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Understanding Menopause

Menopause isn’t a disease – it’s a natural transition that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. Nevertheless, some women do experience unpleasant or distressing symptoms associated with menopause, and in the years following menopause a number of health issues may arise.


When does menopause occur?

Most women will experience menopause (their last menstrual period) somewhere between the ages of 45 and 55 years old, however it can also occur earlier or later than this. During the lead-up to menopause, menstrual cycles tend to become irregular, so you’re unlikely to know that you’re going through menopause until quite some time after your final period.


Symptoms of menopause

Menopause is the result of declining oestrogen levels and other hormonal changes, and as a consequence, menstrual cycles during peri-menopause (the time around menopause)tend to become irregular, with blood flow that may be heavier or lighter than normal. Many women may also be affected by a range of other symptoms, including:

  • Hot flushes and night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Poor memory
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Lowered libido
  • Emotional changes such as anxiety, irritability and low moods
  • Changes to the skin and hair
  • Incontinence due to reduced bladder tone


Herbal medicines to relieve menopause symptoms

There are many complementary medicines that may help you manage menopause symptoms. Ingredients to consider include:

  • Soybeans, which contain oestrogenic compounds called isoflavones that may help to relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes
  • Sage, which has traditionally been used to relieve conditions associated with excess sweating that may occur with hot flushes
  • Vervain, which has traditionally been used as a nervous system tonic with mood supporting properties , and may therefore be useful in relieving menopausal symptoms such as headaches, insomnia and nervous tension
  • Black cohosh, which has traditionally been used in North American herbalism to address women’s reproductive issues, and may help to relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, vaginal dryness and mood problems.

(In very rare cases, the use of black cohosh has been associated with liver failure. If you experience yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, dark urine, nausea, vomiting, unusual tiredness, weakness, stomach or abdominal pain, and/or loss of appetite, you should stop using it and see your doctor. It is not recommended for use by pregnant or lactating women).


Health after menopause

The changes in hormone levels that occur with menopause can have widespread consequences in the body. For example, osteoporosis becomes more common after menopause as the bone-protecting effects of oestrogen no longer work to keep calcium in the body. The change in hormone levels also affects the cardiovascular system, increasing a woman’s risk of experiencing heart disease. To help minimise these risks, it’s recommended that you:

  • Eat a nutritious diet, based on plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Cut back on salt
  • Don’t smoke – doing so increases your risk of both osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease
  • Exercise regularly, incorporating both aerobic exercise to support heart health and weight-bearing exercise to help keep calcium in your bones and help maintain your muscle strength and balance
  • Include plenty of calcium-rich foods in your diet, and, bearing in mind that your body’s requirements for calcium increase as you get older, also take a calcium supplement if necessary
  • Expose your skin to the sun regularly in order to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D; supplements may also be beneficial for some women.