Women often come into my clinic for help with various symptoms related to menopause, so I thought I would write a general article about menopause. Menopause corresponds to the end of the reproductive period for women. It usually occurs around the age of 50. This is when the ovaries stop producing ova, as well as, the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Medically speaking, a woman is considered menopausal when she has not had a menstruation during 12 consecutive months. The period of 2 to 7 years before menopause is called perimenopause. This is the time when the ovulation becomes irregular and the level of estrogen in the body can fluctuate.
It is generally during this period of transition when the menstruation becomes erratic that the more troubling symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep problems, and mood swings may arrive.
Fortunately, the intensity of symptoms varies from one woman to another.
The more common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause include:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- sleep problems
- mood swings
- a drop in libido
- dryness of mucus membranes and hair
- aging of the skin
- slight weight gain
- gas and bloating
It is important to keep in mind that this is a natural part of aging, but it is also a transition which comes with a lot of physiological changes.
Because of these changes it is often a period of time when a woman feels emotional vulnerable.
This is why it is a good idea to have a solid set of lifestyle habits in place before any symptoms arise.
Here are the best lifestyle habits for a woman to work on during her 40’s
- cultivate a proper diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin K, and omega-3’s
- work on a diet rich in phytoestrogens, such as soybeans, flax seeds, chickpeas, and onions is also essential in order to help replace the loss of estrogen
- practice regular exercise that works the heart and the joints, as well as exercises that work on flexibility and equilibrium are important to help with loss of bone density and mood swings
- Finally, cultivate a positive attitude towards life in general which is integral during this transitional phase of life.
In Western medicine, there are a few common pharmaceutical approaches to help combat the different problems associated with menopause. General hormonal therapy replaces hormones that the ovaries stop secreting. This therapy helps the majority of women to reduce or stop their menopausal symptoms. It is important to note however, that the majority of women have their symptoms reappear once they stop taking the hormones as their body goes through a hormonal transition once again. Hormonal therapy is generally reserved for women with symptoms which severely affect their quality of life. Local hormonal therapy can be used to help with the thinning and drying of mucus membranes. Finally, non-hormonal treatments can be used to help with certain symptoms related to menopause. These treatments usually include anti-depressants, hypertension medication, and various medications for osteoporosis.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, menopause is principally associated with the Kidneys.
The Kidneys represent the base of all our energy which comes from our genes and from our lifestyle (quality of food, water, and exercise).
This Kidney energy is further divided into two, the Yin and the Yang. The Yin represents matter and our bodily mass. It is associated with coldness, rest, the descent of movement, water, the night, etc. The Yang represents movement and circulation. We associate it with heat, activity, the rise of movement, fire, day, etc. During menopause, it is this Yin energy of the Kidneys which often declines for women. This decline of Yin creates an imbalance between Yin and Yang and explains the symptoms associated with menopause. For example, as the Yin, which is associated with cooling, lowers, the Yang, which is associated with heat, becomes more amplified and hot flashes and night sweats result.
It is most important to realize that as we age, we go through various transitions. We have already gone through transitions from being a baby to being a toddler, from being a child to being a teenager, and from being a teenager to being an adult. This is one more natural transition for a woman to go through. With the proper lifestyle choices and professional help, it can be a very smooth transition.