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Gracefully navigating menopause

Menopause, a natural phase that signifies the completion of a woman’s reproductive life cycle, has long been surrounded by misconceptions and overshadowed by negative connotations. Uncontrollable sweating, hot flushes, dry skin, hair loss, weight changes and moodiness have painted a bleak picture of this transformative journey. While these symptoms are common, it is important to recognise that menopause does not have to be experienced as a tumultuous rollercoaster ride. In fact, this season of life holds within it numerous gifts, wisdom and the potential for a renewed sense of self. By supporting yourself during the perimenopause phase leading up to menopause, you can significantly reduce the adverse symptoms typically associated with this natural transition. It is time to change this negative narrative and learn how to truly nourish yourself through this next chapter of life.

Menopause is diagnosed retrospectively following 12 consecutive months without a period. The normal age range for menopause is between 45 and 55, with the most common age of onset falling between 51 and 55 years. Perimenopause, on the other hand, refers to the transitional period when your body undergoes changes in preparation for menopause. This stage can occur up to 10 years before menopause begins.

Unfortunately, menopause often carries a heavy burden of stigma and, in some cases, grief. Women may fear the perceived loss of youth, a shift in their identity or the negative labels associated with emotional changes. Additionally, physical symptoms like hot flushes, thinning skin and weight fluctuations only add to the dread surrounding this phase.

Menopause brings significant shifts within a woman’s body, but these changes do not have to be experienced as a distressing rollercoaster ride. By understanding the intricacies of your body’s transition and embracing holistic support during the perimenopausal years, you can navigate menopause with grace and resilience and minimise, if not avoid, the severity of symptoms experienced.

Perimenopause symptoms

Menopausal symptoms arise from a complex interplay of physiological and hormonal changes that occur during the transition. Understanding the underlying mechanisms can provide insight into why these symptoms manifest and how to effectively address them.

Low progesterone

One of the primary drivers of perimenopausal symptoms is the decline in progesterone levels. Progesterone, primarily produced by the ovaries, helps regulate the menstrual cycle, supports balanced mood and sleep and prepares the uterus for pregnancy. As menopause approaches, progesterone production decreases. The relative decrease in progesterone compared to oestrogen can result in symptoms such as irregular periods, headaches, mood swings, thinning, dry skin and sleep disturbances.

Fluctuating oestrogen

Another factor contributing to menopausal symptoms is the fluctuation of oestrogen levels. Initially, oestrogen levels may be relatively higher during the early stages of perimenopause, but as menopause progresses oestrogen production significantly declines. These fluctuations can disrupt the delicate hormonal balance, leading to hair loss, thinning skin, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and changes in libido.

Insulin resistance

Insulin resistance, a condition in which the body’s cells become less responsive to the effects of insulin, may also contribute to menopausal symptoms. Hormonal changes during menopause can affect insulin sensitivity, leading to metabolic changes and potential weight gain. Insulin resistance can exacerbate other symptoms like mood swings, fatigue and increased risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Thyroid imbalances

The thyroid gland regulates metabolism and energy levels in the body. An imbalance in thyroid hormones can lead to worsened menopausal symptoms such as unusual hair growth on the face, fatigue, weight changes and mood disturbances.

Nutrient deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies are common during menopause, particularly in vitamins and minerals that support hormonal balance and overall wellbeing. Insufficient intake or absorption of nutrients like vitamin D, B vitamins, calcium and magnesium can contribute to symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings and bone density loss.

How to manage symptoms naturally

It is important to approach menopause as a holistic journey encompassing physical and emotional aspects of wellbeing. By addressing both of these, you can greatly improve your transition to menopause and minimise the adverse symptoms commonly associated with this stage. Embracing a holistic approach not only allows for a smoother transition but also sets the stage for personal growth, self-discovery and enhanced wellbeing in this next phase of life. Fortunately, there are a number of natural, holistic ways in which you can reduce and manage these symptoms. Here is a road map to help you.

Soothe your nervous system and support your adrenals

Adrenals are small glands that sit on top the kidneys and release the hormones cortisol, DHEA, adrenaline and a small amount of progesterone. These hormones help regulate your stress responses, maintain energy levels and support various bodily functions.

When a woman enters menopause, her ovaries gradually decrease their production of hormones, including progesterone, and as you now know, a drop in progesterone can cause a number of adverse symptoms. As the ovaries’ production declines, the adrenals become the primary organ responsible for producing progesterone. When the adrenals are healthy and functioning optimally, they can help compensate for the declining progesterone levels from the ovaries. This can minimise the impact of hormone imbalances and alleviate some of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, mood swings, migraines, sleep disturbances and balanced weight.

There are many natural ways you can support your adrenal health and nervous system during perimenopause to menopause such as through nutritional and herbal medicine and lifestyle practices.

Nutrition

  • It is advisable to limit caffeine intake by having only one cup of coffee per day. If you love more than this perhaps try swapping it out for an alternative herbal tea that calms the nervous system such as camomile, peppermint or lavender.
  • Include a palm-sized portion of protein in every meal, as protein helps to stabilise blood-sugar levels and provides sustained energy throughout the day.
  • Consume omega-3 fatty acids found in sources like fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts that support hormone production and brain health and reduce anxiety.
  • Enjoy whole grains over refined carbohydrates to help maintain stable blood-sugar levels and optimise essential nutrient absorption. Stable blood-sugar levels help to minimise the production of stress hormones such as cortisol.
  • Incorporate foods rich in B vitamins such as leafy greens and legumes, which can help support adrenal function and stress management.

Herbal medicine

There are many wonderful herbs that you can use to support your adrenals and the nervous system. A few of my favourites include:

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Helps reduce stress, promote relaxation and support adrenal function.
  • Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): Enhances resilience to stress, boosts energy levels and supports mental clarity.
  • Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum): Offers calming effects, helps reduce anxiety and supports healthy adrenal function.

Lifestyle

  • Aim for regular exercise such as walking, yoga or swimming. These are great lower-intensity movements that can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
  • Prioritise quality sleep by establishing a consistent bedtime routine, ideally before 10pm and aiming for a good quality eight hours of sleep each night. Creating a peaceful sleep environment by dimming lights, avoiding technology one hour before bed and practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can greatly benefit the nervous system and adrenals.
  • Engaging in regular stress-management practices like meditation, deep breathing or journaling can help alleviate anxiety and promote emotional wellbeing. Perhaps you could create a daily routine with this.
  • Limiting exposure to stressful situations and incorporating activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, spending time in nature or socilaising with loved ones can have a positive impact on overall mental and emotional health.

Ensure your blood sugar is regulated

Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s cells become less responsive to insulin. Insulin imbalances can lead to weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, trouble losing weight, mood swings, irritability and fatigue. Supporting balanced blood glucose levels and regulating insulin is a key strategy for minimising adverse symptoms during the peri menopause and menopause phase of life. You can achieve this by incorporating the following nutrition and lifestyle suggestions.

Nutrition

Focus on choosing low glycemic index (GI) foods, such as whole grains, legumes and non-starchy vegetables. These foods are digested and absorbed more slowly, resulting in a more gradual release of glucose into the bloodstream.

Ensure you are having a palm-sized portion of protein in each meal, the first before 10am to support stable blood glucose levels from the beginning of the day.

Minimise snacking and instead focus on three wholefood meals a day incorporating lean proteins such as chicken, eggs and fish, healthy fats such as avocado, nuts and olive oil and fibre-rich foods such as vegetables and legumes, which all help contribute to stable blood-sugar levels and promote satiety.

Enjoy a side salad before eating carbohydrates in each meal. The fibre in salads can slow down glucose absorption into the bloodstream and reduce the quantity of insulin in the blood.

Minimise or avoid alcohol. Alcoholic beverages often contain carbohydrates or sugars that can rapidly elevate blood-sugar levels. This triggers the release of insulin to lower blood sugar, potentially leading to a spike in insulin levels. Over time, repeated spikes in insulin can contribute to insulin resistance and impaired insulin sensitivity.

Eat within an eight-hour window during the day and have a gentle fast overnight. By giving your body a break from constant food consumption, gentle fasting overnight can support better insulin signalling, reduce insulin resistance and ultimately contribute to improved insulin levels and blood-sugar control.

Movement

Enjoying regular physical activity is essential for managing insulin resistance. A combination of aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility exercises can help improve insulin sensitivity, regulate blood-sugar levels and support weight management. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking or cycling each week, along with two or more days of strength-training exercises targeting major muscle groups.

Support your skin from the inside out

Supporting menopausal skin problems from the inside out is essential to address the effects of hormonal changes, collagen loss and thinning skin. The approach involves nourishing the skin internally through dietary choices and supporting it externally with high-quality skincare products.

Internally, incorporating a nutrient-rich diet can help provide the building blocks necessary for healthy skin. Focus on consuming:

  • Foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals can support collagen production and protect the skin from oxidative damage. Enjoy foods such as berries, leafy greens and citrus fruits, which are abundant in antioxidants like vitamins C and E. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseeds and walnuts can also promote skin health by reducing inflammation and maintaining skin hydration.
  • Increase collagen-promoting foods such as bone broth, sardines, organ meats or berries or add a collagen powder.
  • Adequate hydration is crucial for maintaining skin elasticity and plumpness. Aim to drink two litres per day, and more if you are exercising. Add a pinch of mineral-rich Celtic sea salt to enhance hydration.
  • Externally, opt for high-quality and organic skincare products that are formulated to address specific menopausal skin concerns.
  • Look for certified organic products that are designed to moisturise and hydrate the skin, boost collagen production and improve skin elasticity.
  • Ingredients like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, retinol, peptides and plant-based oils can be beneficial in nourishing and rejuvenating the skin while minimising fine lines.
  • When you choose certified organic you are also supporting the health of your hormones.
  • Be mindful of avoiding harsh cleansers or abrasive scrubs that can strip the skin of its natural oils and cause further dryness.

Navigating the transition from perimenopause to menopause gracefully involves adopting a holistic approach that supports various aspects of your health. Embracing these practices will not only optimise your physical wellbeing but also promote emotional balance and overall vitality during this transformative stage of life. Remember, every woman’s journey is unique. It’s important to listen to your body, seek professional guidance when needed and prioritise self-care as you embrace this new chapter with grace and confidence.

Article Featured in WellBeing Magazine 207

Ema Taylor

Ema Taylor

Ema Taylor is a naturopath, clinical nutritionist and certified fertility awareness educator. For more, visit emataylor.com or @emataylornaturopathy on Instagram.

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