Any woman who has just entered, gone through, or who is on the other side of perimenopause or menopause knows the drill. You’re going along with your life and then…it hits you.
And it’s no wonder that the time surrounding menopause can be such a jolt to your life. At the time of menopause, the hormonal output, instead of reducing gradually over time, alternately stops and starts, resulting in a proverbial hormonal roller coaster ride for some women.
And this topsy-turvy hormonal state can last a while, too. While the time of menopause varies from woman-to-woman, it can occur anywhere from age 40 to age 59—or even earlier or later—and is a transition that can last several months to several years.
During this time, estrogen levels drop, but the body still makes some estrogen. In the past, it was believed that during menopause, a woman simply “ran out of estrogen,” but that simply isn’t the case. This is also what led many to believe that estrogen replacement would remedy menopause. It isn’t that simple, though.
For those who want to go a different route from hormone replacement therapy (HRT), phytoestrogenic foods such as apples, carrots, yams, green beans, peas, potatoes, red beans, brown rice, whole wheat, and flaxseeds can play positive roles in the metabolism of estrogen.
The truth is that the effects of menopause come along due to estrogen dominance in the body, since progesterone (one of the two main reproductive hormone groups—the other being estrogen) production declines in the years leading up to menopause. And it’s a hormonal readjustment that can lead to many of the discomforts of menopause, including hot flashes, heart palpitations, flushing, night sweats, anxiety, water retention, weight gain, memory problems, irritability and/or depression.
That’s why some women seek out natural progesterone. Since menopause causes cessation of ovulation (and, hence, too little production of progesterone), estrogen can be the dominant hormone. And when estrogen dominates and progesterone wanes, then estrogen can cause major health problems if it is not balanced out by progesterone.
For some women entering menopause who have menstrual periods without ovulation (due to the lessened amounts of progesterone), poor diet, and lack of exercise, they arrive at menopause with 25 percent to 30 percent loss of bone mass, according to one source. It’s no wonder osteoporosis can be a problem. Progesterone is of prime importance, too, because it stimulates osteoblast-mediated new bone formation. It also appears to offer cardio-protection, too, which is important concerning the heightened risk of developing heart disease.
But progesterone is not alone in addressing the issues surrounding menopause.
A healthy diet high in phytoestrogens, vitamin D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids (which, according to some studies, can help reduce hot flashes and support healthy skin, hair, and nails—and one omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, can help support heart health), regular exercise, and other lifestyle factors can support a healthy and balanced passage through menopause.
Navigating menopause while maintaining health narrows down to managing or eliminating the symptoms of menopause while minimizing the risks for health problems. Those difficulties can include osteoporosis, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome—which can be a precursor to cardiovascular disease.
Diet and lifestyle factors are essential to women’s health no matter what the age, but it becomes imperative to overall health and peace of mind during the years surrounding menopause.