Menopause is the time of life when a woman’s menstrual cycle ceases. It is completely natural and not an illness, in fact it’s a sign that everything’s normal.
It usually starts around age 51. Some women experience few symptoms, whereas others experience a wide range of symptoms affecting every part of their bodies and lasting about seven years!
The cause of symptoms is reduced production of the female hormone oestrogen. This may happen over several years, or more suddenly. Variations in oestrogen levels, the rate of decline, and fluctuations in oestrogen production account for our different experiences.
Lower oestrogen levels lower the body’s temperature set point. Our brains then perceive that the body is too hot and try to cool it down by increasing blood flow to our skin, which becomes red and perspires, and we experience a hot flush.
Combined with uncomfortable changes in our heart rate and blood pressure, the discomfort of a hot flush is unique and not related to normal overheating. At night hot flushes affect sleep quality, and in addition, reduced progesterone, another female hormone, makes us feel restless and anxious, making it harder to sleep. Lower oestrogen levels cause breakdown of collagen and elastic fibres in our skin and elsewhere, which leads to many symptoms. Muscles in our skin shrink, causing wrinkles and sagging. Dry, itchy skin is common. Many of us have difficulties with our sex lives as the muscles in the reproductive system become less elastic and vaginal skin becomes drier, adding to discomfort. The bladder is also affected causing frequent or urgent urination, and sensitive bladder.
Emotional symptoms, such as depression, are common. Menopausal mood swings can resemble an emotional roller-coaster.
Symptoms are helped by a diet low in sugar, salt and processed foods and high in vegetables, protein and wholemeal grains. Oily fish, walnuts and spinach are good for heart health and dairy products for bone health. In summer expose the skin to sunlight for vitamin D but in winter take a supplement.
Avoid fizzy drinks which contribute to bone weakness. Drink plenty of water. Soya, linseed and oats, and herbs such as black cohosh and agnus cactus, contain plant oestrogen, which may alleviate symptoms. Observe if certain foods such as curries, chocolate or alcohol trigger your hot flushes.
A daily half-hour brisk walk reduces hot flushes, helps prevent weight gain, and strengthens your bones. Pelvic floor exercises help urinary symptoms. Resist napping. Stick to a bedtime routine, turning off screened devices an hour before bedtime.
Don’t suffer in silence with depression. Talk about it with your partner, friends and family. Try the Australian Bush Flower remedy she-oak for emotional symptoms. HRT relieves symptoms but isn’t suitable for everyone, so discuss this with your doctor.
Reflexology is the perfect therapy for menopause, helping to balance hormones, ease aches and pains, reduce anxiety and induce a deep relaxation that improves sleep and mood.
Shirley Jackson, clinical Reflexologist