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By Dr Becky editorial

Menopausal transition

The menopausal transition

Several times in her life a woman enters a new stage of life, under the influence of hormones. Up until puberty starts, girls are hardly affected by their hormones. But once those oestrogens suddenly take over and your body starts to change both inside and out, all kinds of things start happening. PMS, your period, ovulation... an entire cycle regulated by female sex hormones. All this is accompanied by period pains, the development of breasts and hips, hair growth in new places and the sudden emergence of your own sexuality that you need to get comfortable with. If you decide to get pregnant, then you suddenly have to deal with even more oestrogen and a load of extra pregnancy-related hormones. And then you reach the point when you no longer ovulate and you suddenly stop having periods... the menopause. It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment when menopause (which literally means ‘menstruation stop’) occurs, as you only realise looking back that you’ve had your last period. The menopause is a specific point in the menopause transition, the final hormonal stage in a woman’s life.

The menopause transition: a new phase

The menopause transition takes place over a period of several years. Even before the menopause itself occurs, the body starts to prepare for this next stage of life. Just like before you had your first period, a little preparation is needed first. After the menopause has occurred the transition continues, as many more changes take place in your body influenced by hormones. During the fertile period the body produces oestrogens, mainly generated by the ovaries. After you’ve ovulated for the last time, much less oestrogen is needed. So your body significantly reduces its production of oestrogen. And you notice the physical and mental effects of this.

Menopause symptoms

Just as with PMS symptoms, during the menopause transition you may suffer from feelings of despondency, crying spells, tender breasts and thighs, abdominal pain, headaches and, last but not least, hot flushes. Hot flushes are a type of hormonal sweat attacks that manifest themselves at all sorts of times. They also occur at night and then they’re referred to as ‘night sweats’. Other symptoms you may experience include weight gain, drier skin and the reappearance of spots and blackheads. All this takes place due to changes in your hormone levels. So pay extra attention to your skincare routine and find an enjoyable form of exercise to help prevent weight gain. The reduction in oestrogens may also lead to mucous membranes becoming drier. Some areas in which you may notice this are dry eyes, a dry mouth and vaginal dryness. Solutions to help with these problems are, respectively, eye drops, drinking extra water and the use of a lubricant during sex. The reduction in oestrogen also affects your bones and joints and can increase the risk of osteoporosis.

Make time for yourself

Going through the menopause can be a difficult time, as so many things change. Give yourself the chance to adjust to these changes. They’re quite a lot to cope with. Not to mention the fact that your hormones often get in the way. Take the time to accept these changes in your life. The menopause can have a profound psychological effect on a woman. Listen to your body, keep talking about your feelings and pamper yourself. For example, with a new hairstyle, some nice perfume or a spa day. Go to the gym or play sport, take up yoga, find new hobbies and enjoy spending time with your grandchildren, if you have them.

Eat healthily and take plenty of exercise

If you gain weight due to the menopause then it’s important to pay extra attention to this. Take plenty of exercise, which is also good for preventing osteoporosis. Play tennis, walk, swim, cycle, do yoga, dance... it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you enjoy it. Healthy eating is important too. Not just to keep your weight under control, but primarily because eating healthily helps you to feel more positive. Eat less meat, try soya milk and drink less caffeine and alcohol, but more water. Water is particularly good for keeping your skin healthy.

Practise breathing exercises

A hot flush is an unpleasant experience. Not only do you feel very hot and start sweating, you may also experience palpitations and a feeling of panic. There’s nothing you can do about this, as hot flushes and nightly sweat attacks are a response to the reduction in oestrogens in your body. When you feel a sweat attack coming on, the best thing is to stay as calm as possible. Breathe in and out deeply and allow it to wash over you. Hot flushes come and go. The more you’re able to stay calm, the more easily they will pass. Teach yourself to use deep breathing exercises to calm yourself by keeping your breath under control. Then you’ll be well-prepared if you feel a hot flush coming on.

A helping hand during the menopause

Did you know that there are all kinds of nutrients that can help you to get through the menopause? Lady’s mantle, for example, is a herb that can help to regulate the hormone levels a bit better, so that the reduction in oestrogens takes place more gradually. It can also help to reduce your inner agitation, so you sleep better (always a good thing) and feel better. Vitamin D and calcium play an important role in building bones. If you’re starting the menopause transition, take a supplement containing vitamin D and calcium to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. During the menopause, you also benefit from extra iron, vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin E. If you’re feeling agitated, a cup of camomile tea can help. Red clover is another herbal extract that’s often used for menopause symptoms. Which is not surprising as research has shown that red clover contains isoflavones and your body uses these to produce phytoestrogens, which are similar to the sex hormone oestrogen. So it’s possible that red clover can compensate the reduction in oestrogen a little, so that you experience milder symptoms as you go through the menopause.

Talk about the menopause

Talking about your feelings, anxieties and inner agitation always helps. Try talking to your partner or to female friends who’re going through the menopause too. If you have any questions about the menopause, you can always talk to your GP. Ask them about all the things you can expect in this new phase. There are even special therapists who know all about the menopause and can help you during this new stage of your life. If you experience very severe symptoms then there are medicines that can support you through the menopause. They are a useful alternative if you can’t achieve the results you want with diet or natural food supplements. And don’t forget, you’re not alone.

Information
The information provided is written by our editors, acquired and processed in collaboration with a network of professional expert sources and copywriters. In case of complications, contact an expert.

Source: Editorial, Mayoclinic.org.