Causes, Symptoms and Natural Treatment of Menopause; Menopause is defined as the state of an absence of menstrual periods for 12 months. The menopausal transition starts with varying menstrual cycle length and ends with the final menstrual period. Perimenopause is a term sometimes used and means “the time around menopause.” It is often used to refer to the menopausal transitional period. It is not officially a medical term, but is sometimes used to explain certain aspects of the menopause transition in lay terms. “Postmenopausal” is a term used to as an adjective to refer to the time after menopause has occurred. For example, doctors may speak of a condition that occurs in “postmenopausal women.” This refers to women who have already reached menopause.
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when the function of the ovaries ceases and she can no longer become pregnant. The ovary (female gonad), is one of a pair of reproductive glands in women. They are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries produce eggs (ova) and female hormones such as estrogen. During each monthly menstrual cycle, an egg is released from one ovary. The egg travels from the ovary through a Fallopian tube to the uterus.
The ovaries are the main source of female hormones, which control the development of female body characteristics such as the breasts, body shape, and body hair. The hormones also regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Estrogens also protect the bone. Therefore, a woman can develop osteoporosis (thinning of bone) later in life when her ovaries do not produce adequate estrogen.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is different for each woman. Scientists are still trying to identify all the factors that initiate and influence this transition period.
At what age does a woman typically reach menopause?
The average age of menopause is 51 years old. But there is no way to predict when an individual woman will have menopause or begin having symptoms suggestive of menopause. The age at which a woman starts having menstrual periods is also not related to the age of menopause onset. Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but menopause may occur as earlier as ages 30s or 40s, or may not occur until a woman reaches her 60s. As a rough “rule of thumb,” women tend to undergo menopause at an age similar to that of their mothers.
Perimenopause, often accompanied by irregularities in the menstrual cycle along with the typical symptoms of early menopause, can begin up to 10 years prior to the last menstrual period.
How long does menopause last?
Menopause is a point in time and not a process- it is the time point in at which a woman’s last period ends. Of course, a woman will not know when that time point has occurred until she has been 12 consecutive months without a period. The symptoms of menopause, on the other hand, may begin years before the actual menopause occurs and may persist for some years afterwards as well.
Symptoms of menopause
Women going through menopause may experience problems with focusing and learning.
Experts say that technically, menopause is confirmed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 1 year. However, the symptoms and signs of menopause generally appear well before that 1-year period is over. They may include:
This is usually the first symptom; menstrual pattern changes. Some women may experience a period every 2-3 weeks, while others will not have one for months at a time.
During the perimenopausal stage of a woman’s life, her estrogen levels will drop significantly, lowering her chances of becoming pregnant.
This may be accompanied by itching and/or discomfort. It tends to happen during the perimenopause. Some women may experience dyspareunia (pain during sex). The term “vaginal atrophy” refers to an inflammation of the vagina as a result of the thinning and shrinking of the tissues, as well as decreased lubrication, caused by a lack of estrogen.
A sudden feeling of heat in the upper body. It may start in the face, neck, or chest, it then spreads upwards or downwards (depending on where it started). The skin may redden and become patchy, and the woman typically starts to sweat. The heart rate may suddenly increase (tachycardia), or it might become irregular or stronger than usual (palpitations). Hot flashes generally occur during the first year after a woman’s final period.
If the hot flashes happen in bed, they are called night sweats. Most women say their hot flashes do not last more than a few minutes.
Sleeping problems are generally caused by night sweats, but not always. Sleep disturbance may be caused by insomnia or anxiety. Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep increase as women go through menopause.
Women tend to be more susceptible to urinary tract infections, such as cystitis. Urinary frequency may increase as well.
Moodiness often goes hand-in-hand with sleep disturbance. Experts say that most mood changes are triggered by poor sleep.
Problems focusing and learning
Some women may also have short-term memory problems, as well as finding it hard to concentrate on something for long.
Other symptoms of menopause can include:
- More fat building up in the abdomen
- Hair loss (thinning hair)
- Loss of breast size
If left untreated, all of the symptoms mentioned will usually taper off gradually over a period of 2-5 years. However, symptoms can persist for much longer. In some cases, vaginal dryness, itching, and discomfort can become chronic, and eventually get worse if left untreated.
Causes, Symptoms and Natural Treatment of Menopause
Causes of menopause
Estrogen regulates menstruation, while progesterone is more involved with preparing the body for pregnancy.
When the ovaries start producing less of these two hormones, perimenopause will begin. In fact, by the time a woman is in her late 30s, the ovaries start producing less progesterone and estrogen. A woman’s fertility starts to decline a long time before she may notice any menopausal or perimenopausal symptoms.
As time passes and the ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone, the ovaries eventually shut down completely, and the woman no longer has any more menstrual periods. The vast majority of females experience a gradual change in menstrual activity, while some go on normally until they stop suddenly.
Some women may experience premature menopause – their ovaries fail earlier than they are supposed to (before the age of 45). Although rare, ovarian failure can occur at any age. Premature menopause may be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Enzyme deficiencies
- Down’s syndrome
- Turner’s syndrome
- Addison’s disease
- Removal of the ovaries (bilateral oophorectomy surgery)
- Radiotherapy to the pelvic area
- Hysterectomy surgery (the uterus – womb – is surgically removed)
How is menopause diagnosed?
A doctor should be able to diagnose menopause or perimenopause if he knows the age of the patient, has information about her menstrual patterns and receives feedback from her about the symptoms.
Apart from a blood test, which can measure levels of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), there is no definitive test to diagnose menopause or perimenopause. FSH blood levels rise when a woman is going through menopause. However, as FSH levels tend to fluctuate a lot during the menopause and perimenopause, the test is not that helpful for a diagnosis.
Under certain circumstances, a doctor may order a blood test to determine the level of estradiol (estrogen). As hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can cause menopause-like symptoms, a blood test to determine the woman’s level of thyroid-stimulating hormone might be recommended.
Causes, Symptoms and Natural Treatment of Menopause
Natural Treatment for Menopause
- Eat Foods that Help Manage Menopause Symptoms
When trying to balance hormones and reduce menopause symptoms, your diet should include plenty of essential minerals and healthy fats. Filling up on the following foods which are “hormone-balancing,” nutrient-dense and unprocessed can help you eliminate your intake of empty calories and manage weight gain.
Keep in mind that you might need to consume less calories overall in order to maintain your weight as you get older. Due to a decrease in muscle mass and slowing of your metabolism, it’s more important than ever to limit processed foods and focus on eating a clean diet.
Foods that can help manage menopause symptoms include:
- Organic fruits and vegetables: These contain dietary fiber to manage your appetite, antioxidants to slow the aging process and phytosterols that can help balance hormones.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Vegetables in the cruciferous family such as broccoli, cabbage and kale contain indole-3-carbinol, which naturally helps to balance estrogen levels. These veggies are also high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K and electrolytes that are important for blood pressure and heart health.
- High-fiber foods: Fiber is important for cardiovascular and digestive health, plus maintaining a healthy weight. Some studies have even found that diets higher in fiber might help to balance the production of estrogen. High-fiber diets are associated with less weight gain, healthier cholesterol levels and reduced constipation. Some of the best sources include nuts, seeds, legumes/beans, ancient grains, avocado, veggies and fruit.
- Natto: Fermented soy like natto contains a phytoestrogen that can help balance hormones. However, avoid this if you have had estrogen-positive breast cancer in the past.
- Phytoestrogen foods: Phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogens that can mimic the effects of natural hormones your body produces. Their effects are controversial, so the research on their benefits or risks can be seen overwhelming and conflicting. However, a large variety of studies have proved these dietary estrogens actually help some women during menopause by reducing cancer risk, reducing night flashes, protecting the heart and making a decrease in natural estrogen feel less drastic.
- Omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fats from fish and flaxseed can protect the heart, promote smooth skin and help to counteract inflammation from omega-6 fats (found mostly in refined oils and low-quality meat). Some of the best sources include wild-caught salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel and anchovies. Studies show that frequently consuming omega-3s facilitates in hormone production and might help to prevent preeclampsia, postpartum depression, menopausal problems, postmenopausal osteoporosis, heart complications, depression and breast cancer.
- Healthy fats and cold-pressed oils: It’s true that fats have more calories than protein or carbohydrates do, but they are also the building blocks for hormone production, keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote satiety that is important for preventing weight gain. Unrefined oils provide essential vitamin E that helps regulate estrogen production. Look for virgin coconut oil, palm oil, extra-virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil. Other sources of healthy fats include avocado, coconut milk, nuts, seeds and wild seafood.
- Probiotic foods: Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can actually improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin. They’re even capable of raising immune function and protecting cognitive functioning. The best sources include yogurt, kefir, cultured veggies such as sauerkraut or kimchi, kombucha and other fermented foods.
- Water: Aim for 8 glasses daily to help replace fluid lost from hot flashes and to decrease bloating.
- Avoid Foods that Make Menopause Worse
- Packaged foods: The majority of processed/packaged foods contain added sugar, chemical preservatives, high amounts of sodium, toxins and synthetic additives. Many of these foods are typically high in carbohydrates that can cause worsened hormone imbalances and may contain GMO ingredients that are toxic to the liver.
- Conventional meat: Conventional (farm-raised) neat or poultry may contain added hormones that can cause problems, including increased inflammation. Make sure to choose hormone-free, grass-fed, cage-free or pasture-raised animal proteins whenever possible. Buying organic meat, eggs, dairy and poultry is another layer of protection that ensures that you won’t be consuming antibiotics, GMO-fed meat and added hormones.
- Added sugar: High intake of added sugar can cause weight gain, digestive issues, worsened hormone imbalances and candida, increasing hot flashes and other symptoms.
- Refined oils and fried foods: Foods cooked in highly-processed vegetable oils (sunflower, corn, safflower, soybean or canola oil, for example) are high in omega-6 fats that can contribute to inflammation and other health problems. Fried foods and transfats are also tied to heart problems, weight gain, diabetes and cognitive impairments.
- Carbonated drinks: Carbonated soda or other drinks may be able to deplete the body of calcium and contribute to osteoporosis, bone loss and teeth problems.
- Alcohol: Many women find that drinking more than “moderate” amounts of alcohol can aggravate hot flashes and contribute to weight gain.
- Take These Supplements for Menopause Relief
- Black Cohosh (80 milligrams 1–2x daily): Can help prevent menopausal symptoms including hot flashes and night sweats. Research shows it might also help improve sleep quality, reduce hormonal imbalances tied to diabetes or fibroids, and even help women with fertility prior to menopause.
- Natural Progesterone Cream (about ¼ teaspoon or 20 milligrams applied to the skin and forearms 2–3x daily): Progesterone cream is a natural way to reduce menopausal symptoms such as loss of bone density, vaginal dryness and fibroids. It has many benefits even for younger women (those going through perimenopause, for example) including offering protection from infertility, endometriosis and PMS. Using progesterone in topical cream form allows you to control and vary the amount of progesterone applied to your body with each use.
- Vitex or Chasteberry (160–240 milligrams daily): Vitex has been clinically proven to relieve hot flashes. It also has many of the same hormone-balancing properties as black cohosh, helping to regulate hormones tied to sleep problems, fibroids, skin changes and irregular periods. Research shows that vitex increases luteinizing hormone, modulates prolactin and aids in the inhibition of the release of follicle-stimulating hormone, which all helps balance out the ratio of progesterone to estrogen, slightly raising the levels of progesterone.
- American Ginseng(600–1200 milligrams daily): For thousands of years, ginseng has been used to increase energy and sexual arousal. Some research suggests it can help relieve hot flashes, fatigue, depression and cognitive impairments, and vaginal dryness.
- Red Clover: Can help prevent loss of bone density and lower risk for heart complications. Red clover contains isoflavones that have positive effects in reducing symptoms related to estrogen loss — such as hot flashes, trouble sleeping, weight gain, bone loss, bone fractures or osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems, and inflammation of the joints.
- John’s Wort : This herb has been safely used for over 2,000 years, often to lower anxiety, depression and sleep-related problems. It may be able to help to stabilize your mood, reduce inflammation, improve your sleep and make the emotional/mental transition through menopause a bit easier.
- Maca Root (1000–2000 milligrams daily): As an adaptogen herb, maca has been used for thousands of years to lower the effects of stress and aging on the body by decreasing cortisol levels. It can help reduce hot flashes, low energy/fatigue, restlessness and weight gain while improving libido and energy.
- Adaptogen Herbs: These plants offer protection from a variety of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. Adapotogens include ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, rhodiola and holy basil. Research shows they can help improve thyroid function, lower cholesterol, reduce anxiety and depression, reduce brain cell degeneration, and stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.
Although less commonly used at home on your own, other botanicals/herbs can also help manage symptoms including: evening primrose oil, licorice root, wild yams, red raspberry leaves, chaste tree and sarsaparilla. Each one has a specific symptom (or sometimes symptoms) that they are able to help treat, so it can be very helpful to talk with a trained naturopath doctor to help guide you into using proper dosages and combinations.
- Reduce & Manage Stress
Many women experience increased anxiety, moodiness and even episodes of depression during the menopause years. Managing stress in your life is one important way to reduce behaviors or symptoms like emotional eating and weight gain, fatigue, getting poor sleep and low libido. Different stress-reducing complimentary and alternative medicines work for different people. Some effective ways to relieve stress include: exercise, meditation, acupuncture, aromatherapy, spending time in nature, fostering close relationships, volunteering and dedicating time to spiritual practices.
- Use These Essential Oils for Managing Menopause Symptoms
Clary sage oil is the most effective essential oils for balancing hormones. It can help offer relief from menopause symptoms including increased anxiety and hot flashes. In addition, roman chamomile oil reduces stress, peppermint oil can help cool the body from hot flashes, and thyme oil can help naturally balance hormones.
To use these essential oils at home, purchase a therapeutic grade/pure oil in stores or online, then rub 3 drops of the chosen oil on the tops of the feet and back of the neck 1–3 times daily. You can combine any essential oil with a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil to dilute its strength and decrease skin sensitivity.
- Get Regular Exercise
Exercise is important for managing several risk factors associated with menopause complications, including becoming overweight or obese, having high levels of inflammation, getting poor sleep, experiencing bone loss or muscle wasting, and dealing with chronic stress. Certain studies have found that even if you haven’t been very active in the past, starting an exercise routine consisting of aerobic and strength-training exercise training at least three times per week for 12 weeks can result in improvements in sleep quality, insomnia and depression. I recommend engaging in ten to thirty minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week, including in the form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) such as burst training, This will strengthen your bones, help prevent weight gain and preserve lean muscle mass, which can lower the risk for osteoporosis and obesity.
- Get Enough Sleep
Studies show that both excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher levels of morning cortisol, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. To allow your body to recover from stress, control your appetite and improve energy, aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
- Turn to Social Support & Relationships
Comprehensive clinical trials have shown that lifestyle habits including regular exercise, sleep management, optimal nutrition, healthy relationships, social support, and relaxation can be effective as a “whole system approach” to treating menopause symptoms and other effects of aging.