Author: Diane Dean, RN, LPC
Are you still hot at 50? Some women say yes, if you’re talking about hot flashes, that is. Although menopause does mark the end of a woman’s fertility, it is important to remember that all women experience menopause, and it is a natural stage of life. Undergoing menopause, however, can be both mentally and physically challenging.
Technically, menopause is diagnosed when a woman has not had a period for over 12 months. The ovaries cease to produce eggs, and the menstrual cycle crawls to a stop. This is a result of the dropping levels of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, which regulate fertility and sexuality. Read on to find some common signs of menopause. Keep in mind, however, that symptoms of menopause differ widely between women: the only truly consistent symptom is the end of menstrual periods.
Has your battery-operated fan become one of your purse staples? Does opening the freezer for the burst of cold air now outweigh your search for the Ben & Jerry’s? Perhaps the most bothersome of menopause symptoms, those out-of-the-blue hot flashes which are at times coupled with a quickening heart rate and sweating, can sometimes last for far too many grueling minutes. Scientists remain a bit puzzled by the origin of hot flashes, but they seem to be most directly related to lowering or fluctuating levels of estrogen.
Research shows that black cohosh, a plant related to buttercups, may help to lessen the frequency and severity of hot flashes. Natural compounds found in black cohosh extract may bind to estrogen receptors in the body, thereby mimicking a higher and more consistent level of estrogen than would normally be found during menopause.
A majority of menopausal women report difficulty sleeping. Much of this difficulty arises from hot flashes – often called night sweats – that interrupt a woman’s ability to relax throughout the night. Taking melatonin supplements an hour before bedtime can improve your sleep. Also, try to wear clothes that ‘breathe’ – loose, silk pajamas might help keep you cool.
Aches and Pains
Estrogen has anti-inflammatory properties, so when levels begin to drop during menopause, many women experience joint pain as a result. In addition, bone loss tends to increase during menopause, which can contribute to joint pain. Decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone can lead to increases in stress hormones, which can raise blood pressure and create muscle tension. This culminates in aches and pains in the joints and muscles during menopause. Pasque flower is an herbal supplement in many natural remedies that supports the female reproductive system. As an antispasmodic, it can curb muscle spasms, which can alleviate pain and help you relax. It is also thought to contain anti-inflammatory compounds, thus quelling joint pain.
Depression and Irritability
The above three symptoms, especially chronic insomnia, can contribute to feelings of depression and irritability. However, menopausal women who are not experiencing any of these symptoms are still at a higher risk for depression. The hormonal imbalances associated with menopause can affect the levels of serotonin, which is a main neurotransmitter that is responsible for maintaining a good mood. Regular exercise, good sleep and a healthy and consistent diet can combat mild depression. Taking herbal supplements that may contain estrogen-like compounds (e.g. black cohosh) might help restore serotonin levels.
Depression may also arise if you view menopause as an illness, as opposed to a life-stage; thus, it is extremely important to remember that all women will eventually experience menopause. It is a natural process of aging, yet if your symptoms reduce your quality of life, be certain to see your health care professional.