Sleepless Nights? Hot Flushes? Mood Swings? Weight Gain? Low Libido? Fatigue?
If you are currently experiencing any of these symptoms as a result of peri-menopause or menopause, you probably have done enough googling to get the grasp of what your body is going through. Truth is, there’s not so much a key as keys to help you manage menopause naturally. The first one I’d like to start with is, to understand that Menopause isn’t a condition that requires treatment but more support through a transitional period in a woman’s life. It can obviously be extremely challenging, and although it can sound dismissive, it is actually extremely important to realize your body is requiring extra attention and support.
Some women hardly experience symptoms at all, but unfortunately some others experience the very worst… if you are one of the unlucky ones, there could be some lifestyle changes you can implement to help improve your overall health, thereby easing symptoms.
The common ones listed above are often grouped together in one big Menopausal Symptom picture. But it’s not enough to just blame ‘low hormones’, as it is not only inaccurate but denotes a sense of helplessness. Being a slave to our hormones is not our only viable option, we can create an environment within our own bodies to give it the best chance of producing healthy, balanced hormones and that does give us some level of control.
Let’s start by looking at these symptoms, why they are happening, and what you can do address them.
Sleeplessness and Hot Flushes
If you think your hot flushes and disturbed sleep is attributed to low oestrogen levels think again, you may believe a decline in your hormones are at the root of your symptoms, but it is most likely the erratic rise and fall of oestrogen that’s the culprit. It’s actually the rapid decline in these levels that inhibit the release of certain neurotransmitters, leading to disruptions in thermoregulation – and the familiar, suffocating wave of heat you feel when this occurs.
In our younger years, oestrogen is balanced by progesterone, which is harder to make when we aren’t ovulating or ovulating sporadically. The lighter bleeds experienced during perimenopause are indicative of anovulation i.e. failure to ovulate, which will again lead to a lack of progesterone being produced.
The Key: Boost Progesterone and Prevent Oestrogen from Spiking too High
- Magnesium and B6: These two nutrients are vital for boosting progesterone, which may help combat hot flushes, soothe the nervous system, and assist with restorative sleep.
- Soy: There is a lot of controversy around soy, however much of the concern is regarding industrially processed, genetically modified, and refined soy products such as soybean oil and protein isolates. The benefits of whole soy (Glycine max) and even better – fermented soy products such as tempeh and miso, may include a reduction in frequency of night-sweats and disrupted sleep. This is due to its high levels of phyto-oestrogens that, contrary to popular belief, help modulate and metabolize oestrogen as opposed to adding to its actions.
Mood Swings and Low Mood / Mild Anxiety
The flow-on effect from having too little progesterone, roller-coaster oestrogen levels, and of course too little sleep, seriously affects the production of neurotransmitters, primarily our feel-good ones serotonin and dopamine.
One other important factor women forget about is their stress levels…This time is challenging enough, but compound that with daily pressures concerning family, responsibilities, money, work and the expectation of ourselves that we can continue to do it all, is extremely taxing on the adrenal system! And so not only do we have naturally declining levels of progesterone, but the precious little progesterone we do have is getting converted into cortisol, a potent stress hormone.
Key: Support Adrenals and Calm the Nervous System
- Taurine: Taurine is an amino acid found mostly in meat, dairy and eggs, and helps boost levels of gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), as well as blocking glutamate and adrenalin. In this way taurine helps calm the nervous system and help off-set the symptoms of an over-active adrenal system.
- Magnesium: What can’t Magnesium do? It is a great nervine nutrient that helps regulate cortisol, and aids sleep which is important for the production of those important anabolic hormones such as DHEA and Growth hormone, the crucial precursors to Progesterone, Oestrogen and Testosterone.
- Hops: Can a bottle of beer be an answer to your problems? No probably not… However, one of its ingredients – Hops or Humulus lupulus has been shown to be effective in reducing hot flushes, improving sleep and reducing symptoms of mild anxiety. This herb is commonly used in many natural sleep formulas, so just check your’s contains some Hops.
It’s very frustrating when you read that weight gain is just a natural, unfortunate by-product of menopause. Not discounting that the natural hormonal imbalance can certainly influence your weight, it should not necessarily mean wreaking absolute metabolic havoc. So let’s not blame Menopause.
Let’s blame STRESS.
And so we come back to cortisol. It isn’t my intention to paint cortisol as the bad guy, it is more that it’s prolonged secretion causes problems such as insulin resistance and thyroid suppression. It also facilitates visceral fat storage by mobilizing triglycerides in fat cells, and relocating them to the visceral fat cells deep in the abdomen.
There is one other thing that may be contributing to stubborn fat loss, or persistent weight gain, and that is unopposed oestrogen. The loss of progesterone means oestrogen is unbalanced and unruly, couple that with existing fat cells already exerting oestrogenic-effects, and your weight loss attempts are hindered once again due to oestrogen’s penchant for halting fat breakdown in the abdominal area.
The Key: Minimize Stress, Eat for your Mood, and Improve Liver Detoxification
- Eat Protein and Healthy Fats: It is really important to eat for your hormones at this time of life, try not to consider it a diet to lose weight but eating to help balance hormones and support your metabolism-governing processes such as insulin production and thyroid function. Try to opt for proteins and fats as the main part of each meal, decreasing the amount of carbohydrates and sugars which only promote inflammation and insulin resistance.
- Withania: Withania somnifera, also known as Ashwaganda, is a beautiful herb extremely useful in menopause, as it not only has direct anti-anxiety and sleep-promoting effects via its interaction with the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, but is also involved in cortisol regulation and thyroid function and - thereby supporting thyroid hormone production and in turn your metabolism.
- Diindolylmethane (DIM) or St Mary’s Thistle: A healthy liver efficiently detoxifies more than toxins, it also helps clear and eliminate excess hormones such as oestrogen. By promoting healthy detoxification pathways, inflammation is reduced and hormones remain in equilibrium, which can be useful in preventing weight-gain. Diindolylmethane (a broccoli extract) or St Mary’s Thistle are great for liver health!
Poor Libido and Fatigue
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that poor sleep, weight retention, and mood swings are going to have an impact on libido, and that’s besides the physical manifestations of erratic hormone levels such as vaginal dryness.
You may have heard of DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, this is indeed one of the crucial precursors to oestrogen and testosterone, and the hormone that can become diminished in the presence of elevated cortisol. To ensure the metabolism of DHEA into health-promoting sex hormones, we need to create an environment conducive to this. So addressing stress and lowering inflammatory-sugar intake can help increase the levels of androgens like testosterone, in turn increasing desire, energy, and even cognitive function and memory.
The Key: Cut the Sugar for DHEA support and Herbs!
- Shatavari: Shatavari or Asparagus racemosa, is a herb traditionally used as a ‘rejuvenative tonic for females, especially in the case of a lowered libido due to its oestrogenic properties. It is also commonly known as herb for a thousand husbands!
- Siberian Ginseng: Sometimes it is important to provide support to your body as a whole to obtain results - this is consistent with the notion of ‘holistic treatment’. Siberian ginseng does this by strengthening the immune system, along with aiding the regulation of neurotransmitters and hormones involved in the stress response. Better stress adaptation means better production of sex hormones.
- Proper Nutrition: DHEA, the very building block of our sex hormone, can become stunted from elevated insulin levels – which are all too common in our society, and is exacerbated in menopause due to elevated cortisol. There’s no need to rush out and find a DHEA supplement, you should focus on lifestyle factors that reduce DHEA production.
So focus on reducing adrenal stressors and start thinking about an anti-inflammatory diet – meaning reducing sugar intake and refined carbohydrates, incorporating powerful anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric, ginger, rosemary, thyme, oregano and cinnamon, as well as healthy fats and nutrients from fish, seafood, free-range chicken and grass-fed meat (where possible).
Remember… women can require hormonal support at any time of their lives, it’s a fact of life we are very much hormonal creatures, and transition is a natural part of that. We weren’t necessarily meant for the high-stress lifestyles we lead today, and this goes for both sexes – our bodies haven’t yet adapted. The very hormonal nature of females does mean this can take a bit of an extra toll, but equipped with education, understanding and support, we can navigate our way to smoother transitional times in life.
If you are suffering from any menopausal symptoms and would like some support, consult with your local qualified naturopath for some help.