The changes that occur when the body moves beyond its reproductive years can take us by surprise. It’s not simply a reduction in estrogen levels that underlie the various signs and symptoms that arise at midlife. Here is a simple roadmap to help you navigate the journey.
Now is the time for paying closer attention to foundational elements of health. The term self-care is thrown around a lot these days, but this truly is the time for exercise, sleep, time in nature, and a nutrient-dense diet. All of these habits will aid in balancing hormones and managing stress.
Symptoms such as fatigue, foggy thinking, irritability, forgetfulness are often associated with menopause. That doesn’t mean those are directly related to the changing balance of reproductive hormones.
When ovaries stop producing estrogen, the adrenal glands take over that role, albeit to a lesser extent. Between work and family demands, the adrenals are often already taxed at midlife. This makes the added demands of menopause the proverbial last straw for the adrenals, whose function can start to lag.
Fortunately, the same self-care tips above are also restorative for the adrenals. Specific nutrients further nourish these glands. These include vitamin C, magnesium, B vitamins, and zinc.
Adaptogens are plant-based medicines that help us adapt to and cope with stress. These herbs act by supporting the adrenal gland in appropriate daily rhythms of stress hormone release, preventing under or overproduction of adrenalin and cortisol. Shining examples of adaptogens include ashwagandha, rhodiola, and Eleutherococcus. Often taken in combination, these botanicals help re-establish physical and emotional well-being in the face of stress.
Love your Liver
What does your liver have to do with hormonal balance? Everything! This major organ is charged with processing and eliminating harmful forms of estrogen, not to mention countless other toxins.
Simple liver support includes starting your day with a cup of warm water with the juice of half a fresh-squeezed lemon. Enjoy plenty of liver-friendly foods such as apples, beets, garlic, turmeric, and broccoli. Minimize artificially fragranced body care and household products, as well as exposure to plastic.
Check your Thyroid
One in ten Canadian suffer from a thyroid condition, and as many as half of those are undiagnosed.  The thyroid is the body’s gas pedal: it is central to weight management and a healthy metabolism. Many menopausal symptoms overlap with indicators of low thyroid function. These include low energy, weight gain, hair loss, low mood, dry skin, and constipation.
Having a thorough assessment of thyroid function is an important part of a menopause wellness checkup. Standard thyroid testing is often limited to just measuring the major hormone TSH. A more comprehensive analysis includes other hormones such as T3, T4, and reverse T3.
A diet that nourishes the thyroid includes foods rich in iodine, such as nori, kelp, and other seaweeds. Avoid raw cauliflower, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables, as they contain compounds that can inhibit thyroid function. The same applies to gluten-containing foods.
Tackling Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
We’ve all heard the joke: you’re still hot, it just comes in flashes now. Funny, although less so when the “power surge” arrives at an inopportune time, or when you are throwing the covers off at 3 am. Specific nutrition and herbal support can help cool down.
Try to identify and eliminate trigger foods, such as coffee, chocolate, red wine, peanuts, spicy food, and others. Increase phytoestrogens in the diet by eating more ground flaxseed, fresh green peas, oats, rye, lentils, and alfalfa.
Time-tested herbs for easing hot flashes and night sweats include black cohosh, chasteberry, and dong quai. These can also help with the brain fog, vaginal dryness, and mood swings that are frequent complaints at this time.
If you are one of the “lucky” people who generally feel well at menopause except for only hot flashes and night sweats, then sage leaf may provide relief. Used as a medicine in Europe for centuries, it helps cool the body and eliminate excess perspiration. Men can also take sage or sage leaf for excess perspiration, however, men who experience night sweats should mention this to their doctor.
Bones are made of living, growing tissue that is constantly being renewed and replaced. After menopause, the rate at which lost bone is replenished slows down. This can eventually lead to increased fracture risk.
This isn’t inevitable, though. In some places, notably Japan, people can largely maintain bone health after the change of life.
While calcium often gets top bone-health billing, other nutrients play critical roles in making sure it gets to the right place and stays there. Vitamin D and magnesium are central to this process, along with vitamin K2. Strength-training exercise, which builds and maintains muscle mass, also stimulates bone resilience.
Collagen is a main structural protein throughout the body. It forms the scaffolding for everything, from bones and joints to skin and blood vessels and anything in between. Collagen gradually starts to diminish as early as in our 30’s. The withdrawal of estrogen at menopause accelerates that process.
Collagen loss underlies deepening fine (and not so fine) lines, creaky joints, thinning bones, and changes in circulatory health. Ensuring you get adequate vitamin C and avoid excessive UV exposure will help protect your collagen. Consider replacing and replenishing collagen with hydrolyzed collagen peptides and/or choline stabilized orthosilicic acid.
Still feeling challenged or overwhelmed by menopausal changes? Speak to your naturopathic doctor to help develop a comprehensive menopause management plan.