The “dreaded” menopause comes for us all whether we like it or not – and some of us will inevitably find it difficult. But the more prepared we are, the easier it will be. Like ageing, it is unavoidable, but there are certain things we can do to make the transition an infinitely more positive experience. Believe it or not, you can emerge from menopause wiser, healthier and stronger in both body and mind.
The average age for menopause is around 51. It occurs when there is no menstruation over a 12 month period – meaning the period cycle has ceased permanently. Symptoms that can alert you to its approach include irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, cognitive decline (memory loss), sleep problems or insomnia, mood changes, weight gain (especially around the middle), and slowed metabolism, thinning hair, dry skin, and a loss of volume in your breasts. Typically the end of the menstrual cycle accompanied by any of the above symptoms will prompt a diagnosis of menopause, but various clinical tests can be done to confirm that you’ve reached the stage, including follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and oestrogen (estradiol).
Certain lifestyle and diet changes made prior to the onset of menopause can help to ensure that you are ready for it when it comes – and they can also help to support you through the process. Your attitude upon embarking on this transition can also have a tremendous impact on your experience of it. Studies bear this out: negative beliefs held prior to menopause are thought to precede a more difficult experience. For instance, research suggests the more catastrophic your thoughts about hot flashes and night sweats are, the more intense they will ultimately be. While depression during menopause is not uncommon, women who try and change their mindset ahead of time say it can help hugely – even in the face of difficult symptoms.
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Here are my five key holistic lifestyle tips to help you manage the menopause.
Eat healthy fats
I cannot stress enough how important it is to include healthy fats in your diet to help balance your hormones. Your body needs these now more than ever, so avoid skipping lunch and reaching for a Starbucks blueberry muffin at 3pm. Try nuts, olives or avocado instead.
Take it easy
Be sure to look after your adrenals. Say no when you need to, and rest when your body feels pushed. Don’t spend your life rushing from one thing to the next as you will burn out. Increase your down-time, and set aside 30 minutes each day for rest that is spent away from your phone or computer. As well as aiming for eight hours a sleep a night, do something for you each day – whether that’s having a massage, a bath, or just an early night with a good book.
Include phytoestrogens in your diet
These are foods that can actually mimic the role of oestrogen in the body, levels of which decline during menopause. Include things like legumes, beans, flaxseed and fermented organic soy, like tempeh, into your diet. I would also highly recommend one to two tablespoons of flaxseed daily in a smoothie, or on muesli or porridge.
Ensure you get 15 minutes a day of sun exposure for your fill of vitamin D; it lowers the risk of osteoporosis and supports the ageing process. I also recommend restorative exercise, like yoga or walking, which can also be done outside.
Stock up on herbs
Make hormone-balancing herbs and adaptogens a daily priority. My recommendations are organic raw maca powder, rhodiola, St John’s wort, lemon balm, red clover, ginseng, chaste tree, ashwagandha and shatavari. These can be used to address a combination of things – from irritability and moodiness, to helping you destress and aiding with sleepless nights, hot flashes and night sweats. They can be taken in powder form in smoothies, or brewed as fresh herbal teas and sipped throughout the day.
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