Menopause. It’s a natural phase in a woman’s life. It comes when you are approaching the end of your reproductive years. All women have different experiences. In fact your own experience will be based on a number of individual factors from genetics to diet.
Some women will have minimal symptoms while others may experience severe and erratic symptoms. Either way, it’s our intention to help you understand what some of the most common menopause symptoms are, why they occur, known triggers and how you can minimise their effect.
Empowering yourself with knowledge will help you deal with the symptoms if and when they arise. You will not be caught completely unaware and wondering what the hell is wrong with you. After all, it’s your wonderful body that carries you through this life journey, so make the most of it and thrive (not just survive) through this next life phase.
When Does Menopause Begin?
Generally menopause begins in your 40’s when you begin to experience some slight changes to your menstrual cycle – this phase is referred to as peri menopause. You officially reach menopause when you have not had a menstrual cycle for 12 months.
According to The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP):
- 20% of women have no or few symptoms
- 60% have four to eight years of symptoms which can decrease quality of life
- 20% have severe symptoms
- Some women have symptoms that persist into their 60s and 70s
The changes that occur during peri menopause may be some slight whispers or minor symptoms. Chances are you are really good at ignoring them given life’s fast pace. Even worse, you might be experiencing changes but put up with them because you think they are perfectly normal. Either way these symptoms that may have started so subtly, actually start screaming at you to get your attention. Imagine how different it would be if you actually stopped and listened? It would save you heartache, mystery and pain.
Just remember, menopause is natural and normal, and we encourage you to seek assistance and work with your trusted health and wellbeing advisor to help you through it in the most favourable way possible.
Why Am I Feeling This Way?
For many women, peri menopause has them feeling like they are living in someone else’s body. You may even feel like you are no longer in control of your body and emotions. Some women will sail through this phase, while others find the symptoms so debilitating that it affects not only their general health, but also their relationships, self confidence and ability to work.
Firstly, the declining levels of oestrogen in your body is behind many of the symptoms. It’s not known exactly when or what symptoms you will experience and how long they will last. Symptoms can be influenced by your biochemistry, genetics, diet and foods as well as the level of stress you’re currently experiencing.
You may think you’ve got a handle on everything and then another symptom appears. It’s a constant and changing flow of events until you reach those post menopausal years. However, it’s important to note that some women may have symptoms that persist into their 60s an 70s as reported by RACGP.
Common Menopause Symptoms & How to Overcome Them
Menopause symptoms are messages from your body. They are your beautiful body’s way of talking to you. Rather than ignoring or struggling with them, find out what your body needs. Let’s explore the three most common symptoms you may experience, the reasons behind them, known triggers and how to minimise their impact and overcome them.
Hot flushes, also known as vasomoter symptom, can have a marked effect on your quality of life. It is the most common menopause symptom that affects more than 90 per cent of women. Hot flushes can come on quite suddently, usually at the most inconvenient time, spreading through the body, chest, neck and face. They can range from mild to severe and may vanish just as quickly as they appreared.
Hot flushes occur as oestrogen levels drop in peri menopause, affecting the hypothalamus (like a thermostat located in the brain) which is responsible for setting your body temperature. It mistakenly senses the body is overheating and immediately sends signals to blood vessels to widen, diverting blood flow to the skin’s surface instantly to cool it down quickly. This results in a sudden flushing. The brain then mistakenly switches on the body’s sprinkler system (aka perspiration) to cool it down and this is what gives a women that wet glow look, that’s very similar looking to how they may look when they’ve just come of the tennis court after a few good rallies! Of course the hypothalamus doesn’t have any regard to where you are at that moment, it’s just doing the job it is created to do!
Hot flushes can also be accompanied by headaches, palpitations and dizziness, which whilst are unsettling are not considered serious. That said, never hesitate to contact your trusted medical advisor if you are concerned.
- Caffeine, alcohol (red wine is common), spicy foods and hot drinks.
- Stressful situations.
- Cancer treatments, thyroid conditions, obesity and infection.
- Smoking. Women who smoke are more likely to suffer more severe and frequent hot flushes.
There are a number of lifestyle options that will help you deal with hot flushes, these include:
- Breathing practice: When feeling a flush coming on, a focus on breathing exercises can assist with reducing the intensity.
- Cooling spray: Can help to diffuse heat and keeping a spray beside the bed can bring instant refreshing relief. Use a fan after spritzing during a hot flush can be very effective.
- Food & flush diary: Understanding which foods, drinks or situations are causing the worst symptoms and triggering the hot flushes can assist to avoid or reduce the food and drinks which trigger them.
- Keep hydrated: Drink plenty of water. Keeping hydrated is essential particularly to replace fluids after sweating. Recommended daily intake is about 2 litres.
- Mindfulness and positive thinking: Positive thinking and and practicing mindfulness can assist in reducing the frequency and intensity of hot flushes. Practising calm and tranquility techniques can assist in these stressful situations.
- Nutrition: Current research shows a diet that includes healthy fats, including omega 3’s may be helpful in decreasing the severity of hot flushes and the frequency of night sweats. Find omega-3 fatty acids in foods like oily fish and flaxseeds or take a quality omega-3 supplement.
- Review lifestyle choices: Eating a healthy nutritious diet and a variety in your exercise every week can assist greatly. Many women report a reduced frequency of hot flushes when they exercise regularly.
Similar to hot flushes, the decrease in your oestrogen levels may also trigger heart palpitations.
Previous to peri menopause starting, oestrogen is queen at protecting against those stress hormones that can cause high blood pressure and other heart problems. However, once oestrogen levels begin to drop those stress hormones have more of an impact on the heart and heart palpitations can become very noticeable. They are often described as a pounding or fluttering heartbeat or the sensation of a skipped heart beat.
Heart palpitations can happen as a result of:
- Hot flush
- Nutrient deficiencies especially potassium, magnesium and iron
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Low blood sugar and diabetes
Whilst heart palpitations are common, they are distressing and scary for some women, given how suddenly they can come. What can you do to minimise them and how can you overcome them?
- Eliminate caffeine from your diet. For some women, even decaffeinated drinks could contain enough residual caffeine to cause anxiety.
- Consume whole real foods: These will help fuel your brain, body and nervous system with a constant supply of nutrients. Include foods high in iron such as liver, grass fed meats, mussels, oysters and magnesium rich foods such as avocados, dark leafy green vegetables (like kale and spinach), nuts and dark chocolate (70% or higher).
- Minimise alcohol consumption: Alcohol not only impedes nutrient absorption but can leave you feeling anxious as well.
- Practise mindfulness: Try some deep breathing exercised and mindfulness to help bring your attention to the moment and assist with reducing anxiety and stress.
- Prioritise sleep: Create an evening routine that will help promote a deep and restful sleep.
Generally you do not need to worry about palpitations, however, if you find they are getting worse, last a long time or are just worried about them, please speak to your trusted medical or wellness advisor.
Many women find their joints start to ache and feel generally stiff during menopause, particularly first thing in the morning. Studies have shown the hormonal changes and decrease of oestrogen contributes to joint pain and fatigue. Oestrogen is critical for joint and good bone health, so it’s diminishing status can cause some issues like making exercise more difficult and generally feeling sore and uncomfortable.
It’s common for joint pain to be experienced in the wrists, neck, knees, shoulders and hips. Pain can even be felt when moving from a sitting to a standing position, getting out of a car or off a bike.
Many women don’t recognise joint pain as a symptom and fail to make the connection that it is associated with menopause. Whilst joint pain is quite normal for women at this point in their lives, it’s not something that should be accepted that one has to live with.
- Exercise. Stretching and yoga can improve mobility and flexibility, which helps reduce joint pain. For flexibility consider pilates, yoga, swimming, marital arts and karate. Strength training strengthens the muscles, ligaments and the tendons surrounding the joints which helps to alleviate joint pain and generally keeps you supple. Consider lifting weights, training using your bodyweight or resistance bands.
- Consume a healthy diet. Include Omega 3 anti-inflammatory foods into your diet. Add turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and garlic into your cooking as they naturally help reduce inflammation. Ensure your diet is packed with whole unprocessed foods, and the freshest vegetables and fruit. Eat foods rich in magnesium like almonds and spinach or use a reputable branded magnesium support.
- Limit alcohol. Limiting your alcohol consumption will assist with inflammation.
The symptoms we’ve described above can be devastating for many women, and can also coincide with other life changes. We encourage you to pause, take a step back and look at your symptoms and consider a new perspectivemanaging them. You may also like to read our article, Nurturing Your Whole Self Into Menopause, which covers the 5 pillars of health and how to holistically manage your menopause experience.
Peri Menopause Power
We have created our Peri Menopause Power program to help women be empowered so that they can control the impact of this life phase and embrace it with all that it has to offer. This is your safe space to connect with YOU. This is your safe space of education, life nurturing strategies and most importantly connection and community with other women in the same boat as you.
The potential to live your best life, no matter what life stage is within you. We simply empower you to embrace it. Reclaim yourself on the journey through Menopause, click here to learn more.