Never Ending Menopause
In some ways menopause never ends for us women. the effects of it are irreversible and stay with us until we shuffle off our mortal coil. For many, myself included, the symptoms eventually do disappear, but for others they last for years as a miserable reminder of our defunct ovaries.
However, there is much that we can do to ensure that we stay in good shape physically and mentally, as I learned in a recent Tricia Talk with Dyna Vink, a Canadian expert in health and nutrition before, during and after our menopause. I am delighted that she has written this guide for us all.
Still Getting Those Hot Flushes? by Dyna Vink
If perimenopause held some surprise symptoms for you, perhaps you thought they would fade away once you reached menopause and beyond. But here you are, several years into post-menopause and some symptoms are still lingering and causing discomfort.
For me, it was a story of a long perimenopause followed by ongoing symptoms long into menopause. My normal support network consisted of my doctor, a personal trainer and a dietician. None of them factored changing hormones into their diagnoses. Looking back, I could have been a 20-year old male, judging by the advice I got.
Many women are unprepared for how perimenopause can affect their day-to-day life because there hasn’t been much conversation around it. We heard about stereotypical scenarios of hot flashes and hysteria, but without a greater understanding of how a change in hormones can affect us, many women are taken by surprise.
Menopause is marked by the absence of a period for 12 months. This may have been part of a much longer journey in perimenopause – for some as long as 15 years. And over the course of that journey, hormones have dropped dramatically – especially estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are responsible for much more than just our reproductive system. They affect the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems too.
The musculoskeletal system includes our muscles and bones. As estrogen starts to decline, starting about age 40, we also lose bone density and muscle fiber. Over time, this can put us at an increased risk of osteoporosis. It can also mean we have greater risk of joint pain and muscle ache, and there’s the danger of falling. And we don’t recover as quickly after exerting ourselves.
Likewise, the cardiovascular system is affected by the drop in estrogen. This includes our heart and blood vessels. The main job of this system is to provide oxygen and nutrients to the body and to remove waste. When estrogen declines, flexibility of the heart muscle and blood vessels diminishes and this makes it harder for the organs to expand and contract in reaction to changes in effort. This affects not only the body, but also the brain. The decrease in elasticity puts us at greater risk of heart disease. And the drop in responsiveness to change in effort can place new strain on the body’s ability to maintain itself by removing waste and rebuilding tissue and muscle fiber.
So as hormones change, it’s not surprising that we notice several different symptoms. The most common symptoms include:
More than half of women experience at least some of these symptoms into post-menopause. But don’t despair. There are some basic measures you can take to address most of the symptoms. Several lifestyle approaches can make a huge difference in quality of life without resorting to pharmaceuticals. The four primary approaches are described here:
Food as Medicine
As we age, we become more sensitive to the foods we eat. Processed foods are certainly convenient, but they include additives and ingredients that do not serve our bodies. Sugar, preservatives, GMO foods, and pesticides are all inflammatory to our bodies and should be avoided. Much better to eat whole foods like vegetables, clean protein, good fats like cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, and starchy carbohydrates like sweet potato, squash, wild or brown rice and quinoa. Within a couple of days of making these food choices, digestion will improve, sleep will be better, joint pain will recede, and brain fog will subside. By removing sugar from the diet, it stabilizes blood sugar, which in turn reduces the intensity and frequency of hot and cold flashes, as well as night sweats. It also improves skin quality. Fantastic!
The body really needs its sleep. Getting good sleep is an important defense against migraines, brain fog, exhaustion and unwanted weight. What happens when we sleep is that the body does its maintenance routine of removing waste and rebuilding tissues. This includes the body, but also the brain and its ability to form memories. If instead the body is busy with digestion, or if sleep is interrupted, then these functions are not completed. This places stress on the body and cortisol - the stress hormone – is produced. Excess cortisol is toxic to the body and brain over time. To get restorative sleep, we should stop eating 4 hours before bed, and stop drinking 2 hours before bed. We should practise good sleep hygiene by shutting down screens one hour before bed, and making the bedroom cool and dark. 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep is the goal.
Hormone Appropriate Movement
Not all movement is good for menopausal women. Since estrogen is used to protect the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, the research shows that carrying out moderate aerobic activity and strength training are best for supporting these affected systems. High impact and high intensity interval training (HIIT) can place too much stress on the system which in turn produces cortisol and makes us feel exhausted. Great aerobic exercises include walking, cycling, swimming, or even rowing. All done at an intensity that still allows some talking. Strength training is perfect for building up bones and muscle fiber. Using weights of 2-5 pounds is all you need, or alternatively using the body for resistance, like with yoga or pilates. Creating a routine of aerobic and then strength training on alternate days can contribute to improvements in hot flashes, night sweats, joint and muscle pain, pelvic floor strength, mood and sleep.
Far too many doctors have been prescribing antidepressants for menopausal depression or anxiety. This doesn't address the problem and often causes troublesome side effects.
Mindfulness, or getting your head in the game, is so important. Only when you are in the present can you experience joy, happiness or learning. And as it happens, the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. So if you control your self-talk and make them positive things, you will benefit from that. Rather than telling yourself that you’re a lazy slob or beat yourself up because you don’t have enough willpower, you tell yourself that you’re an intelligent woman and the goal is achievable. Meditation is a great way to calm the mind, focus on positive things and create endorphins. This can really help to create positivity, reduce cortisol levels and help with sleep. Some supplements like Ashwagandha tea might also be helpful.
As we age, self care can become a little more involved. But it allows us to take control and the impact it can have on quality of life and wellbeing is extraordinary.
Dyna Vink is a certified health and nutrition coach who refused to give in after her doctor, dietician and personal trainer gave ineffective advice on how to navigate perimenopause. After a career in corporate marketing, she repositioned herself to help ladies through their symptoms of peri/menopause. She studied the women’s aging research, figured things out and now uses a lifestyle approach so ladies can holistically restore their vitality and live life to the fullest. She offers an 8-week online program made up of coaching and course work to help ladies restore their vitality and do the things they love.
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Really interesting article, but doesn't address the elongated menopause suffered by hormone receptive breast cancer survivors... I sailed through my menopause. But the side effects of hormone reducing medication are severely debilitating. No-one seems to want to acknowledge this. GPS just prescribe more drugs to counteract symptoms.
Really enjoyed this article and found it very informative. I was particularly pleased to see that Dina did not push HRT as a way forward as it is a no no for me. Weight gain and interrupted sleep are the worst things for me now at nearly 72, although I still get the occasional hot flush and find my energy levels are not what they used to be! thank you Tricia!
Jane, it's so important that we talk about it. World Menopasue Awareness Month has really been great for getting the conversations going!