By Naturopath Jessie Denmeade
Menopause is a powerful time of transition for a woman, but the experience of menopause can vary hugely between women and can be immensely challenging. Menopause can only be diagnosed retrospectively as its clinical definition is when the last menstrual period has occurred 12 months previously or longer. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 years old with the average age of menopause in Australia is 50 to 51 years. Menopause occurs as the number of ova in the ovaries runs out and the ovaries reduce their production of oestrogen and progesterone.
Interestingly, bodyweight tends to influence the age of menopause (R. Trickey, 2011). Thinner women are more likely to have an earlier menopause compared to heavier women, with women who are very overweight experiencing a notably delayed menopause.
Perimenopause, the transition into menopause, typically lasts 2-3 years and is commonly associated with hot flushes, night sweats, irregular periods, insomnia, changes in mood and energy. However, this list is in no way exhaustive. The symptoms are a result of reduced production of sex hormones by the ovaries. However, both the adrenal glands and adipose tissue are capable of producing oestrogens, and it is therefore important to support the adrenals in order to reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms.
Women experiencing high levels of stress will typically suffer more during this time, as their adrenal glands are already under pressure and less capable of upregulating their sex hormone production. This makes stress management and adrenal support vital during menopause.
Diet and lifestyle changes can play a huge role in reducing menopausal symptoms too. Consuming dietary phyto-estrogens or SERMs (Selective Oestrogen Receptor Modulators) can help manage symptoms, as these plant chemicals can bind to oestrogen receptor sites within the body, compensating for the reduced production of oestrogen by the ovaries. Both linseeds and soy products are excellent sources of phyto-estrogens. Reducing your intake of caffeine and alcohol, moderating spicy foods, regular exercise, quitting smoking and establishing some relaxation and stress management strategies, can all help to reduce symptoms.
Not surprisingly, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that behaviours such as dietary preferences, exercise routines and psycho-social functioning, will hugely impact the nature of pre-menopausal women’s transition into menopause, including symptom occurrence and severity, and health status (Dennerstein, 2007).
It is important to remember that menopause is a perfectly natural process that needs supporting rather than treating. Like the significant transitions of puberty and motherhood, there are many challenges and many opportunities that come with these important milestones. Quality of life is the focus, so symptom management and disease prevention are the objectives. Menopause is not a disease; it is a right of passage.
Trickey, R. Collins, E. Villella, S. 2011. ‘Menopause’. Women, hormones and the menstrual cycle: Trickey Enterprises, Victoria, pp. 139-176.
Dennerstein, L. Lehert, P. Guthrie, J.R. et al. 2007. ‘Modelling women’s health during the menopausal transition: a longitudinal analysis’. Menopause 14(1), pp. 53-62.