What is menopause?
Menopause can be considered as the culmination of the female reproductive cycle. It is the time when women will stop having their monthly period. Although the thought of not having a monthly period can be thrilling to some women, others may feel differently. Menopause can bring a lot of challenges because of hormonal changes happening in the reproductive system. This can lead to some undesirable symptoms that to some may pose a lot of problems.
Facts about Menopause
- Menopause starts when a woman has not had a period for one year.
- It usually starts between the ages 45 to 55 years old.
- Average age of menopause onset is 52 years old.
- It is a normal part of ageing for a woman.
- It literally means "last period".
- It starts happening when the ovaries gradually begin to produce fewer eggs and less female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
- Some women may experience physical and psychological symptoms.
Why do women go through menopause?
Menopause is a natural phenomenon, which is part of every woman's reproductive cycle. When a baby girl is born her ovaries already contain a lifetime supply of eggs. These are stored in small follicles. When she reaches puberty, ovulation happens. This is the process of releasing the eggs contained in the ovaries, which is stimulated in the brain by the hormones produced by the pituitary gland. This prompts the two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, to be released by the ovaries. This will then stimulate the lining of the uterus called the endometrium to thicken. This signals that the uterus is now ready to house the implantation of a fertilised egg. When the egg is not fertilised the endometrium is shed and a monthly period happens. This entire process is called the menstrual cycle.
Ageing causes the number of follicles in the ovaries to decrease, which in turn produce fewer hormones. When the ovaries fail to produce enough hormones to stimulate the thickening of the endometrium, the monthly periods stops. When this happens permanently, menopause is diagnosed.
What are the signs and symptoms of menopause?
The first signs that you may be undergoing menopause is the change in your monthly cycle pattern. You may notice that your bleeding may either become lighter or heavier, shorter or longer than usual, or the distance of time between your cycle may also differ. There will be times when you will miss your period. Some women may experience this change gradually, while for others it will be more abrupt.
In terms of menopause symptoms, these come in two forms: Physical and psychological manifestations.
Physically, women may experience hot flushes, night sweating, feeling tired or easily exhausted or low energy levels, headaches, joint or muscle pain, palpitations, vaginal dryness, incontinence or sometimes urinary tract infections - which may be because of the thinning of the vaginal and bladder walls.
Psychologically, women may experience anxiety, irritability, mood swings, insomnia, depression, forgetfulness, reduced interest in sexual intercourse, or loss of confidence.
How do you know that you are actually experiencing menopause?
The truth is that since menopause is not a sickness, there is no scientific way to diagnose it. There is no blood test or any other test to prove that you are experiencing menopause. The symptoms being experienced may be an indication of an onset, but menopause can only be confirmed when the monthly period has already been absent for one year.
What are the treatment options?
Even though menopause is not a disease, there are treatment options available so that women who suffer from the symptoms can get some relief .
Home Replacement Therapy or HRT
This is the process of replacing the hormones that were previously being produced by the ovaries. Studies have shown that this treatment can be effective in helping to relieve symptoms such as: hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness. It can also be helpful in reducing the risk of developing certain diseases such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Certain symptoms that can be brought about by hormonal changes, for example excess facial hair growth, can also be prevented and minimised as a result of taking HRT.
HRT comes in many forms: patches, vaginal preparations such as cream, and pessaries. The latter can be helpful in reducing the symptoms of vaginal dryness, incontinence and bladder/vaginal infections.
Before taking Hormone Replacement Therapy, it is important to discuss with your attending physician the different forms as well as the type and method most appropriate for you. Some forms of HRT may increase the risk of certain cancers, but it may also help reduce the risk of certain diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and bowel cancer.
There are women who prefer to take the alternative route. These include: natural hormones, herbal preparations in the forms of tea, tablets or capsules, vitamins and minerals and homeopathic remedies.
Some popular herbs are black cohosh, ginkgo biloba, evening primrose oil, vitamins B, C and E, ginseng, garlic, chamomile, St. John's Wort and soy based phytoestrogens (natural hormones). There are also other treatments such as acupuncture, massage and reflexology, which some women have found to be very helpful.
A word of caution, just like with traditional therapy, it is best to consult with your attending doctor what type of herbal preparations and forms of therapy are best for your particular needs.
Diet and Lifestyle tips for menopause
Menopause in itself cannot be avoided because it is part of the natural process of women's reproductive cycle. But minimising the symptoms or the severity of its effects can be helpful.
By changing to a better lifestyle, the severity of menopausal symptoms and the risk of developing osteoporosis and heart disease can both be decreased. Diet and exercise are the two main ingredients here.
Diet: Adding more fibre plus essential vitamins such as Calcium and Vitamin D to one's diet can help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. Overall, eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in fat and refined sugars is important in maintaining healthy body weight, and optimal body functioning.
A very recent study* states that certain foods can naturally help ease and alleviate menopause symptoms. It was found that Asian women's diet, particularly those from Japan and India, play a vital role in why these women have less incidences of breast cancer as well as incidence or reports of suffering from menopause symptoms. Their diets basically include certain foods that are found to be high in phytoestrogens. These are naturally occurring substances that have a hormone balancing effect. The good news is that almost all fruits and vegetables plus cereals contain this nutrient in varying strengths and compositions. The most beneficial kind of phytoestrogenic isoflavones are found in the following foods:soya, linseed, oily fish, grapes, nuts and avocado and citrus fruits.
Exercise: It is very important to maintain an active lifestyle during this stage. Regular exercise such as walking, dancing and engaging in sports will all help maintain healthy weight, fitness and general wellbeing. Exercise can also help decrease the risk of osteoporosis because it can strengthen the bones. It is also best to include specific pelvic exercises as these can help reduce urinary problems such as incontinence and pain during urination.
While exercise is a great way to maintain healthy weight and wellbeing, rest and stress management will also play an important role in managing menopause symptoms. By minimising stress and getting adequate amounts of rest, the body will be most supported to help alleviate symptoms.
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*Source: Extracted from Healthy Eating For The Menopause by Dr Marilyn Glenville Page updated 06/04/18 12:47:36 p.m.