Am I Menopausal or could it be my diet, stress or age?

Eating healthily, exercising and managing stress can dramatically ease you through menopause

Who would want to be a woman after 40? I asked myself this question many times after turning 40, as did my friends but some were closer to 50 before the symptoms kicked in. Another common declaration I heard was ‘I’m definitely coming back as a man next time’.

The symptoms that many women experience from the age of 40 upwards until on average 55, are often blamed on the approaching menopause. Here are the typical symptoms I hear about:

  • Weight-Gain
  • Hot flushes/Night sweats                                                                              
  • Sleep disturbance / restless legs
  • Irritability /  Mood swings  / lower mood / anxiety for no interest     
  • Forgetfulness  or  lack concentration
  • Declining lack of interest in sex
  • Vaginal dryness, dry eyes and nostrils
  • Wrinkles, brown spots & Dry Skin
  • Thinning hair or Hair loss
  • Headaches  or Migraines
  • A decline in your natural energy levels                
  • Joint pains
  • Heart palpitations                 
  • Irregular bleeding,  very heavy or very light bleeding
  • Increased body hair – facial & chest
  • Ringing in the ear/impaired hearing
  • Osteoporosis or osteopenia after a check-up

 If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I recommend that you visit your GP for a blood test. They measure sex hormones levels which can help point to where you are on your life’s hormonal cycle.

Now look at the symptoms again. You might notice obvious connections such as

  • sleep disturbance as a possible cause of lack of energy
  • Weight gain because of a change in anxiety levels and you are anxiously eating more

The changeover to menopause can take 10 years so it really is worth learning about it so that you cope with it better. It affects some women more so than others. What I am recommending is to make lifestyle changes that help to improve your overall sense of wellbeing and in the process you might notice some of the symptoms are declining or disappearing.

A positive change in diet and lifestyle helps to reveal the true symptoms of the peri-menopause and  menopause. For example my primary symptoms were increased anxiety and joint pain which affected my sleep and exercise and thereby affected by weight temporarily. All of the other symptoms I dealt with through diet, sleep, yoga and supplements. I must admit though, the onset was quite a shock so it is really worth being aware of the symptoms and do not ignore them. Deal with them early and manage this change in your life.

You may notice that we suffer some of these symptoms when we are eating badly especially drinking more alcohol and eating sugary foods such as around Christmas or holiday.  As we age our body copes less well with everything: we can’t eat as late in the evening; we tolerate alcohol less well; we are wreaked by Friday after a week’s work and we just can’t get away with what we used to do anymore. Our hormonal system is less efficient as we age. Our lifestyle has to change and we need to take greater care of our health. Stop fighting the inevitable.

Small changes that may make life easier-

1. Give up or reduce stimulants such as alcohol, coffee and chocolate (caffeine) as which triggers a hot flush and body sweat. Spicey foods can MSG can trigger a flush.

2. Take 20 minutes in the afternoon and lie on a couch or bed and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and bring calmness to your mind and muscles  It rests the adrenal glands. Do it on the days you feel tired or stressed, ideally around 3pm when our cortisol levels decline on the circadian rhythm cycle.

3. I suggest  a Low Carb diet which helps to keep insulin levels low and this helps to reduce fat storage, allowing fat to be burnt as ketones. Insulin peaks and troughs upset other hormones. It also helps to maintain a slim body and avoid the dreaded middle aged spread.

4. Chronic Stress is a killer, no question. Stress can trigger most of the listed symptoms . Identify your stressors and try to manage them better. Ageing parents, teenage kids, stressful job and friends going through difficulties can all create a heavy load for a woman in her middle years. The best stress management techniques are exercise, breathing techniques and meditation. Try yoga/pilates as a starting point and stick at it for more than 6 week. Now monitor your symptoms again, have they improved?

5. Changing hormones are a stressor on the body. Magnesium and B-complex are vital supplements for stressful times. A multivitamin top-up will cover all other needs along with good food.

6. HRT is life-changing for some women. The Well-Woman clinic specializes in women’s health and female GP’s are very useful especially if they are in their 40’s and 50’s.

7. Sleep is the most critical factor. If you get a good night’s sleep you will cope better. HRT or Phytoestrogens can help night sweats in some cases. Meditation before bed can help get you to sleep and a low-sugar diet can help reduce sudden awakenings at 3am. Bedroom hygiene measures discussed in my Stress article can all help.

8. Exercise wins hands-down when it comes to getting through to the other side of the menopause. Try a mix of all types from strength training to cardio to pilates.

I am writing this from personal experience and client experience. I was coping very well until I injured myself from strength training and jogging. I overdid it on an old injury. It took me time to switch from adrenaline exercise routines which I loved to the quieter more meditative yoga. However once I adapted to yoga my sleep quickly improved again.

My biggest take-away from this period of my life is sleep. Do whatever you have to do to get good sleep.

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