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Managing Menopause Naturally

Part 1

“At her first menstruation a woman meets her power. During her menstruation years she practices it. At menopause she becomes it.” – Traditional Native American saying

This is a big subject that deserves some attention, so I’ve split the article in two parts. In the first part I try to dispel some of the negative associations that many of us hold with regard to the menopause. The main focus, however is on what we can do to achieve optimum emotional and physical health in the lead up to and during this new phase. In this piece I look at diet and different ways to cope with stress and anxiety. The second part will focus on herbal remedies, exercise and sleep.

In with the new...

The menopause is, contrary to common western perception, a time of regeneration, it is an energy conservation mechanism where vital energy is returned to the woman’s body, instead of being depleted through monthly ovulation and menstruation. This is the view that ancient cultures and medicine systems in Asia and China have always taken and one that our modern cultures should take note of.

In this article I’ll be guiding you on how to adopt positive and healthy habits that will help make this transition time as easy and enjoyable as possible. By taking some small steps and making a few lifestyle changes in preparation for this era of our life, it really could end up being an enlightening and energizing walk in the park.

What might happen…

With the average age of menopause usually happening somewhere between 45 and 55 years old, the perimenopausal stage usually starts between five to ten years prior to this point.  As progesterone and estrogen levels start to fluctuate, menstruation can become less or more frequent, PMS symptoms may intensify and you can start to experience hot flushes and night sweats. Many women find that during this period they also suffer from an increase in anxiety levels or depression, which may be due to exhaustion on the back of irregular sleeping patterns or because they have embarked on an emotionally negative journey that is full of the fear that they are no longer attractive, that they are passed their prime and that society no longer has much use for them.

What should happen…

If we choose to look after ourselves physically and emotionally during this phase by making the necessary lifestyle changes, we can lessen if not eradicate these symptoms and enjoy the transition into a new phase of life that is fulfilling, pleasurable and rewarding. In the words of Ayurvedic practitioner Vrinda Devani MD:

“The most successful approach to achieving a graceful menopause is to start NOW—no matter what age you are.”

Menopause should in principle be looked at as just another transition, like puberty or pregnancy. It is a time of change of course, and like any other change, disarray and discomfort may arise because of imbalance. A more holistic approach however, is firstly to embrace these imbalances and then to focus on ways that work to ease or even prevent them. There is no magic button unfortunately to replace falling levels of oestrogen and progesterone, but we can follow a healthy diet that includes herbal remedies and adaptogens that will encourage our bodies to produce a healthy balance of the two and subsequently a healthier you.

Diet and Nutrition

It is common at this time in life to gain a little extra weight, but this can be managed by eating a diet that contains large amounts of whole-wheat grains, raw vegetables and fruit that will also ensure we have stable blood sugar levels. Avoid processed or ready-made meals due to their high sugar and salt content.

An ideal balance of animal protein and vegetables should be 1:1; which means eating a bout 50-55g of protein per day, 25g of which should be animal protein and 25g vegetable.

Certain foods may exacerbate symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats, such as dairy products, red meat, alcohol, sugar, spices and caffeine, so it might be better to reduce or cut out these out entirely.

It’s also important to eat foods that are high in calcium to protect our bones and to complement them with foods that help us to absorb it efficiently.

  • Miso, lentils, chickpeas, salmon, sardines, cabbages, sesame seeds, tahini, marina algae, sweet potatoes and whole-wheat grains are all excellent sources of calcium.
  • To ensure that we absorb the calcium, we should include lentils, seeds, pineapple, apricots, green leafy vegetables, green tea and salmon in our diet too.
  • Aim to eat three to five pieces of fruit a day. Melons, bananas and citric fruits are rich in potassium, which helps us to retain water and encourages better sleep patterns. Red fruits such as cherries, grapes and fruits of the forest are also amazing hormone regulators, antioxidants and rich in vitamin C.

Key vitamins and where to find them

  • Vitamin C – if we lack vitamin C we cannot produce progesterone efficiently. It may reduce hot flashes and when combined with vitamin E could  help to protect the heart. Citric fruits, kiwis, red berries, fruits of the forest all contain high amounts of this vitamin.
  •  Vitamin E is known for its ability to support healthy skin and eyes, but research now shows it could be good for hot flushes, too. You can find vitamin E in avocados, nuts and seeds, plant oils like olive oil. Some women say that vitamin E also helps to relieve dry skin post-menopause and tackle vaginal dryness too.
  • Vitamin D also aids our absorption of calcium. We can get vitamin D from oily fish and eggs but more importantly by absorbing it through our skin from spending some time in the sun.
  • Vitamin K is a key player. It helps our blood to clot but more importantly for women at this stage it aids calcium absorption and according to studies, significantly reduces the possibilities of bone fractures. Darky green leafy vegetables like brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbages are great sources of vitamin K.

One final word on food habits…

Since menstruation is also a form of cleansing, it is more important than ever to carry out periodic cleanses once it stops for good. Embarking on detoxes as the seasons shift, in Spring and Autumn, for example, gives our body and mind a real boost. Take a look at my book “The Detox Journey”, that guides you on a 14 or 35 day cleanse in an informed and safe way. Enjoy the journey!

It’s all about the fluids

A decrease in hormone production may also lead to a depletion of bodily fluids, so maintaining proper hydration is especially important for menopausal women. Drink 1oz of water for every 2lb of body weight each day and don’t forget the mighty dandelion! A cup of this wonder tea before meals helps our digestive system and powers up our overall vitality. At Studio Australia we love it and we’ll have a dandelion brew on 24/7 for everyone to drink!

Gut Health

So you’ve got the diet sorted, but what happens if you’re just not absorbing the vitality from all these amazing food sources due to a sluggish digestion?

  • By eating foods high in probiotics such as fermented foods like kimchi  (fermented cabbage) and kefir (fermented cow or goats milk) and organic yogurts you can help to keep a healthy level of flora in your gut.
  • For an extra boost you could also try colon hydrotherapy, a treatment that involves a safe and gentle infusion of water into the large intestine to improve muscle tone and cleanse the colon. Constipation, bloating, weight gain, tiredness and dry skin can all be the result of a sluggish digestion. By getting your colon in shape many of these symptoms can be significantly reduced. At Studio Australia this is done using gravity by a professionally trained and experienced therapist Take the plunge!

Mindfulness for managing stress and emotions

Fluctuating hormones arrive at a time in our lives when we are generally at our busiest. We’re often juggling children, jobs, a household and looking after aging parents all at once. Not surprising then that just as our hormones start to play havoc with our emotions, we are physically and mentally exhausted from a variety of other external factors.

So it is particularly important during this time to find your own ways of managing stress.

It is also the time to deal with any emotional bugbears. By clearing and calming our mind we can cope better with the present and prepare ourselves for the future.

  • Meditation – There have been numerous studies that point to the positive effect meditation can have on our health. Find a moment to sit somewhere quiet where you can be alone with your thoughts. If that’s too hard, try listening to some calm music or lighting a candle. Let your thoughts come and go, welcome them in and gradually over time you’ll learn to let them go too.
  • Breathing – If meditation isn’t your thing, then by just remembering to breathe deeply several times a day and focusing on the present moment, we can create space in our mind and a calmer disposition.
  • Ritual –  Finding time in the day for short self-care rituals can also help to calm the mind and relax the body. Taking time to dry brush before a shower, for example, then massaging oils infused with essential oils such as lavender and frankincense into your body afterwards, might give you the five minutes of disconnection you need and will do wonders for your sleep patterns and overall health.
  • Moon baths – Spend summer nights moon bathing on your balcony or garden or in your room with the windows flung open. In Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine system, the direct light from the moon was used as a therapy to increase ojas (the essence that gives us strength vigor and vitality), and to bring coolness to the body. Even just fifteen minutes, a few times a week, can make a difference.

Acupuncture for hot flushes and insomnia

The ancient Chinese tradition of acupuncture may help alleviate hot flushes and insomnia that often accompany this time of life. It can also release stress.

How does it work?

Acupuncture is the insertion and manipulation of fine needles into one or more of the 400 acupuncture points that can be found on of the body’s meridians. It has been used as a technique to promote health, balance and wellbeing for thousands of years and has more recently become an integral part of alternative medicine in Western societies.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses 20 meridians that transport life energy or “qi” in our body. Where there are blockages there may be unease, which can lead to dis-ease. Acupuncture can help to unblock any stagnant channels and get the blood moving more effectively around the body.

The proof?

A small study published in the online journal BMJ Open, found that a brief course of acupuncture may help to ease hot flushes, excess sweating, mood swings, sleep disturbances, and skin and hair problems. The findings prompted researchers to conclude that acupuncture offered “a realistic” treatment option for women who can’t, or don’t want to, use hormone replacement therapy (HRT).” At Studio Australia we have qualified acupuncturists who will offer you a tailor-made treatment based on individual requirements.

In Part 2, I’ll be advising on types of exercise and herbal remedies that can really help to ease symptoms associated with the perimenopause and menopause and that bring you vitality and vibrant health.

And a few final words from author Clarissa Pinkola Estés:

 “From her very flesh and blood and from the constant cycles of filling and emptying the red vase in her belly, a woman understands physically, emotionally, and spiritually that zeniths fade and expire, and what is left is reborn in unexpected ways and by inspired means, only to fall back to nothing, and yet be reconceived again in full glory.” 

– Women who run with the wolves

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