Menopause and Peri-Menopause

The menopause is not an illness. Today I will talk a little about the period of a lady’s life that poses lots of challenging changes – just when you think you have it all sorted!  This is part 1 of 2 articles to cover this extensive topic.  Any questions, please email me grantswexford@gmail.com.

What happens at the menopause?

At the menopause women literally run out of eggs. Each woman has a supply of eggs (approximately 2 million) from the moment she is born and over the years they are used up and die off. She finally reaches a certain age when there simply aren’t any more. What the body does then to try to get that woman to ovulate is to release the hormone FSH. This hormone is released every month in a normal cycle but during the menopause, a woman’s body registered that ovulation is not taking place, so even more FSH is pumped out.

The interesting thing is that as the ovaries decline their production of oestrogen, nature has something else up her sleeve. We are also able to produce a form of oestrogen (called oestrone) from our adrenal glands in order to compensate for the decline from the ovaries.

We also produce oestrogen from fat cells, so being ultra-slim will not have health benefits in the long run, particularly if you are going through menopause. Overweight isn’t the answer, either, but from an oestrogen-production point of view, you are better off being slightly overweight than slim.

What are the symptoms?

These vary from woman to woman. Some women sail though the menopause without any symptoms and the only thing they notice is that their periods have stopped. Some of the women I have spoken to in the pharmacy report being completely drenched in sweat day and night, and getting up to change their night clothes two or three times a night, or even taking a shower in the middle of the night.

Symptoms of the menopause can include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings, declining libido, osteoporosis, ageing skin, lack of energy, joint pains, weight gain, headaches and changes in hair quality. Interestingly, men also experience a lot of these symptoms, with irritability, a declining libido, changes in weight, ageing skin and hair, depression and anxiety. These symptoms are apparently part of the Western ageing process for both men and women, so it’s important not to blame every symptom that you experience on the menopause.

What are your choices?

For the main symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes or vaginal dryness, you will be offered HRT (hormone replacement treatment).  Interestingly, there are a variety of other health conditions that throw up symptoms that are similar to those of the menopause, so don’t assume that there may not be another cause. What’s important is working out what symptoms are due to the menopause, and what are simply symptoms of ageing.

If HRT is not an option, below is a natural treatment programme which aims to encourage optimum health, so that your body can manage this natural event with ease.

Dietary changes

A well-balanced diet is essential during the menopause as it enables the body to adjust automatically to the hormone changes, naturally maintaining oestrogen from the adrenal glands and fat deposits.

Phytoestrogens

There are other cultures where women experience minimal and often no menopausal symptoms. Also linked to this issue is the fact that in some parts of the world, notably the Far East, breast cancer is not the major killer that it is here in the West.

As a result of this observation, scientists have begun to study the benefits of a group of plant hormones known as phytoestrogens. These hormones naturally occur in certain foods such as soya. These very weak plant oestrogens latch on to the oestrogen receptors in the breast and they stop the more powerful carcinogenic oestrogens getting through. So they have a protective effect, as well as helping to balance hormones, which are responsible for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Phytoestrogens have also been studied extensively for their effect on lowering cholesterol, so they can have protective effects in terms of heart disease, which is important around the menopause. Phytoestrogens can include soya (fermented is best), hops, dandelion, red clover, sage, alfalfa, flaxseeds.

 

 

 

Supplements

 

Supplements are beneficial during the menopause in order to ensure that you have adequate nutrients for maintaining healthy bones. Many of the following supplements are also known to help with the symptoms of the menopause. A good quality multivitamin and mineral would form the foundation of your supplement programme to make sure that you are getting a ‘little bit of everything’. You then add in the nutrients listed below in slightly higher amounts which are known to be helpful for the menopause.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is known for its beneficial effect on the immune system, strengthening blood vessels and also for its role as an antioxidant in the body. So not only is Vitamin C important for preventing illness, and for encouraging your health in general, but it also has specific benefits at the menopause. Giving women vitamin C with bioflavonoids has been shown to help reduce hot flushes.

Vitamin C helps to build up collagen which gives skin its elasticity and it is therefore helpful in the prevention and treatment of vaginal dryness (which can cause discomfort when the vagina loses some of its ‘stretch’). It can also help retain the elasticity in the urinary tract and so prevent leakage or stress incontinence, which is common at the menopause. Collagen is also important for your bones.

Vitamin E

This is an important vitamin to consider at the menopause. Over many years clinical studies have shown its effect on reducing hot flushes. Vitamin E is also helpful for vaginal dryness and one study showed that just 400iu taken daily for between 1 and 4 months helped 50 percent of the women given supplemental vitamin E.

Although most women fear breast cancer, our biggest killer is heart disease. There is now such a wealth of information on the beneficial effects of nutrition on heart disease and unfortunately HRT has been shown to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. A study published in the Lancet showed that 2000 patients with arteriosclerosis (fatty deposits in the arteries) had a 75 percent reduction in their risk of heart attack when given vitamin E. At the time, researchers claimed that vitamin E was even more effective than aspirin in reducing heart attacks.

B Vitamins

These are called the ‘stress’ vitamins because they are enormously beneficial when you are under a great deal of pressure. Symptoms of B-vitamin deficiency include anxiety, tension, irritability and poor concentration. Therefore, supplementing them in the form of a good B-complex supplement can be useful if you have any of these symptoms of stress. During the menopause it is extremely important that you give your adrenal glands (which will be called into action to produce oestrogen) a break. B vitamins will help to do this. They can also be useful if you are suffering from reduced energy levels.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Signs of an Omega 3 fatty acid can include dry skin, lifeless hair, cracked nails, fatigue, depression, dry eyes, lack of motivation, aching joints, difficulty in losing weight, forgetfulness, breast pain – all symptoms that could be ‘blamed’ on the menopause. If you have also tried to lose weight by going on a low-fat or no-fat diet, you are likely to be deficient in these essential fats. They need to be supplemented around the menopause because they can help with many of the symptoms. Furthermore, because they help to ‘lubricate’ the body in general, they can help with vaginal dryness. It is now estimated that we are getting ten times more Omega 6 fats from our diet than Omega 3 and over the last century there has been an 80% decrease in the consumption of these Omega 3 fatty acids. When you eat Omega 3 fats they are converted to substances that have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Magnesium

This is an important mineral for your bones at the menopause so it is important that you have enough in your body. Magnesium is also known as ‘nature’s tranquilliser’, so it will help with symptoms such as anxiety, irritability and other mood changes.

Calcium

Not only do we need good levels of calcium for our bones, teeth, nails and hair, but also for healthy heart rhythm and blood pressure. It is also needed for normal blood clotting, for muscle contraction and relaxation and proper functioning of the nervous system.

Vitamin D

We know that Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption, but it also plays many other important roles including prevention of cancer, especially breast cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. As well as all of these benefits, it is now thought that having good levels of vitamin D can help slow down the ageing process and low levels have been implicated in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease.

Plan of Action

Nutrition

Ensure you are getting the right nutrition.

Supplements

The supplement programme below should be taken for at least three months in order to achieve best results

Nutrients & amounts

A good multi-vitamin & mineral supplement Magnesium citrate 340mg (55mg elemental)
B Vitamins 25mg Vitamin C 1000mg
Vitamin E (as d-alpha tocopherol) 54mg Calcium Citrate 670mg (142mg elemental)
Vitamin D 300ius Omega 3 fish oils (providing 770mg EPA and 510mg DHA)

 

 

Call into Grant’s Pharmacy to discuss the supplements above.  Next time I will review the herbs that are helpful with peri-menopause and menopause.  Leonie, Janet or any Pharmacist in Grant’s Pharmacy can tell you more about the products used to treat menopause including HRT, in private and in confidence. Every Grant’s Pharmacy has a private consultation room where you can discuss any personal ailments discreetly and without embarrassment. Pop in and experience a fast, friendly and informed service. We will be happy to advise you on your best course of treatment.  Grant’s Pharmacy is located in Wexford town, in Enniscorthy town (Duffry and Rafter St), in Arklow town – all beside Pettitts SuperValu and in Gorey town opposite the GPO.  Find us on Facebook.