The national institute of ageing describes menopause as a point in time where 12 months has passed since the last period. The me...The national institute of ageing describes menopause as a point in time where 12 months has passed since the last period. The menopause transition usually occurs somewhere between 45-55 years of age, but is different for each woman. Read more on menopause below.
Menopause is the natural cessation of menses or colloquially known as "the period", this happens around age 50, but every woman differs. This point in time marks the end of monthly menstrual cycles which begin at puberty. The 1-2 years preceding menopause is called perimenopause (literally, around menopause), where physical and hormonal changes occur. To be specific a woman has entered menopause when it has been a full year since her last menstrual period.
The ovaries which have numerous ovarian follicles contain an ovocyte or otherwise known as the female egg which is released during ovulation. Interestingly this whole process is controlled by the brain, the hypothalamus which controls the release of various hormones from the pituitary gland. Due to the negative feedback loop of these hormones, there is a cyclic and predictive pattern (i.e. a period every 21-35 days) in hormone secretion (i.e. oestrogen & progesterone) during the reproductive years. Over time these ovarian follicles degenerate and become less sensitive to hormones that release the egg in hope of fertilization. This continues until menopause, where there are no remaining follicles and the monthly menstrual cycle comes to a halt (Source: NCBI).
As mentioned, before menopause, there is a 1-2 year period called perimenopause. During this period there is still menstruation but it is anovulatory (without ovulation).
Post-menopausal women are a high-risk group for weight gain and a decrease in bone mass. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet in combination with exercise, including some form of weight-bearing exercise can help protect against the negative outcomes mentioned. Importantly, menopause is not something to be feared, but to be embraced. Some women transition seamlessly without any severe symptoms or bumps along the road. This may be you, so be optimistic and if not there is plenty we can do to manage and reduce symptoms severity.
But first, the actual POTENTIAL symptoms as described by the national health service in the UK are detailed below.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
"Most women will experience menopausal symptoms. Some of these can be quite severe and have a significant impact on your everyday activities.
Common symptoms include:
vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
difficulty sleeping low mood or anxiety
reduced sex drive (libido)
problems with memory and concentration
Menopausal symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop and last around 4 years after your last period, although some women experience them for much longer" (Source: NHS).
How can I manage menopause symptoms?
There are many physical and hormonal changes that MAY or MAY NOT result in some of the symptomology illustrated in the figure above. Depending on the symptom, severity, frequency, duration and a host of other factors your health care practitioner will prescribe a treatment plan.
Below we make some general recommendations of a healthy lifestyle, this may help you manage or prevent some of the symptoms related to menopause.
However, you need to ALWAYS consult your healthcare professional to discuss and become informed about appropriate treatment.
Fitness tips for menopause: Why fitness counts
"For most healthy women, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity for at least 75 minutes a week. In addition, strength training exercises are recommended at least twice a week. Feel free to spread out your exercising throughout your week. (Source: MayoClinic)
Regular physical activity is crucial for women facing menopause. Consider what physical activity can do for you.
Consider your exercise options and their benefits:
Aerobic activity: Aerobic activity can help you shed excess pounds and maintain a healthy weight. Try brisk walking, jogging, biking, swimming or water aerobics. If you're a beginner, start with 10 minutes a day and gradually increase the intensity and duration.
Strength training: Regular strength training can help you reduce body fat, strengthen your muscles and burn calories more efficiently. Try weight machines, hand-held weights or resistance tubing. Choose a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 repetitions. Gradually increase the weight or resistance level as you get stronger.
Stretching: Stretching can help improve flexibility. Set aside time to stretch after each workout, when your muscles are warm and receptive to stretching.
Stability and balance: Balance exercises improve stability and can help prevent falls. Try simple exercises, such as standing on one leg while brushing your teeth. Activities such as tai chi also can be helpful."
Other Lifestyle Factors
Do not smoke & manage stress with sustainable and effective coping strategies
Limited or restrict alcohol consumption
Maintain or achieve a healthy body weight
Hormone replacement therapy: as it says in the name, it replaces hormones, this may lessen symptom severity, discuss with your doctor (Source: NHS)
Cognitive behavioural therapy: a psycho-social intervention or therapy that can help with regulating mood and treating anxiety depending on severity (Source: NHS)
Any diet which restricts or completely excludes food groups will increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies and therefore potentially impaired biological function and increasing the potential of experiencing symptoms. Therefore, following a balanced and varied diet is recommended. Supplementation may be beneficial to fill the gaps as discussed in "additional considerations" below.
While consumption of most nutrients through natural or fortified foods is preferred, some nutrients may occasionally need supplementation. Especially for restrictive diets or those that lack variety.
As a general rule try to consume 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Importantly, if you do not consume animal products you should consult your healthcare professional to discuss and consider a vitamin B12 supplement. The main issue with vitamin B12 is everything is fine until it's not. Meaning its a silent threat to our health, we have stores in the liver that can last 1-2 years and even longer in some instances. Hence, get ahead and check your status, the first sign of vitamin B12 deficiency can, unfortunately, have already caused irreversible damage. Vitamin D is another at risk-nutrient and should be supplemented from October-March in countries of northern latitude (north of the equator, Ireland, UK, Denmark, etc.) (Source: NCBI, MDPI).
General and targeted supplementation should be considered for restrictive or low energy-density diets, rather than a multivitamin/multimineral. Following the principles of a healthy balanced diet will cover most of your nutritional needs for the majority of the population. If concerned consult a healthcare professional who can help you with your diet and overall health.
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