Menopause can be a bumpy ride, but with the right natural remedies, it doesn’t have to be. Okay, to be realistic, menopause won’t be smooth sailing no matter what you do – but who’s to say you can’t chop down the waves?
Hormone levels shape your personality, impact energy levels, and affect the function of literally every organ in the body. When it comes time to face menopause (for most women it happens between ages 45 and 55), you’ll want some tricks up your sleeve for calming the chaos.
Mood Swings, Anyone?
You sit down for an early dinner with Emily, one of your closest friends. She compliments your freshly cut hair, but you swear she’s hinting (strongly) that she hated your old hairstyle. Within seconds, your emotions take a turn for the worst. You feel a tightness in your chest as tears swell to the surface. Then, just as quickly as the storm came, it passes, and you realize there’s no way Emily meant anything negative by it.
Not everyone experiences mood swings like this, but one thing’s for sure: menopause flips hormone production on its head, and it can have powerful effects on the body and the brain.
Here’s the deal with menopause and hormones:
Menopause and Hormones
Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream and tell the rest of your body systems what to do and when to do it. Basically, hormones call the shots – your body and brain just take the orders.
But what happens when something like menopause throws hormone production out of wack?
When you hit menopause, the ovaries produce fewer hormones. This has a cascading effect on physical and chemical functions throughout the body. During menopause, ovarian follicle levels decline, and as a result, the ovaries become less responsive to hormone production.
Two hormones, in particular, are directly affected by the loss of ovarian follicles:
- Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
FSH and LH regulate other hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. This means that a decline in FSH and LH inevitably leads to a decrease in these other critical hormones. (1) Low estrogen levels can have a particularly significant impact on your health down the road.
Now let’s take a closer look at how hormone depletion can affect different aspects of your health:
How Menopause and Hormones Affect Your Health
Imagine trying to win a game with a coach that’s off their rocker. It’d be an uphill battle, to say the least, and that’s a lot like what navigating the months and years leading up to menopause is like for the brain and body.
It’d be nice if the transition into menopause, otherwise known as perimenopause, happened in a short timeframe, but unfortunately, this shift happens over the course of three to four years for most women. Some get lucky and breeze through it in a matter of months, but the rest of the population has to strap on their seatbelts for the long haul.
Symptoms of Perimenopause
Oh, the hot flashes! The symptoms of perimenopause can continue for an additional year after actual hormonal fluctuations cease. This means that if you’re one of the not-so-lucky ducks whose transition lasts four years, you may experience hot flashes for a total of five years. Yikes!
In addition to hot flashes, here are some other common symptoms of menopause:
- Irregular menstrual cycles (typically how it begins)
- Heavy periods
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Uterine bleeding problems
- Mood swings
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor short-term memory
- Difficulty concentrating
Brain Health and Menopause
In my opinion, the hormone-brain connection doesn’t get anywhere near enough press coverage when it comes to menopause. What does it mean when the hormone receptors in your brain start running on empty? It’s one of the most important questions to ask when it comes to surviving menopause.
When estrogen production goes haywire, it disrupts the entire chain of biochemical activity from the ovaries to the brain. On some days, your ovaries produce too much estrogen – on others, they don’t produce enough.
The brain isn’t used to all these ups and downs, and mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins can get disrupted.
This irregular brain activity can lead to:
- Mood swings
You may even experience manic-like periods of extreme emotional highs followed by sudden lows. (2)
Every time your hormones fluctuate, your brain tries to compensate. Sometimes these changes are so small that you don’t even notice – other times it can feel like the world is crashing at your feet.
Don’t worry! It’s not you, it’s your hormones.
Skin Health and Menopause
Skin is the body’s largest organ, and researchers believe that estrogen helps keep it healthy. But when estrogen levels drop due to menopause, your skin health takes a hit.
Declining estrogen levels can result in:
- Reduced elasticity
- Decreased water retention
- Slower healing (3)
Reference 3: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11705091
Heart Health and Menopause
The heart doesn’t function the same without adequate estrogen levels. In fact, women have an increased risk of cardiovascular issues like strokes and heart attacks during menopause. (4) Women who experience early menopause and who’ve had their ovaries or uterus removed are at an even greater risk for heart problems.
Bone Health and Menopause
Low estrogen levels can speed the rate of bone loss that comes with aging. This may lead to an increased risk of conditions like osteoporosis, osteopenia, and low bone mineral density. Bone density loss can continue for up to 5-10 years following menopause, so be careful! You may be more prone to fractures.
Vaginal Health and Menopause
Just like with the skin, poor water retention can lead to vaginal dryness, irritation, and inflammation. Vaginal tissues may start thinning and shrinking. Sex can become more painful due to the lack of lubrication, leaving the vagina more vulnerable to infection.
Urinary Health and Menopause
The lining of the urethra can become thinner, drier, and less elastic due to declining estrogen. This can lead to an increased risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), frequent urination, and incontinence.
Are you starting to feel overwhelmed with the hardships of menopause?
Don’t worry, there are plenty of dietary and lifestyle changes that can reduce the severity of menopause.
Natural Menopause Remedies
Menopause is a completely natural biological process. There’s no stopping it, but there are plenty of natural ways to reduce the severity of its symptoms.
In this section, we’ll discuss the weapons at your disposal in the war against menopause.
1. Eat the Right Foods
In general, eating healthy fat promotes estrogen production and can help treat menopause naturally. However, if you experience severe hot flashes and have a history of eating a lot of unhealthy trans fats and processed foods, then cutting back on fat during menopause may reduce the severity of hot flashes.
Why is high-fat helpful for some and problematic for others?
Because fat promotes estrogen production.
75% of women from western countries experience hot flashes compared to 22.1% in Japan, 17.6% in Singapore, and 10% in China. (5) Westerners eat significantly more fat, and researchers think that this causes higher lifetime estrogen levels. When menopause hits, women on a western diet may experience a severe drop in estrogen and therefore more extreme hot flashes.
If you have a history of eating healthy and experience mild to moderate hot flashes, then you may benefit from eating a diet high in…
- Unrefined coconut oil
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Wild-caught salmon
- Grass-fed beef
Fats are the building blocks of hormones, and the vitamin E in unrefined oils can help treat menopause naturally by regulating estrogen production. Healthy fats also boost metabolism, reduce inflammation, and help you feel full faster. (6)
But remember, if you have a history of eating an unhealthy diet full of refined oils and experience severe hot flashes, then you may want to reduce fat intake until hot flashes become more tolerable.
Organic fruits and vegetables are nutrient-dense and packed with important minerals that aid hormone production. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage help balance hormone levels – just make sure to cook broccoli and cauliflower thoroughly because they contain a compound that can inhibit thyroid hormone production when consumed raw. Fruits and vegetables also contain fiber, which is critical for digestive and cardiovascular health.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish have widespread effects on both mental and physical health because they’re so effective at reducing inflammation. This is yet another reason to eat more salmon, sardines, and other wild-caught fish like halibut, mackerel, and anchovies. More importantly, omega-3s promote hormone production and may reduce menopausal problems.
Probiotic foods are essential to protecting the body and brain from inflammation. Few risk factors are as bad for hormone production as chronic inflammation, and foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and other cultured veggies strengthen the gut lining and protect the bloodstream from inflammatory agents. Probiotics also strengthen the immune system and protect cognitive functioning.
2. Foods to Avoid
If it’s pro-inflammatory and bad for gut health, then it’s bad for menopause.
Here are some of the most important foods to avoid:
Sugar, especially processed sugar, is terrible for digestive and hormonal health. Bad bacteria that promotes obesity and weakens the gut lining feeds on sugar, so it’s best to keep sugar intake as low as possible. Sugar from fruit is okay, just try not to overdo it.
Conventional meat is pro-inflammatory because the animals are fed with a grain-heavy diet and treated with growth hormones and other nasty toxins. Instead, eat grass-fed/grass-finished beef and eggs from pasture-raised poultry. Bonus points if it’s non-GMO, antibiotic-free, and organic.
Highly-processed, refined oils are full of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids that contribute to a ton of health problems. Avoid canola, corn, safflower, and soybean oil. These are high in trans fats that promote cancer, diabetes, weight gain, heart problems, and cognitive impairment.
Processed foods contain large amounts of all of the unhealthy ingredients listed above, plus they tend to contain added preservatives, synthetic additives, and a whole bunch of other stuff that’s terrible for your health and even worse for menopause.
Alcohol is a pro-inflammatory toxin that can make hot flashes worse. Avoid it entirely.
3. Supplements to Treat Menopause Naturally
Supplements that reduce inflammation and facilitate hormone production can help treat menopause naturally.
Here are some of the best supplements to take during menopause:
Adaptogenic herbs, like ashwagandha, holy basil, and Rhodiola rosea, improve thyroid function and reduce stress hormones. They also reduce anxiety and depression, lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and reduce brain cell degeneration. Maca root is an adaptogenic herb that may reduce hot flashes and increase energy.
Black cohosh may reduce the hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause. Additional research shows that it can correct hormonal imbalances and improve sleep quality. (7)
Reference 7: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20085176
Ginseng has been used for thousands of years to boost energy and increase sexual arousal. Research shows that it may also reduce hot flashes, vaginal dryness, depression, and fatigue. (8)
St. John’s Wort may ease the transition into menopause by reducing inflammation, improving sleep, stabilizing mood, and lowering anxiety and depression.
Red clover contains isoflavones, which can improve sleep and reduce hot flashes. It may also prevent bone density loss, lower the risk of heart disease, and reduce joint inflammation.
4. Reduce Stress
When you’re stressed, your hormones suffer. Excess production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol is linked to increased inflammation and hormonal imbalances.
Risk factors for stress include:
- Poor sleep
- Weight gain
- Emotional eating
- Low libido
- Sedentary behavior
By eating healthy, getting better sleep, and addressing the above risk factors, you can reduce stress and optimize hormone production. Spending time in nature, meditation, and aromatherapy can also be effective ways to reduce stress.
5. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is one of the single most important things you can do for overall health. Strength training increases bone mineral density, a primary risk factor of menopause, and regular exercise improves sleep quality and reduces anxiety and depression. Exercise also reduces rates of obesity, optimizes metabolic activity, and reduces inflammation. Just 10-30 minutes of exercise a day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. (9)
Reference 9: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26382311
Hot Flashes Cheat Sheet
Hot flashes aren’t going to show you any mercy. Return the favor with these hot-flash-destroying strategies:
- Eat a diet high in healthy fat if you have mild to moderate hot flashes and a history of eating healthy (low trans fat and low in processed foods).
- Eat a vegetarian diet if you experience severe hot flashes and have a history of eating poorly (high trans fat and high in processed foods).
- Get regular aerobic exercise. A walk a day can be enough to keep the hot flashes at bay.
- Take supplements like black cohosh and adaptogenic herbs like maca root.
Bone Preservation Cheat Sheet
Are you an athlete who wants to keep your bones strong? Or maybe you just want to maintain your current baseline.
Either way, follow these tips for healthy bone density:
- Don’t eat too much animal protein. Eating a ton of protein can cause the body to pull calcium from the bones and eliminate it through the urine.
- Reduce sodium. Your body needs a certain amount of electrolytes to function properly, but too much can cause excess calcium to be eliminated through the kidneys. (10)
- Reduce caffeine intake. Limit caffeine to 1-2 cups of green tea a day. Caffeine is pro-inflammatory and a diuretic that promotes calcium loss.
- Quit smoking! Smoking tobacco is one of the worst things you can do for inflammation, plus it reduces bone density.
- Exercise, especially weight lifting and resistance training, strengthens the bones.
Menopause is a natural part of life, and so are the hormonal changes that come with it. However, you don’t have to surrender to the cards you’re dealt. Through diet and lifestyle choices you can reduce menopause symptoms and optimize hormone levels.
Here are the three keys to surviving menopause gracefully:
- Eat healthy
- Reduce stress
If you can do these three things, you can tame the menopause beast instead of letting it control you. To get the best treatment for your menopause symptoms, contact us at Complete Care Health Centers and see one of our providers today.