Welcome to the menopause
Hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety, sleepless nights and weight gain. These are just some of the many symptoms of the menopause. Unfortunately, it’s still a subject that’s a little taboo and many women are unaware that what begin as subtle changes, are in fact a sign that they are perimenopausal.
For most women, symptoms of the menopause start in their mid to late 40s, but it can be earlier or later. The stage before your periods stop is known as the perimenopausal stage and overall symptoms can last for anything from a few months to 10 years or more.
The type of symptoms and the severity vary from woman to woman, but nothing really quite prepares you for them. I’ve mentioned a few of the most common symptoms already. Hot flushes that come from nowhere and leave you hot and red faced. Night sweats where you wake to find yourself drenched in sweat. Unusual levels of anxiety that mean you find yourself lying awake in the early hours unable to sleep and terrible mood swings.
Then of course for some there’s the weight gain. Just when you feel your most vulnerable as you head towards 50, the weight seems to pile on around your middle no matter what you do to shift it. You may also completely lose your sex drive or struggle with vaginal dryness. Some women also develop a skin condition called Rosacea, which can cause redness and pustules. And whilst the symptoms of the menopause are often the subject of many jokes, if you’re suffering with it, it can be a very upsetting and difficult time.
How to cope with the menopause
The most important two things to remember about the menopause are that you are not alone and there are things you can do to ease your symptoms.
Talking to other women can be an enormous help. The benefits of knowing that it’s not just you and having the support of other women shouldn’t be underestimated. There is an increasing number of menopause groups, especially on Facebook, and it’s well worth checking some of them out. They are full of advice, kindness and laughter too sometimes and if you’re embarrassed about talking about what you’re going through, the anonymity of an online group can really help.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
I’m sure you’ve heard of HRT although it remains controversial. Some women swear by it and others wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. It involves taking oestrogen to replace the decrease in your body's own levels and can relieve many of the menopause symptoms. There are different types of HRT although for some it is less suitable than for others.
I am not qualified to advise you about the advantages or disadvantages of HRT, and if this is something you are considering then you need to visit your doctor and ask them to explain all the risks and benefits.
There are a few lifestyle changes that you can make that will help.
A fresh look at your diet
A changing hormonal balance means you may need to make adjustments to what you eat. Try to avoid processed foods (especially those containing high sodium and laden with processed carbohydrates). These are the foods that contribute to bloating, water retention and weight gain, as well as increasing systemic inflammation, none of which help your hormones or mood.
Sugar is something else you need to avoid as much as possible especially processed, refined white sugar. Sugar increases inflammation, causes hormone dysregulation and taxes the adrenal glands, all of which have negative consequences for perimenopausal symptoms. If you have a sweet tooth try to substitute refined sugars with naturally occurring ones, like fruit (dates are very sugar rich for instance) and vegetables (surprisingly some are very sugary, like beetroot).
You should also try and drink less alcohol and coffee, ideally no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per week and 1 serving of caffeine per day (if at all). Similarly, try and reduce your intake of acidic foods, as these contribute to hot flashes and drink plenty of water instead. Finally, aim to ensure that each meal consists of a good balance of protein, fats and vegetables and go organic as much as possible.
Regular exercise is an imperative part of any perimenopausal regime because exercise:
· Regulates adrenal function and balances cortisol levels (but avoid overly-strenuous exercise, as this can deplete the adrenals further)
· Regulates blood sugar and helps balance weight gain, especially through the abdomen
· Gives you a feel-good buzz!
Chinese medicine and the menopause
From a Chinese medicine perspective, you need to think carefully about the “Yin” aspect of yourself which is important for bringing balance to your reproductive hormones. Yin is represented by slowness, gentle breathing and quiet introspection. So, while exercise is absolutely imperative, it is also good to incorporate more “yin-style” exercise into your daily regimen. Things like gentle yoga, walks in nature, qi-gong and tai-chi are all types of exercise that fit this description.
Acupuncture and the menopause
In 2019, a study published in BMJ Open suggested acupuncture may be worth considering. The study included five weeks of acupuncture for women with menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, skin and hair problems and emotional problems. A total of 80% of the women in the acupuncture groups said they felt the sessions had helped them.
This is not the only study to conclude acupuncture can help and the British Acupuncture Council have also recently concluded that “…there is benefit in the use of acupuncture in the alleviation of menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flushes and anxiety”. This is certainly my experience of the women that I treat and acupuncture brings them much needed respite.
Time to embrace your new era
It’s not often (or ever) that you hear people talk about enjoying the menopause. But you can. Make sure that you spend time in nature and breathe. Take up creative projects (even if you bin them later). Connect with other people who share your vision and dreams. Watch funny movies. Laugh. Dance. And above all else embrace joy and share it with others!
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can share: do what brings you joy and allow time for creativity and re-connection (with yourself, with others, with nature, with Spirit) so that you can move through the menopause with grace, humour and ease.
It’s been difficult few months for everyone and I’m very grateful to all of you who have continued to support me. Now, I’m delighted to be able to tell you that I have finally been able to reopen for business. I have put in place all appropriate safety measures in line with Government advice and I’d be happy to be able to see you back in clinic! Why not book a treatment today or give me a call if you’d like more advice on how to cope with the menopause?