What Is Menopause?
Understanding menopause is key to managing the changes that come with it. Menopause signifies the conclusion of the monthly menstrual cycle, or what is commonly referred to as a woman’s “period,” due to the cessation of ovarian follicular function. This implies that the ovaries cease releasing eggs for potential fertilization.
Throughout a woman’s reproductive life, the regularity and duration of the menstrual cycle can vary, but natural menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 for women worldwide.
Natural menopause is officially recognized after 12 consecutive months of menstruation absence, without any apparent physiological or pathological causes, and in the absence of clinical intervention.
Some women may encounter menopause at an earlier age, occurring before they reach 40. This is termed “premature menopause” and may be attributed to specific chromosomal irregularities, autoimmune conditions, or other unidentified factors.
Predicting the exact timing of an individual woman’s menopause is not feasible. Nevertheless, there are correlations between menopausal age and certain demographic, health-related, and genetic elements.
Many women may have already ceased menstruating before entering menopause. This can be due to various factors, including surgical procedures such as hysterectomy or the removal of the uterine lining, as well as the use of certain hormonal contraceptives and other medications that lead to infrequent or absent periods. Despite the absence of menstruation, they might still experience other changes linked to the menopausal transition.
Common Symptoms of Menopaus
Menopause often brings a host of common symptoms that can significantly impact one’s daily life and overall well-bein:
- Hot Flashes: These sudden, intense feelings of heat can cause sweating and discomfort. They are one of the most common symptoms of menopause.
- Night Sweats: Similar to hot flashes but occurring during the night, night sweats can disrupt sleep and lead to fatigue.
- Vaginal Dryness: A decrease in estrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness and discomfort during intercourse.
- Mood Swings: Hormonal fluctuations can lead to mood swings, anxiety, and even depression in some women.
- Irregular Periods: Before menopause, you may experience irregular menstrual cycles as your hormone levels fluctuate.
- Weight Gain: Changes in metabolism can make it easier to gain weight, especially around the abdomen.
Exploring and understanding menopause is an empowering journey for women.
1. Dietary Calcium and Vitamin D
Menopause can lead to weaker bones, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. To combat this, it’s crucial to focus on dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D. These two nutrients are closely linked to good bone health.
- Dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese
- Green, leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, and spinach
- Certain calcium-fortified foods: cereals, fruit juice, and milk alternatives
Vitamin D sources:
- Sunlight: Your skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.
- Dietary sources: Oily fish, eggs, cod liver oil, and vitamin D-fortified products are good options to increase vitamin D intake.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
It’s common for women to gain weight during menopause. This weight gain can be attributed to a combination of factors, including hormonal changes, aging, lifestyle, and genetics. Gaining excess body fat, especially around the waist, not only increases the risk of developing diseases such as heart disease and diabetes but can also impact menopause symptoms.
Research shows that losing at least 10 pounds or 10% of body weight over a year can increase the likelihood of eliminating hot flashes and night sweats. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight may help alleviate menopause symptoms and prevent disease.
3. Fruits and Vegetables
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables offers multiple benefits during menopause. These foods are typically low in calories and can help you feel full, making them excellent for weight management.
Moreover, they may help prevent various diseases, including heart disease, which tends to become more common after menopause.
4. Avoid Trigger Foods
Certain foods can trigger hot flashes, night sweats, and mood changes during menopause. These triggers may become more pronounced when consumed at night. Common culprits include caffeine, alcohol, and foods that are sugary or spicy.
To identify potential triggers, consider keeping a symptom diary. If you notice that particular foods exacerbate your menopause symptoms, try to reduce your consumption or avoid them entirely. Being mindful of your diet can help you manage the intensity of these symptoms.
5. Exercise Regularly
While it’s still inconclusive whether exercise effectively treats hot flashes and night sweats, regular physical activity offers numerous other benefits. These include improved energy levels, metabolism, joint and bone health, stress reduction, and better sleep quality.
For instance, a 12-week walking exercise program study in Korea showed that exercise improved the physical and mental health and overall quality of life in menopausal women.
Additionally, regular exercise is associated with better overall health and a reduced risk of various diseases and conditions:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
6. Reduce Refined Sugar and Processed Foods
Diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugar can lead to sharp fluctuations in blood sugar levels, resulting in feelings of tiredness and irritability. This can worsen the physical and mental symptoms of menopause.
Additionally, research indicates that high consumption of refined carbs may increase the risk of depression in postmenopausal women.
7. Don’t Skip Meals
Eating regular, balanced meals is crucial during menopause. Skipping meals can exacerbate certain symptoms and make weight management more challenging. A yearlong weight management program for postmenopausal women found that those who skipped meals experienced 4.3% less weight loss.
Eat Protein-Rich Foods: Consuming protein throughout the day can help prevent the loss of lean muscle mass, which tends to occur with age. One study suggests that eating protein at each meal throughout the day can’t slow down muscle loss associated with aging.
Additionally, high-protein diets can aid in weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness and enhancing calorie expenditure. Foods rich in protein include meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and dairy products.
8. Drink Enough Water
Dryness, particularly vaginal dryness, is a common issue during menopause, largely due to declining estrogen levels. Staying well-hydrated by drinking 8 to 12 glasses of water per day can help alleviate these symptoms. Adequate water intake can also reduce bloating, which is a common occurrence during hormonal changes.
Understanding menopause is a vital journey into the transformative phase of a woman’s life, shedding light on the profound physiological changes and emotional intricacies that define this natural transition. Menopause is a natural part of a woman’s life journey. Embracing it with a positive attitude and seeking support from friends, family, and healthcare providers can make the transition more manageable. It’s a time to focus on self-care, self-discovery, and new opportunities in life. Additionally, many women find comfort in understanding menopause and what to expect.
Understanding menopause is essential for every woman’s health. By being informed about the physical and emotional changes that come with this natural transition, women can take proactive steps to manage symptoms and lead a healthier and happier life during and after menopause. Don’t hesitate to consult your healthcare provider for personalized guidance on managing menopause effectively.
For more lifestyle blog recommendations, we invite you to explore our most popular blog post, ‘Finding Purpose in Life After 70’ It’s a reader favorite, and you can visit it for further information and inspiration
- Menopause and your health – Office on Women’s Health
- Menopause factfile – Local Government Association