Menopause is defined as the transitional period in a woman’s life in which menses has ceased to occur for one year. While perimenopause is hallmarked by changes in the menstrual cycle, menopause is hallmarked with complete cessation of the menstrual cycle. Along with lacking a period, there are a number of symptoms that a woman can experience as she moves through menopause. These symptoms can last anywhere from 6-13 years.
As mentioned previously, in perimenopause the first hormone that begins to decline is progesterone. When a woman enters into menopause, estrogen also declines and this can result in a number of symptoms such as: hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, digestive changes (diarrhea, constipation, bloating), genitourinary changes (urinary tract infections), mood changes, skin changes and memory issues. These symptoms tend to result from lack of estrogen, while symptoms that were mentioned in the perimenopause blog (insomnia, mood swings, headaches) tend to be caused through the declining progesterone levels.
The symptoms associated with menopause can be very debilitating for women but there are a number of things that you can do in order to aid in easing the transition through this time. Understanding what is going on in your body is the first step to improving your health. In perimenopause, the focus was on increasing progesterone levels and balancing/lowering estrogen levels but in menopause the focus is on increasing estrogen levels, in addition to improving progesterone levels.
Diet is always the first stop on the journey to improving hormonal balance. There are a number of foods that can aid in improving estrogen levels in the body. Soy products such as edamame, tofu, miso, soy nuts and tempeh contain isoflavones, which can be very beneficial for women entering menopause. Isoflavones have a chemical structure that is similar to estrogen and have been termed phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens can bind to the same receptor sites that estrogen binds to, therefore having some of these foods in the diet can aid in improving your estrogen levels, decreasing the symptoms associated with menopause. Flax seeds are another great addition to your diet that will aid in balancing estrogen levels. Flax contains lignans that are a form of phytoestrogen. Additionally, flax also contains omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and is a great source of fibre. I recommend having 2 tablespoons ground/day, which can be added to a protein smoothie, oatmeal or salad.
There are also natural supplements that can be used to help to balance your hormones as you go through the transition of menopause. Black Cohosh is a botanical medicine that has been used since the mid 19th century for treating hormonal conditions in women. It can be very beneficial for improving the mood associated with hormone imbalance in women and for decreasing hot flashes both in the number per day and intensity. Red Clover is another botanical medicine that has been shown to provide benefit to women in menopause. Red clover contains isoflavones, as found in soy, and therefore can aid in improving estrogen balance in the body, helping to ease many of the symptoms associated with declining estrogen levels in women as they go through menopause. As with any natural product, it is important to consult your healthcare provider in order to make sure this is a safe and appropriate choice for you.