Here’s a weighty topic: menopause.
We know that this biological inevitability can mean many different things to many different women. Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, weight gain, low energy, joint pain, low libido and mood changes are often the cause of much unwelcome stress and anxiety at this crucial milestone.
There are times, too, that the journey through menopause seems to go on forever. Particularly when you consider that perimenopause – the transitional stage leading up to the last menstruation – lasts an average of 5-10 years on its own. All of this conspires to create the symptoms of menopause listed above – an overarching result of falling levels of oestrogen and progesterone.
We Need To Talk About Menopause
The real difficulty of menopause is how the experience of every individual varies significantly. Some women may not encounter such severe symptoms, but others will struggle with sleep, mood and decreased interest in sex for an unspecified, and seemingly everlasting, period of time.
Oestrogen deficiency often results in an increase in weight and fat accumulation, and a reduction in bone density. These things can have a tremendous influence on mental health and self-esteem, as well as marking menopausal women out as prime candidates for osteoporosis.
Common Treatments For Menopause Symptoms
But what can be done?
One of the most typical forms of treatment for the symptoms of menopause is hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. And despite this usually being restricted to the management of moderate to severe symptoms of menopause.It is widely considered to be the best option for addressing hot flushes, decreased libido and mood swings.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any negatives – some types of HRT are believed to increase the risk of breast cancer, and for this reason, a lot of women feel uncomfortable participating in this treatment.
Medication aside, both dietary and lifestyle changes can actually be as effective as HRT in managing the symptoms of menopause. There are a number of key foods and nutrients that are useful in the alleviation of several menopausal health concerns, and many of these can optimise women’s health in the long run.
Soy-based products and foods such as flaxseed, oats, beans, pulses and cruciferous vegetables (kale, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach) are rich in phytoestrogens and provide a natural alternative to more synthetic methods of symptom relief. Phytoestrogens replicate the effects of oestrogen, and despite being unable to attach themselves to oestrogen receptors in the same way as the oestrogen produced by the body, they can still help tackle the mental and physical implications of menopause.
Alternative Methods Of Menopausal Relief
Proven substitutes for HRT
Phytoestrogens fall into the category of nutraceuticals, which are extremely valuable to the management of the symptoms of menopause. The isoflavone genistein is a phytoestrogen that addresses declining oestrogen levels by stimulating oestrogen receptors. It targets a range of enzymes and has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Hot flushes and weight gain are also brought under control by this phytoestrogen.
The evidence for the use of isoflavones such as genistein in the therapeutic treatment of menopausal symptoms is strong. It is abundant in soy, fruit, vegetables and legumes and though its effects are much weaker than HRT, it is often associated with a decreased risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers.
Liquorice root extracts have also exhibited similar traits to genistein, and demonstrate an ability to minimise periodic hot flushing with none of the potential dangers of HRT.
Jury still out
Additionally, substances such as black cohosh and maca root have been linked to reducing the presence of the luteinising hormone (LH) in the blood – which can trigger a range of menstrual difficulties – and improving mood and sex drive respectively. There have, however, been conflicting studies and reports on their effectiveness. Many people report that they help and so we suspect there is a genetic variation causing this discrepancy.
Vitamins And Supplements
There are many vitamins and supplements that can offer long-lasting relief from menopausal symptoms. And whilst these can indeed be retrieved from various foods, their benefits become more readily available when taken as supplements. Vitamin E, for example, works best when consumed in the right dosage of 800IU per day. This is crucial to the removal of free radicals from the body and tackling the stress and anxiety that is all too familiar to those going through menopause.
Vitamin B deficiencies, common during menopause, can also be addressed by taking active methylated forms of folate and vitamin B12. By upping the body’s supply of vitamin B, the risk of heart disease is lowered and problems with memory and cognition are much better managed.
The advantages of supplementing your diet with vitamin D must be acknowledged too. Without this, declining bone density will go unmanaged and the risk of osteoporosis will remain much higher. Vitamin D should always be taken in partnership with vitamin K2 to ensure these effects.
Elsewhere, ashwagandha and omega 3 are important for optimal brain function in middle age. The positive benefits of the latter in regards to heart health are also widely celebrated. Magnesium, like oestrogen and progesterone, becomes more absent from the body during menopause and its consumption has been found to facilitate better sleep, improve mood and reinforce bone strength in menopausal women.
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