A woman’s life has so many stages and changes; physical maturation in our early teens, marriage, pregnancies, nursing, motherhood, and ultimately watching our daughters go through the same stages. Then we get a “pause”… physically and mentally, when we can review the past and plan for the future. It’s almost as if we, as women, get two lives; one life we give to the ones we love and the second that’s all ours to enjoy and explore, free from the responsibilities of pregnancy and raising children. However, with this newfound freedom comes accountability to our changing bodies that, in today’s day and age, is easier than ever.
Perimenopause is the process of change that leads up to menopause. It can start as early as your late 30s or as late as your early 50s. How long perimenopause lasts varies, but it usually lasts from 2 to 8 years. You may have irregular periods or other symptoms during this time.1
Menopause is defined as the time when there has been no menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months and no other biological or physiological cause can be identified. It is the end of fertility, the end of the childbearing years. (A woman may still, however, be able to become pregnant unless 12 consecutive months have passed without a period.) 2
“Climacteric” is another word for the time when a woman passes from the reproductive to non-reproductive years of her life. Temporary “stress menopause” occurs when women in their late 30s or older have no periods for long stretches of time. It can be caused by stress, chemotherapy, grief, illness, bulimia, anemia, or excessive exercise. “Surgical menopause” occurs if the ovaries are removed or damaged as in a radical hysterectomy or chemotherapy. In this case, menopause begins immediately, with no perimenopause. 3
“Postmenopause” is the time after menopause.
What initiates menopause?
Normal changes in your reproductive and endocrine (hormones) systems influence menopause, much like what a woman’s body goes through during adolescence. Menopause occurs when the ovaries no longer respond to the controlling hormones released by the pituitary gland of the brain. As your egg supply ages, your body begins to ovulate less often. This causes your hormone levels to go up and down unevenly, causing changes in your periods and other symptoms. In time, estrogen and progesterone levels drop enough that the menstrual cycle stops altogether. It is the fall in the levels of hormones in the bloodstream that gives rise to the symptoms of menopause.4
When do women generally go through menopause?
For most women, menopause happens around age 50 but it can happen as early as your late 30’s and as late as early 50’s. Your mother’s age when she went through menopause is usually a general (but definitely not specific) indicator of when you might begin to experience symptoms. Every woman’s body has it’s own timeline. The timing is not related to race, class, pregnancy, breast-feeding, fertility patterns, birth control pills, height, age of menarche (first period), or age at last pregnancy.
The Endocrine System
Symptoms of Menopause
Common symptoms can include:
- A change in your periods. Your period can change from heavy to light or not appear at all. Your menstrual cycle may be longer or shorter. A good idea is to track this on a monthly basis for at least a year.
- Hot flashes – striking unexpectedly, a sudden sensation of intense body heat, often with profuse sweating and reddening of the head, neck and chest. Hot flashes can cause your heart to race, palpitate and bring on feelings of anxiety and irritability. They are a marker of changing estrogen levels in a woman’s body. Hot flashes range from very mild to debilitating and can stay with a woman from perimenopause through to 1 to 2 years after menopause.
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping.
- Mood swings.
- Palpitations – a feeling that your heart is beating too fast or irregularly.
- Memory loss.
- Foggy thinking.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Achy joints.
- Changes in sexual desire.
- Frequent urination and/or urinary leakage.
- Loss of libido.
You can thank your hormones for all of the above and until they settle at a lower level, you might continue to experience these symptoms. You can expect these symptoms to improve or subside altogether some time after the first year or more of menopause. Not to worry; not many women experience symptoms of a severe nature and there are great natural choices to help you with the symptoms you do have. Best news is, some women will dodge the symptoms bullet altogether.
Many women experience emotional symptoms during menopause. Please don’t let anyone tell you that what you are feeling isn’t real and are caused by the hormonal cascade occurring in your body. You should be vigilant with symptoms of anxiety and depression. Get in touch with your family health care provider if symptoms persist or worsen.
Physical Changes in a Woman’s Body – Estrogen, the major changer
During menopause your skin becomes thinner. A lack of estrogen often means vaginal glands don’t produce as much lubrication, causing discomfort during sex. The lack of estrogen also affects the bladder, causing frequent urination. There is a gradual rise in the risk of heart disease and stroke after menopause due to falling estrogen levels. These low levels result in unfavourable changes in cholesterol and fat levels in the blood, causing a predisposition to these heart disease and stroke. Estrogen normally stimulates bone-building cells, but the drop in estrogen levels during menopause predisposes a woman to a loss in bone mass, bone strength and osteoporosis.
Some Tips for Relieving Hot Flashes
Try regular exercise, biofeedback, cold showers, decreased stress, and cooler rooms. Reduce intake of tea, alcohol, hot beverages, and spicy foods. Wear thin layers of all-cotton clothes that can be removed. Don’t wear nightclothes with collars because they are warmer to sleep in. Keep extra nightclothes next to the bed in case you need to change during the night. Keep a hot-flash diary to learn what triggers them. Sometimes hot flashes can occur at night. (You may want to keep a hand towel by your pillow to wipe the perspiration from your neck.) 5
Tracking the changes in your period and any symptoms you might experience will give you and your doctor the best indicator as to whether you are in the first stages of perimenopause or not. It’s advisable to track these changes over the course of 12 months unless you’re experiencing extremes that warrant a visit to your doctor. There are blood tests which will reveal the levels of certain hormones in your blood, giving a conclusive answer to whether you’ve begun menopause or not. These tests are also helpful in ruling out other health conditions that may be mimicking the symptoms of perimenopause such as hypothyroidism.
Health Concerns During Menopause
Heart disease, also known as coronary disease, is the leading cause of death for Canadian women. Increased risk for coronary disease is primarily associated with the process of aging, yet there is also a relationship between heart health and a woman’s midlife transition through menopause. Before menopause a woman’s heart and blood vessels seem to have some protection due to her hormones. But when a woman experiences menopause, her levels of estrogen decrease significantly, and as a result, her risk for heart disease increases. A woman has a reduced rate of heart disease before menopause compared with men her own age. After menopause, however, a woman’s rate of heart disease increases considerably, until by the age of 65, her risk is equal to that of her male peers.6
For most women, increases and shifts in weight begin during perimenopause. On average, women gain about a pound a year during this time. But changing hormone levels associated with menopause aren’t necessarily the cause of weight gain. Aging and lifestyle factors play a big role in your changing body composition. Menopausal women tend to exercise less than other women, which can lead to weight gain. Eating more means you’ll take in more calories, which are converted to fat if you don’t burn them for energy. Weight gain can have serious implications for your health. Excess weight increases your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. These factors also put you at increased risk of heart disease and stroke, already a risk factor for menopausal women. 7
Your risk goes up for osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), heart disease, and breast cancer. You still need to get your Pap smears and breast exams and start mammogram screening of your breasts. Osteoporosis means a loss of density in bones. Bones lose calcium and become more brittle, to the point of breaking easily. Osteoporosis causes broken hips and other fractures. Osteoporosis is most common in women after menopause. You’re more likely to develop osteoporosis if you’re white or Asian, have a small bone frame, went through early menopause, have a family history of osteoporosis, smoking, abuse alcohol, don’t exercise or don’t get enough calcium in your diet.
To reduce your risk for osteoporosis:
- Get 1200 mg of calcium a day (an 8-oz glass of milk or 1.5 oz of cheese contains 300 mg)
- Exercise at least ½ hour per day three times a week
- Don’t smoke (smoking increases your risk for both osteoporosis and heart disease
- Eat a diet low in fat8
Hormone replacement therapy can relieve the symptoms and problems of menopause. The therapy involves taking estrogen alone or estrogen combined with progestin, the synthetic form of progesterone. Hormone replacement therapy can relieve symptoms such as hot flashes, dry vaginal and some bladder problems. It can also slow down the rate of osteoporosis. It seems to help calcium and exercise work to prevent osteoporosis. Depending on your health, your doctor may suggest hormone therapy.9
Fever, Sweats and Hot Flashes
Cascading hormones can be responsible for the change in your internal thermostat bringing on fever, sweats and hot flashes.
Hot flashes are the most common symptom of menopause. Hot flashes can range from being a minor nuisance to a major problem that affects your sleep and daily life. Hot flashes can occur for at least a year but not for more than five years for most women. When you have a hot flash, you’ll feel warm from your chest to your head, often in waves. Your skin may turn red and you may sweat a lot. Along with the hot flash you may feel sick to your stomach and dizzy. You may have a headache and feel like your heart is beating very fast and hard. After, you may feel chilled. A hot flash can last just a few seconds or go on for an hour. You may have as many as 10 in 24 hours. They’re much more common at night.10
Maintaining Your Health During Perimenopause and Menopause
Regular exercise may decrease depression and irritability. Good muscle tone can also improve energy level and decrease aches and pains. Some forms of exercise may help decrease bone loss. Yoga or Tai Chi decrease stress and may reverse the decreased flexibility often associated with aging. Regular Tai Chi has been shown to decrease the incidence of hip fractures in older individuals.
A diet high in complex carbohydrates (high-fibre grains and breads) and low in saturated fats, including multiple small meals may reduce irritability and improve one’s feeling of well-being. Try following a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Include plenty of calcium in your diet – 1,200 mg a day after age 50 (plus at least 400 IU of vitamin D to help your body use the calcium). Low or non-fat dairy products and almonds are a great source of calcium. Make sure your calcium is paired with magnesium as these two need each other to work properly in your body.
Limit (notice it doesn’t say “eliminate”) caffeine (coffee, chocolate, soda), alcohol, and stress. Certain antioxidants in red wine and dark chocolate may even help lower the risk of heart attack, raise HDL (the good cholesterol), help prevent blood clots and lower blood pressure. Just don’t binge! These things can make symptoms worse. Avoiding them late in the day may help you sleep better.
Social and/or Psychological Support
Many women experience menopause as a time of increased freedom and new possibilities, experiencing more free time and flexibility. However, some women experience the empty nest as the loss of their central role in life. Loss of a spouse through death or divorce can increase isolation. The physical changes associated with hormonal fluctuations can be confusing. Supportive friends and family can help a woman understand and cope with life changes. Reading about menopause or talking to one’s doctor can help make the changes less mystifying. 11
Natural Remedies that assist with the Symptoms of Menopause
Change for the better with Prairie Naturals MENO-FEMME.
This specially designed nutritional support formula for menopausal women provides effective relief from hot flashes, lack of sleep and a variety of other health concerns that surround this transitory time. Make your change of life a smooth transition with MENO-FEMME.
- Natural relief from the symptoms associated with the Change of Life
- Support for Hot Flashes & Insomnia
- With Flower Essences
Natural Factors MenoPause Formula
The women’s MenoPause Formula is designed to help balance the fluctuating hormone levels that take place several years before and during menopause. Each herb in the MenoPause Formula exerts a balancing effect on hormones and reduces unpleasant perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
Together the herbs that make up Natural Factors excellent formula soothe hormonal symptoms related to menopause.
Femal® is a blend of unique pollen extracts proven to alleviate symptoms associated with PMS and menopause. Femal® is a unique natural remedy that can help manage the symptoms that often accompany hormonal fluctuations from the start of menstruation through till menopause. Femal® has been used by women around the world for over 10 years. Now Flora offers the first Femal® product in a vegetarian capsule, free of sweeteners, coatings or binders.
Femal® and PMS – Up to 75% of all women experience some premenstrual symptoms during the one to two weeks before menstruation begins – that’s potentially half of every month! Sadly, 30-40% report symptoms severe enough to interfere with their daily lives. Symptoms may include: breast swelling and tenderness, cramps, bloating, food cravings, fatigue, headaches, difficulty sleeping, joint pain, skin blemishes, water retention, and personality changes such as irritability, anger and drastic mood swings.
Femal® and Menopause
The transition into menopause often begins when a woman is in her 40’s, potentially lasting for several years until the function of the ovaries stops. Menstruation becomes irregular and women frequently complain of hot flushes, intense nightly sweating and sleeping problems, as well as extreme emotional sensitivity. Menopause officially begins when a woman has been without a period for one full year. Side effects from hormone replacement therapy have caused many women to seek new non-hormonal treatments for menopausal symptoms.
Pure and Natural
Femal® is made from the pollens of seven specific varieties of organically grown flowers (combined into two proprietary pollen blends) that are cultivated in the southern parts of Sweden. To ensure purity, only one type of flower is grown in each field or greenhouse, and the pollen in the fields is hand-collected at just the right time, before is it collected by bees or is carried away by the wind. Highly specialized processes are used to produce the pollen extracts, simulating the natural pollination process of flowers by mixing fresh pollen and pistils. A special enzymatic process extracts the nutrients from inside the pollen grain (comparable to the way in which bees do this in Nature), leaving the hard outer shell behind. This eliminates the allergy potential and makes the extracted pollen very easy to absorb. Each finished batch is tested to ensure the complete removal of allergens.
Femal® works so well because the seven proprietarily selected botanical species of flowers have been recognized for their beneficial effects on the symptoms of PMS and menopause. Not just any old flower pollen will do! The harvesting and manufacturing processes are highly standardized and certified according to Good Manufacturing Practices guidelines.
To read more about this Flora product, CLICK HERE.
Studies show relying on Calcium for healthy bones is not enough! Based on leading research, bone builder contains a synergistic blend of bone-building antioxidants (such as Lycopene), vitamins(including Vitamins D3, C and B12) and minerals (including 3 highly absorbable forms of Calcium). Together these ingredients help build and protect your bones for better posture, strength and mobility – while reducing risk for osteoporosis.
To read more about this Genuine Health product, CLICK HERE.
Relieves Hot Flashes & Night Sweats*
Supports Breast Health*
Promotes Healthy Bones*
EstroSoy™ Plus is made from whole soybeans fermented with a natural, proprietary process. Fermentation yields more isoflavones and a diversity of supportive nutrients including beta glucan and glutathione.
EstroSoy™ Plus delivers soy isoflavones (60% genistein, 40% daidzein) in their “free”, unconjugated form for better absorption and more effective use within the body.
EstroSoy™ Plus is made from 100% natural soybeans with no genetic modification.
Standardized Black Cohosh
A popular herbal with estrogen-like activity, Black Cohosh is widely recommended by European doctors for menopause.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
To read more about this Nature’s Way product, CLICK HERE.
1. B.C. Health Guide
3. The Body
4. B.C. Health Guide
5. The Body
6. The Canadian Women’s Health Network
8. The College of Family Physicians of Canada
9. The College of Family Physicians of Canada
10. The College of Family Physicians of Canada
11. Northern County Psychiatric Associates
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.