Menopause is the name given to the stage in every woman’s life when her menstrual periods permanently stop and she is no longer able to fall pregnant. In Western women, the average age for menopause is 51 years, but it is not uncommon for women to begin experiencing menopausal symptoms far earlier, even as young as 30. The menopause is a normal, healthy part of womanhood; it is an important rite of passage, just like puberty, and should not be viewed as a disease or a health condition.
What causes menopause?
The menopause is caused by a natural decline in the production of estrogen and progesterone, the female sex hormones that are responsible for regulating menstruation and preparing a woman’s body for pregnancy. In the years leading up to menopause (clinically defined as peri-menopause) the ovaries significantly slow down production of these two hormones, until eventually, the ovaries shut down and menstruation ends completely. Most women experience a slow, gradual change in their monthly cycle, but some find their periods continue as normal and then suddenly stop.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
The menopause is different for every woman. For some women, the only noticeable change is irregular periods, while others experience a range of uncomfortable symptoms that severely affect their quality of life. Medical experts say that menopause can be confirmed when periods have been absent for one year. However, the symptoms of menopause tend to appear earlier, while menstruation is still present. Symptoms commonly include:
- Sleeplessness and night sweats – Many menopausal women find that they have difficulty getting enough sleep, usually because of night sweats or anxiety.
- Hot flushes – Hormonal changes during menopause cause the part of the brain that controls body temperature to become confused and erratic, causing many women to experience ‘hot flushes’, short episodes of overheating which are often accompanied by increased sweating, dizziness and nausea.
- Vaginal dryness – Declining levels of estrogen cause the glands in the vagina to decrease production of lubrication, which can led to pain or discomfort during sex.
- Changes to mood– Irritability, depression and difficulty concentrating often go hand in hand with disrupted sleep patterns. It is thought that fluctuating hormonal levels during menopause also play a role in a woman’s mental wellbeing during this time.
- Changes to cholesterol –Falling levels of estrogen cause changes in levels of cholesterol in the blood, leaving menopausal women at greater risk of stroke and heart disease.
What can I do to make the menopause easier?
There are many simple steps you can take to make the menopause a more comfortable, happier time.
- Stop smoking – Smoking is bad for you at every stage of life. Quitting is the single biggest step anyone can take to improve their health, no matter what their age.
- Exercise regularly –Research has shown that exercising 3 to 4 times a week for periods of 20 to 30 minutes can add years on to your life. Exercise reduces cholesterol levels, strengthens your bones, improves your mood and helps you get a good night’s sleep, which means it is perfect for reducing the unwanted symptoms of menopause.
- Watch your weight –Studies have shown that women who are overweight or obese suffer more severe symptoms during menopause, so try to keep as slim and healthy as possible.
- Eat well – As always, the fuel that you put into your body is vital to keep it functioning as well as it can. Plan a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables and try to include a serving of low-fat calcium rich foods from dairy products each day to keep your bones healthy.
- Complementary medicine – Herbal remedy Curcuma comosa has been used by Asian women for decades to provide relief from the common symptoms of menopause. The medicinal plant is thought to have a natural estrogenic effect which reduces discomfort caused by hormonal fluctuations during menopause.
- Think positive – In the West, there is a tendency to view the menopause as an illness, or an unfortunate condition, which is an unhelpful and negative way to look at it. The menopause is healthy transitory stage in every woman’s life, and there is no reason why you cannot enjoy as full and active life as you did before.