A woman’s body is not only beautiful from the outside but also from the inside. Within each of us, there’s an entire network that is similar to that of a family. Just like the members of a family are related to each other, yet are interdependent and have common as well as individualized goals, so is the functioning of a woman’s body. Connections between the thyroid and adrenal glands, multiple hormones that have independent and codependent roles, feedback loops between the ovaries and the brain, and the general connection between mental, physical, and emotional well-being are all linked and work together for optimum vitality.
As the family grows, the model changes: children grow up and leave the nest, and parents may change careers, adopt new hobbies and lifestyles, have different priorities, and more. Similarly, the female body also changes. In the younger years, the body is being prepared for pregnancy and birth. Once that time starts to come to a close, the body prepares to transition into a post-menstrual or menopausal stage. In an ideal scenario, this transition should be smooth with minimal symptoms, however many women experience the plight of hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, night sweats, and vaginal dryness, and believe that this is unavoidable. In fact, this transition can be made effortlessly or even delayed with few to no symptoms by practicing the following well before symptoms arise:
Learn to Manage Stress
When the body shuts down the menstrual cycle, the ovaries’ job is finished and the responsibility for production of the reproductive hormones is given over to the adrenal glands, also known as the stress glands. These glands need to be healthy and fully functioning to ensure a smooth transition into menopause. If they’re already overly stressed, they won’t be able to fully deliver on their new responsibility, and menopausal symptoms will ensue.
If you haven't already started a stress management practice, start now. Try yoga, meditation, rekindling a hobby, spending more time in nature, or anything else that relaxes your mind and body and gives you a feel-good feeling afterward.
The adaptogenic herb rhodiola can also be useful in managing stress in the body. It has the power to help the body adapt to stress, calm the adrenal glands, balance hormones, halt abdomen fat storage, and get rid of depression. Rhodiola is available in capsule or tincture form in most health food stores.
Regular physical movement, consisting of cardio and weight-bearing exercises, is essential to a smooth transition into menopause. Exercise will also help reduce any unwanted weight gain or fat storage (for example, the “muffin top” commonly found around the abdomen), increase the release of endorphins which are natural stress busters, instill better sleep, decrease bone loss, and improve self-confidence.
Make a commitment to pursue your favorite exercise 3 times a week for 30-45 minutes, building up to at least 5 times a week for 45 minutes to an hour. If you haven’t been exercising regularly, start with something gentler like pilates or yoga, and then work your way up. If you don’t like the sound of exercise, how about dancing? Zumba classes can be great fun!
The key here is to pick a form of physical movement that you enjoy and to gradually increase the frequency. Consistency and duration are the most important factors that will start to bring about change in the mind and body.
Getting a handle on your diet now will prevent cravings and set you up for healthy hormonal balance. Your premenopausal diet should be clean and green! Keep the following tips in mind:
Increase your daily intake of raw and lightly steamed vegetables and fruits, which are full of beneficial nutrients, live enzymes, and fiber. Embrace salads and stir-fries.
Increase the amount of phytoestrogens in your diet, as they help to eliminate excess estrogen from the body. Try flax seeds, nuts, apples, celery, natto, and tempeh.
Reduce animal products (meat and dairy), and choose only grass-fed, organic, free-range options.
Drink 8-10 glasses of pure, filtered water each day. A properly hydrated body will eliminate excess estrogen more easily.
Eliminate refined foods such as sugar, white bread/pasta, and processed foods. These foods promote candida, impact hormones, and accelerate unwanted weight gain.
Reduce alcohol and caffeine as they both intensify stress on the adrenal and thyroid glands, increase irritability, and cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
Two herbs that are highly beneficial for the reproductive system are dong quai and vitex (also known as chasteberry):
Dong quai is known to support almost all female gynecological ailments and is effective in relieving the symptoms of menopause. Consuming this herb before menopause begins will help the reproductive system to balance itself, reducing common menopausal symptoms and purifying the blood.
Vitex is a berry that has a positive healing effect on the reproductive system and balances estrogen. It also supports the recovery of the reproductive system after extended use of the birth control pill. Vitex counteracts the emotional swings that women are prone to during monthly cycles and the menopausal phase.
There are many vitamins and minerals that the body needs to function optimally, but there are a few specific ones that are even more needed during times of transition. Here are some suggestions:
Multivitamin - A high-quality multivitamin is a necessity for women approaching menopause. The dosage of any particular vitamin or mineral is not very high but it helps maintain the body’s basic needs.
Vitamin C - This is needed in a larger dose as an antioxidant, for the heart and to combat hot flashes.
Vitamin B complex - The B vitamins work synergistically, so a complex is always best. The combination of B vitamins has anti-stress properties, increases circulation and energy, and minimizes water retention.
Calcium/Magnesium - Early in the menopause cycle, calcium absorption drops in the body so supplementation becomes important. Magnesium glycinate helps to relax the nervous system, reduces irritability, and partners with calcium in preventing bone loss.
In the midst of moving on to the next chapter in your life, remember to pamper yourself a little more and a little more often! Monthly massages, weekend getaways, girls’ nights out, romantic dates, trying new things, or whatever relaxes and energizes you - indulge in it!
The physical body is not separate from the mind or the emotional self - in fact, they are all linked so intricately that some extra self-love in one area can have a phenomenal impact in another.
Incorporate these lifestyle and dietary changes into your daily routine now, well before the arrival of menopause. This will ensure that when menopause does arrive, the transition can be made easily and healthily without any negative side effects.