Understanding Menopause from a Holistic Perspective

THW-menopause-blog

Menopause is an inevitable process that every woman goes through at some point. Since it comes one way or another, it helps to learn as much as you can about what you’ll experience. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make the transition as smooth as possible! 
Let’s learn about what is going on in your body during menopause.

What Happens in Your Body During Menopause

Menopause is defined as the end of menstruation and fertility. Every female is born with a finite number of eggs, which are stored in the ovaries. Ovaries also make the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, which control menstruation and ovulation. Menopause happens when the ovaries no longer release an egg every month and menstruation stops. (Source)
Menopause normally happens after the age of 40 with the average age being 51, but it can occur earlier as a result of surgery or damage to the ovaries. It consists of 3 stages:

  • Perimenopause: This begins several years before menopause, as menopause is a gradual process. During this stage, the ovaries produce less and less of the female sex hormone estrogen.
  • Menopause: Menopause technically begins once the female has not had a menstrual period for a year. At this point, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and produce little estrogen due to a reduction in ovarian follicles.
  • Post-menopause: This is when menopause ends. Most of the uncomfortable symptoms will go away, but there are lingering effects of low estrogen.

The length of time from perimenopause to post-menopause varies, but usually lasts a few years. Unless, however, menopause is caused by surgery—then it is considered “sudden” onset. This is exactly what happened to me when I had my uterus and both ovaries removed due to ovarian cancer. I have to say, having a radical removal of my female organs was like getting hit by a Mac Truck! Those of you who have gone through hysterectomies may know exactly what I am talking about!
There is evidence that the age of onset of menopause is genetically linked, can be affected by the number of pregnancies you have had, and can also be affected by whether or not you smoke. (Source)

Signs and Symptoms of Menopause

Since menopause causes a major shift in hormones, with it come many symptoms that can make life feel more difficult. (Source) Some of the common symptoms include: 

  • irregular periods during perimenopause
  • changes in sleep, including insomnia
  • anxiety, depression, irritability, and other mood changes
  • changes in libido, especially a decreased interest in sex
  • vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse
  • weight gain, particularly around the waist
  • bone loss and brittle bones
  • muscle loss
  • hot flashes — this is the most common symptom of menopause

Traditional Methods of Treating Menopause

Menopause is a natural, biological part of life. The drop in hormones and fertility is supposed to happen—so really menopause doesn’t need to be treated like an “illness”. (Source) Symptoms will lessen over time as the body gets used to the hormonal changes.
The most common method for treating menopause symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT) containing a combo of estrogen and progestin, or just estrogen. However, the nature of a medication like HRT means that as soon as you stop taking it, the symptoms may return.
Some side effects of HRT include spotting, breast tenderness and/or nausea in the first few months. Some studies have shown that having hormone therapy over several years may also increase the risk of various diseases like cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, dementia, and hip fractures. (Source, Source)
If HRT is the route you choose, I encourage you to seek out information about bioidentical hormones and avoiding synthetic or animal hormones. There are a lot of options out there—make sure you educate yourself before making a decision. (Source)

Alternative Approaches for Managing Menopause

While menopause comes with being female, there are ways to ease the symptoms that accompany hormonal fluctuations.

Essential Oils

More than just a pleasant smell, some essential oils contain a phytoestrogen (plant-based estrogen) effect that may help alleviate symptoms stemming from the drop in hormones. When testing out essential oils, take on the role of researcher and experiment with what works for you. Some phytoestrogenic oils to experiment with are clary sage, fennel, cypress, angelica, and coriander.
In this study, menopausal women who received an aromatherapy massage once a week for 8 weeks showed a greater reduction in menopausal symptoms than those in the control group. More specifically, aromatherapy massage improved hot flushes, depression and pain in menopausal women. For the massage they used lavender, rose geranium, rose and jasmine in almond and primrose carrier oils. 
So here is your official permission to invest in a massage for yourself. 😉 And remember to practice safe techniques when using essential oils!

Dietary Supplements

Several botanical and dietary supplements have been shown to help alleviate the side effects of menopause. (Source)

    • St. John’s Wort has shown efficacy for mood disorders related to the menopausal transition
    • Black cohosh reduces primarily hot flashes and possibly mood disorders
    • Korean red ginseng improves fatigue, insomnia and depression.
    • Kava extract showed significant improvement in Kupperman index (a menopausal symptom scale) and HAMA anxiety score (which measures the severity of anxiety symptoms)

Try working these supplements into your daily routine and see if you notice a difference. Remember it takes time and consistency!

Diet

Overall, research shows that the recommended diet for women going through menopause is similar to the diet recommended for chronic disease prevention: add in plenty of vegetables, plenty of plant-based or lean protein, and healthy fats, while minimizing refined carbohydrates.
One study reported on by Harvard showed that daily servings of oily fish, beans, and other legumes that a woman ate was associated with an average 3.3-year delay in the start of menopause. And for every additional serving of refined pasta and rice a woman ate each day, menopause was on average 1.5 years earlier. These researchers found that a higher intake of vitamin B6 and zinc also appeared to delay menopause.
As Harvard Health points out, later onset of menopause is associated with greater overall health benefits.
Why did they discover these results? 
Well, they speculate that the antioxidants in legumes and the omega-3 fatty acids in certain fish might have a protective effect on a woman’s eggs, essentially helping to preserve them for longer and delaying the start of menopause.
Refined carbohydrates might hurry menopause along because these foods cause insulin resistance, which, as we’ve discussed before, can interfere with hormone production.

Supporting the Liver

Your liver has many functions in the body and one of the biggest jobs it has is to conjugate and process many of your hormones. When the liver becomes overworked and sluggish, you may experience more menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Supporting the liver with herbs, teas, castor oil packs and even coffee enemas can help ease the transition into menopause. 
I make it a daily habit to take an infrared sauna with castor oil and Frankincense oil on my liver and abdomen to help support my liver and draw out toxins. I also use detox teas and herbs such as milk thistle to nurture and support my hardworking liver. You may want to give it a try as well.
There are some amazing menopausal support products on my Fullscript Dispensary and you can get a FREE account here. You will be able to peruse and purchase professional grade products at a discount from the comfort of your own home. Once you set up your account, just type in “menopause” and choose the product that best suits your situation.
Not only will you save money but you can rest assured that you are getting top of the line professional products as well. I have had too many clients purchase supplements off the internet only to find that they were EXPIRED! Be wise and check it out!
So much of our health comes back to diet! It is amazing how much what you put in your body on  a daily basis affects you—even though it should seem obvious, it isn’t always top of mind when trying to find solutions for our various health issues.
So there you have it! If you are looking for alternatives to manage your menopause symptoms, I hope this gave you a solid starting point.