Going through menopause strengthens us

Menopause, or the stage leading up to it, perimenopause, has already been knocking loud and hard on most Baby Boomer women’s doors by now.

The last of the women in the Baby Boom generation, those born in 1964, are turning 49 this year. The average age for this change in life is 51. But it may take a little longer for some of us and most of us have already discovered that often the symptoms linger far beyond the actual change.

Symptoms vary from woman to woman

And, of course, there are some who face the change earlier because of surgical removal of the reproductive organs, particularly when both uterus and ovaries are removed, or from chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But the symptoms are generally still the same, just a bit more sudden than with the natural process.

Most experts define menopause as the year after one’s last period – THAT’s when you can safely say you’ve arrived! Your ovaries, if you still have them, stop routinely releasing eggs and producing hormones. This results most commonly in hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, vaginal dryness and sometimes headaches and depression.

The severity of these symptoms varies from woman to woman. But we almost always experience some degree of symptoms. Then we have to figure out how best to deal with these symptoms. We’re not interested in suffering but we also want to live the best life possible, which means taking great care of ourselves.

Disease or simply transition?

Unfortunately, women have occasionally seen the end of their periods as the end to youth and sex appeal. It’s a disruption to life, a problem that has to be dealt with, that must be solved with outside intervention.

On the other hand, many women simply accept this change as a natural transition in life from our childbearing years to an opportunity for more freedom.

In The Wisdom of Menopause, Dr. Christiane Northrup calls it the “renaissance of your life.” You now have the freedom to create the life you want. She calls the cessation of menstrual periods a “mind-body revolution that brings the greatest opportunity for growth since adolescence.”

This time is when women’s choices on the quality of their lifestyles, their eating habits and their relationships determine their well-being for the rest of life or put them at greater risk. In other words, it's a wake-up call!

Treating the symptoms naturally

Since the hormone replacement study was suddenly halted back in 2002 after it was shown to increase the risks of blood clots, breast cancer and heart disease, many women and their doctors have chosen not to go that route to relieve menopausal symptoms.

Although HRT was seen as the most effective treatment for some symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness and some still opt to ignore the risks and use it, others are finding relief with more natural treatments.

  • Avoid foods that are known to contribute to hot flashes: high amounts of caffeine, spicy foods, excessive alcohol, sugar.  Eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, wild-caught seafood, whole grains. Get sufficient calcium, Vitamins E and D and B-complex in your diet.
  • Get lots of low-impact, weight-bearing exercise like walking, dancing, swimming, water aerobics, and yoga. They help control your weight and protect against heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and other conditions.
  • Use over-the-counter water-based vaginal moisturizers and lubricants to help with vaginal dryness.
  • Stay cool – dress in layers, keep a cold glass of water nearby, and turn down the thermostat if necessary. Use bedding and clothing that allow your skin to breathe.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Avoid caffeine and too much alcohol before bedtime. Exercise during the day.
  • Some herbs that people claim to help with certain symptoms include: black cohosh, red clover, dong quai, ginseng, kava, evening primrose oil or black currant oil. (Check the research on any of these before trying.) Soy foods and flaxseed are also recommended for relief.