
Include phytoestrogens in your diet
Phytoestrogens are dietary sources of estrogen. Unlike xenoestrogens, they can help to decrease menopause symptoms and to modulate estrogen levels, either raising or lowering them depending on if there is excess or deficiency in the body. Good dietary sources include soy (organic), fennel, celery, parsley, flaxseed, nuts, and seeds.
Wild yam: Naturally boosts progesterone (commonly low) in the body. Best used in a cream form.
Red clover: Shown specifically to reduce hot flashes and night sweats. For most effective results, combine with probiotics for optimal assimilation.
Black cohosh: One of the most highly used and effective herbs in treating hot flashes, it also addresses common menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, headaches, insomnia, and mood swings.
Vitex (aka chasteberry): Helps balance out the progesterone-estrogen ratio and acts as a uterine tonic. Most women experience low progesterone and high estrogen-like symptoms and imbalances, and vitex can help rebalance these hormones.
Maca: Rich in vitamins and minerals required for women’s health such as the B vitamins, zinc, iron, and magnesium, as well as in amino acids. It has been shown to have beneficial effects on energy levels, mood, hot flashes, anxiety, depression, and libido by balancing hormones and increasing fertility.
Kava: Relaxant and sedative that promotes the parasympathetic nervous system. It can help with sleep problems, anxiety, nervousness, and tension.
Dong Quai: An increasingly popular Chinese herb used as a uterine tonic and known for its treatment for menopausal complaints. Part of the parsley family, this plant helps balance estrogen levels.
Consider bioidentical hormone therapy
In natural medicine, natural hormone replacement therapy (also known as bioidentical hormone therapy) is an alternative being used to the synthetic hormonal treatment. The most common hormones used to treat menopause are estrogen, progesterone, estradiol, estrone, estriol, testosterone, and DHEA. These natural hormones are yam-based and are processed to bio-identically resemble human hormones. The doses are considerably smaller than with HRT and have shown much safer results, although not many studies have yet been done.
Come back to these tools and advice as you move through menopause. Approaching any symptoms or discomfort with a holistic lens that makes use of nutrition, lifestyle, and natural remedies is a great place to start. It best to work with a holistic practitioner before making any sudden moves.With a nourishing diet and a supportive lifestyle, the negative symptoms of menopause don’t need to be a part of your transformative experience.