Condition - Time to enjoy life after the menopause
With a life expectancy close to 80 years, the average woman is post-menopausal for one third of her life. Once a woman has gone a full 12 months without a period, including any spotting, she is post-menopausal. A woman’s reproductive hormone levels continue to drop and fluctuate for some time into post-menopause, so any hormone withdrawal symptoms that she may be experiencing don’t necessarily stop straight away, but may take some time, even several years, to disappear completely. Any period-like flow that might occur during this time, even just spotting, should be reported to a doctor.
Certain health conditions are more likely to occur in post-menopausal women.
Vaginal and urinary tract changes
Low oestrogen levels may cause the vaginal lining to become thin and dry, making sexual intercourse more painful and increasing the risk of infection. The urinary tract also changes with age. The urethra, which carries the urine from the bladder, can become dry, inflamed or irritated, increasing the risk of bladder infection. As the tissues of the vagina and urethra lose their elasticity, many women experience a frequent, sudden, strong urge to urinate, followed by an involuntary loss of urine, or the loss of urine with coughing, laughing or lifting. Pelvic floor muscle exercises, called Kegel exercises, can improve some forms of urinary incontinence.
During the first few years after menopause, women may lose bone density at a rapid rate, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle and weak, leading to an increased risk of fractures. Post-menopausal women are especially susceptible to fractures of the hip, wrist and spine. Reduction of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen is linked to loss of bone strength.
Being post-menopausal does not cause depression but changes, which often occur at this time of life, such as children leaving home and the loss of fertility, can contribute to low mood and depression. It can also be a stressful time with many women becoming part of what’s known as the ‘sandwich generation’, where they become caregivers for not only their children and grandchildren, but also ageing parents. Hormone changes may also cause nervousness, irritability or extreme tiredness. Progesterone is an important link in the production of stress-resisting hormones of the adrenal glands.
The hormonal changes post menopause may make women more likely to gain weight around the stomach, rather than on the hips and thighs. Weight gain after the menopause can have serious implications for health. Excess weight increases the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type II diabetes. In turn, these conditions increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Balancing blood sugar levels is very important to help maintain a healthy weight.
Heart disease is the leading killer of post-menopausal women. The oestrogen produced by women’s ovaries before menopause helps protect them from heart attacks and stroke. When less oestrogen is made, after menopause, women lose much of this protection.
Unstable molecules called free radicals are produced by many body processes, as well as environmental factors, such as smoke. Free radicals cause damage to cells and may play a role in many health conditions including heart disease and cancer, as well as accelerating the ageing process. Antioxidants help to protect the body from this damage.
Collagen and hyaluronic acid are two substances that are found naturally in the skin and help to keep it firm and plump. They do, however, decrease with age, so skin becomes less firm and fine lines may appear.
Eating a balanced diet will help you stay happy and healthy after the menopause. It is important to eat a variety of foods to make sure you get all the essential nutrients.
Increase soya and foods rich in phytoestrogens. These include flax seeds, sesame seeds, lentils, chickpeas, other legumes, broccoli, kale, cabbage and celery. Phytoestrogens help to support hormonal health. Fermented soya foods contain activated phytoestrogens for improved bioavailability.
Increase omega 3 essential fatty acids, such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna), nuts and seeds. These essential fats are important to hormonal, skin and heart health.
Increase your intake of calcium- and magnesium-rich foods. These include nuts and seeds, fish, eggs, pulses, such as kidney beans, wholegrains, such as brown rice and quinoa, plus green leafy vegetables, including broccoli and kale.
Increase foods high in fibre; such as brown rice, oats, other wholegrains, pulses and legumes; as they may help slow down the digestion of glucose and, therefore, keep your blood sugar more stable.
Stabilise blood sugar levels by also reducing sugar, sweets, chocolate and refined foods, e.g. white flour, white rice and white pasta.
Reduce tea, coffee and fizzy drinks.
Avoid unhealthy fats found in cakes, pastries, pasties, pâtés, salamis and sausages, as these may disrupt your absorption and utilisation of the good fats in your body.
Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids help to support hormone production, skin health, mood and a healthy heart.
B vitamins help to maintain blood sugar balance, are needed for healthy adrenal function and hormone production and support heart health.
Vitamin E and Aloe vera gel may help maintain tissue integrity and health in the vaginal area.
Vitamin C helps to maintain a healthy vascular system and strengthen and support the skin structure, the immune system and the adrenal glands, and is involved in collagen production.
Phytoestrogens, found in fermented soya-based foods and herbs; such as black cohosh, dong quai, Mexican yam, Siberian ginseng, hops and sage; may all help to support hormonal health.
Collagen and hyaluronic acid are important for joint health and may help to firm and improve the appearance of skin.
Calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K2 are important to support healthy bones.
Cranberry extract may help to maintain the health of the urinary tract and discourage bad bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall.
Grape seed, green tea, bilberry, turmeric and alpha lipoic acid have antioxidant properties.
Regular exercise slows down bone loss and helps to protect against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and other conditions associated with ageing. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and dancing, are great for bone health.