What You Need to Know About Menopause

As women age, they go through various life phases:  There’s the teen years, childbearing years, and then menopause. During menopause, you can no longer get pregnant and will no longer have a menstrual cycle. When I was in my teens up to my thirties, menopause seemed so foreign to me. I never gave it a single thought until I was in my late forties. That’s when I wanted to learn more of what to expect and what tools would help me have a healthy transition into this phase of life.   

Symptoms of Menopause 

Menopause can sneak up on you, where you don’t realize what’s happening until you see your doctor about odd physical or mental symptoms. Some women do get perimenopause first, where you experience some menopause symptoms prior to actually having menopause. This is actually a good thing because you have this for about a year before menopause.  You then have plenty of time to adjust to the changes in your body. That’s what happened to me. At around age forty-eight, my periods were heavier, and would occasionally skip a month or two. At fifty, I began to have hot flashes that lasted a several minutes. It did feel strange and the fact that it could happen at any moment and anywhere made me feel anxious. One time I was at work and with a client when I felt a sense of heat rise up into my head. I just knew that my face was red and quickly excused myself. As I opened the bathroom door, I walked past the mirrors and saw blotches of red on my neck, and face. It was beyond blushing. I waited out the hot flash which was about three to five minutes. I wondered if anyone noticed and what they were thinking. I was relieved my client didn’t say anything. If someone did ask, I could have said, “I’m a hot mess,” and laugh it off. It was kind of the truth at the moment.  

Symptoms can vary. Some women have severe hot flashes accompanied by sweating, while other women don’t have them at all. With a decrease in estrogen, the ability to regulate insulin becomes more important. Eating high sugar foods that trigger an insulin spike are associated with more hot flashes, so it’s in your best interest to decrease or eliminate processed carbohydrates like wheat-based breads, pastas, sweets, soda, candy, fruit juices, and increase your proteins and healthy fats.  

Aside from the hot flashes, you won’t have any more periods. PMS symptoms will be different than they were before. You might have a little weight gain, especially around your midsection. You may also have vaginal dryness, as a result of the decreased hormone levels in your body. While you can no longer get pregnant naturally, you may still be able to carry a baby through in-vitro fertilization. 

When You Will Go Through it?

You can go through menopause at different ages, but the majority of women experience it between 45 and 55. Some women have it much younger, starting with perimenopause first. Other women luck out and last until 60 or older before going through menopause. The average age for experiencing early stages of menopause is about 51 years of age. I was 51 when my periods completely stopped. If you haven’t had a menstrual cycle for two years, you’re in menopause. It takes a while for your body to adjust fully to menopause, and if you’re having a hard time, I recommend an integrative M.D as they are well versed in holistic options for treatment protocols. They also have a greater knowledge of nutrition, herbs and supplements compared to a typical western trained M.D whose background in nutrition is very little.  

Potential Complications 

While menopause is completely normal and something most women will go through, there can be issues that may affect some percentage of women.  For example, you might experience a steep decline in your sexual interest due to vaginal dryness and changes in your mood and physical health.  This typically improves over time as the body adjusts to the hormonal changes. However, if you see no improvement, then, as I mentioned, seek out an experienced integrative M.D. who specializes in women’s health to do a full panel hormone test.  

There’s the potential risk for medical conditions like osteoporosis when you go through menopause, but there is a caveat to this. I’m always on the lookout for solid science - based research that disputes or challenges the conventional ideas of mainstream medicine. Yes, there is absolutely a place for medical intervention in certain situations where it is warranted, but it often comes with side effects with long term use. Over the last century, medicine has moved away from its origins of being plant and food based to being chemical and mechanized. In other words, there’s less trust and belief that our bodies have a natural intelligence to bring about homeostasis when provided with the right substances from nature and correct life style changes.  

In the article, “Reversing Osteoporosis With Hormone Balance,” on Hormones and Balance (dot com), Magdalena Wszelaki, in her blog says, “age isn’t even the primary risk factor for osteoporosis – it can be a hormone imbalance and poor nutrient absorption. She goes on to say, “Promoting hormone balance inside our bodies should be the first step in preventing osteoporosis. Our body thrives on homeostasis. When one simple hormone or nutrient is imbalanced that sends a trickle-down reaction throughout our whole body.” 

*1 In a letter to the editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), published in 2005, a British researcher Ellen C.G. Grant MD stated: “Contrary to popular belief, the evidence from past studies and the study in contention showed that the root cause of osteoporosis among post-menopausal women was not calcium deficiency and falling estrogen levels. Rather, she contended, that low serum bone alkaline phosphatase activity is responsible for the changes that cause osteoporosis.” 

“Alkaline phosphatase is an enzyme that contributes to bone formation. When the activity of this enzyme is diminished, calcium is stripped from the bones. The reduced activity of alkaline phosphatase is actually due to low serum levels of 3 key nutrients: zinc, manganese and magnesium.  

“The author continues in her letter to discourage high-does calcium supplementation as well as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT has been shown to lower blood levels of zinc, magnesium and alkaline phosphatase. Studies show that people on HRT lose more zinc through urinary excretion.”   

Dr. Grant backs up her conclusions in a published observation that bone fractures among women between the ages of 35 to 65 years were the highest in countries where hormone replacement therapies are frequently prescribed.  

When I looked into the research on this topic, I felt that it gives many women hope and safer options to use for menopause related conditions such as osteoporosis.  The key to prevention is a multi-pronged approach. Diet and nutrition are absolutely integral, so is exercise and mind set.   

The transition into menopause can be a great opportunity for learning about your body, what it needs, and a holistic self-care routine to help you thrive.  

Menopause is like a magical doorway that up opens you up to the infinite wisdom that you’ve always had.  

References: 

*1 The Relationship between Zinc, IGF-1, and Osteo 

5 Signs You May Have a Hormonal Imbalance

Abnormal levels of hormones during menopause can wreak havoc and have a negative impact not only on the person suffering from such a condition, but also to the people who are near and dear.  Mood swings, are one of many symptoms of hormonal imbalances. Remember the classic old horror film, “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde?” Dr. Jekyl is a scientist who drinks one of his potions and is then transformed from neighborhood nice guy into a raging half man half beast. A beast that’ll go ape on anyone or anything in his way.

Perhaps, this describes your mood swings where one moment you feel happy and confident and the next it’s all gloom and doom. It’s important to have an understanding of the root cause of any hormonal imbalance, including what approach to take. If any unusual symptoms have lasted beyond eight weeks, it’s a good idea to seek professional help from a reliable source (typically an endocrinologist).  An endocrinologist can give you the present status of your hormone levels so you have a proper baseline of what’s going on in your body. This knowledge will enable you to explore the safest and best options to reclaim your hormonal health.  In many cases, lifestyle changes can make an incredible difference. 

#1 Consistent Weight Gain 

Are you engaged in a strict diet and exercise routine, but don’t see any positive changes? There are many possible reasons, but if you’re packing on the pounds in spite of your disciplined efforts, there’s a strong chance it could be a hormonal imbalance. Your metabolism dictates how much weight you will lose and if your hormones are out of order, it negatively impacts your metabolic furnace. During menopause, fat storage is more common, especially in the midsection, which makes this area harder to tone. Not impossible at all, but that’s another blog post where I will discuss why it’s essential for women in menopause to build muscle. Muscle is more metabolically active tissue that burns fat, gives your body shape and increases your confidence just to list a few of the many benefits.

#2 Desire to Eat More

Another sign of a hormonal imbalance is your appetite can increase. Even after a full course dinner, there’s a strong desire to raid the refrigerator in pursuit of last nights’ left overs. Pushing your plate away feels like some herculean effort. Will power? Gone.  “What’s happening to me?” you ask. During menopause, there’s an increase in the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin, and there’s a decrease of the hormone, leptin, which is responsible for the feeling of fullness after you eat. Menopause, in an odd way, is like having a second adolescence minus the pimples. In addition to persistent hunger, you may also have some unusual cravings similar to pregnancy. When I was pregnant, I craved lemons and steak. I think the pickles and ice cream idea comes from Hollywood movies. I never knew anyone that ate that during their pregnancy. The desire to eat more doesn’t describe all women who go through menopause, but it can affect a good percentage. Look for future blogs about how to balance ghrelin and leptin and get control of your appetite. 

#3 Lack of Sex Drive 

Let’s face it, sex is a normal part of an adult’s life and when you suffer from hormonal irregularities, it’s not unusual to find your mojo M.I.A. Comparing my sex drive in my twenties to my fifties, is like comparing a Porche to a Mercedez Benz. I may not be speeding down the highway at 75 miles per hour like I did as a millennial but I find a slower speed in a luxury car is equally, if not more than satisfying. It’s quality over quantity.  Regardless of whatever your partner does to ignite your fire, the answer is more complex.  Abnormal levels of estrogen, thyroid, and cortisol, which are all essential hormones in a woman’s body, can create vaginal dryness which makes sex painful. If something is painful, the tendency will be to avoid it or do less of it.  Extra weight gain from menopause can do a number on a woman’s physical image of herself. That alone can make her want to avoid nocturnal action. No matter how much your partner compliments you, it's important for you to believe it yourself.

#4 Mood Swings 

Mood swings are another strong sign something is off. Especially, if you’ve always been pretty even-tempered. One moment you feel happy and filled with gratitude and then, “Wham!” out of nowhere, sadness smacks you upside the head. Your eyes even well up with tears. The smallest things cause you to explode and you often feel irritable. You may experience that friends, family and co-workers seem to avoid you because your mood swings make them feel uncomfortable. This can lead to depression and the unnecessary over prescribing of anti-depressants that many doctors dole out to menopausal women, which is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone. It’s necessary to get to the root of the problem and dig. Many mood issues can be corrected by addressing the gut which is where the majority of serotonin lives. A majority of women I know have digestive disorders from constipation, bloating, SIBO, to IBS which affects your mental and emotional state. Changes in mood can also be the result of your monthly cycle, if you still have a cycle. Women with balanced hormones are less prone to experiencing extreme highs and lows of their emotions. Your mood swings can especially peak, if you're already in menopause.

#5 Fatigue

The last sign is daily fatigue. Even if all you did was buy groceries, check your email and binge watch your favorite Netflix series for three hours, you may feel wiped out. Do you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning?  Do you find yourself wanting to take a nap at least once a day? That sounds like fatigue. Cortisol is the hormone that’s released when we are under stress and if your levels are elevated that can cause tiredness. Menopause can also cause sleep disturbances because of the imbalance of cortisol. Cortisol should be elevated in the morning and low at night. If cortisol is high at night, then you’ll feel wired and energized.  Hot flashes and night sweats also negatively impact sleep making the ability to concentrate a challenge. 

If you said yes to one or more of the five signs of hormonal imbalances described above, a functional medical doctor that specializes in women’s health can be an excellent resource. Functional medicine takes the WHOLE person into consideration and the consultation is often longer compared to a regular general practitioner. You may be asked to fill out a five-day food journal, bathroom habits (Bristol Stool Chart), along with an extensive health history time line from child hood to your present age. It truly is personalized and will get to the root cause of your situation. 

As you can see, optimum health depends on advocating for yourself so you can have a life that thrives and be the vital woman you’re meant to be.