All About Menopause- Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Menopause can be seen as the second puberty in a woman’s life. It is a transitional period that lasts several years. It is as eventful and as confusing as puberty, and it is as irreversible as puberty. During menopause, we as women are ushered into another episode of life, leaving behind the previous chapter. We hope that this guide will help you come well-informed into your transitional stage. We will be discussing biological changes in your body, what to expect, and what lifestyle and diet changes may help you.

The biology behind menopause 

woman holding a sign that says menopause

The word "menopause" comes from the Greek "menos" - month - and pause. It is a word that describes a time of life in which your monthly cycles stop.

Every female is born with a set number of eggs. It can be anywhere between 1 and 3 million, and they should last her a lifetime. This reserve cannot be replenished. By the time a woman reaches her first menstrual cycle, she only has 300,000-400,000 eggs left. Only a small percentage of the remaining eggs are lost through ovulation, while the rest die off naturally, simply because they never develop into mature eggs.

By the time a woman reaches menopause, she may have fewer than 10,000 eggs. Menopause, as WebMD defines it, is the “end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and fertility.” It happens naturally with age, commonly around the time you turn 50. If it happens before you turn 40, it’s defined as premature menopause. It can also be artificially induced by surgery or cancer treatments. 

Related: How Does Menopause Affect the Brain?

What causes menopause?
The vast majority of eggs found in the ovaries are not fully mature. They are officially considered ovarian follicles, which will only mature into a fertile egg under the influence of a follicle-stimulating hormone, referred to as FSH.

With age, ovarian follicles become more and more resistant to this hormone, while the ovaries reduce their production of estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone that takes part and influences many parts of the body, so it is believed that the loss of estrogen is the main reason for the symptoms. Ovaries also decrease their production of testosterone, a hormone responsible for sex drive.

How do I know I'm experiencing menopause?

woman having a hot flash

You will know you’ve reached menopause when you haven’t had your period in a year. During menopause, your ovaries no longer make estrogen and progesterone (the fertility hormones). 

Usually, the first sign of menopause is irregularities in your period. After four years of irregular bleeding, your period will stop completely. You’ve probably already heard of the rest of the symptoms, which include the infamous hot flashes and sweating, discomfort or dryness in the vaginal area, headaches, and trouble sleeping.

But this won’t all happen at once. Menopause is usually divided into three stages. They are perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause.

During perimenopause, you might still be fertile, but you will experience irregularities in your monthly period. You most likely will not experience other symptoms yet. This happens, on average, at age 47.

During menopause, you will have your last ever menstrual cycle. The rest of the symptoms are common during this stage. As perimenopause causes irregular periods, you will only know that a certain cycle was your last when you’ve gone an entire year without one. 

During post-menopause, the symptoms will subside, and the transitional period will have ended. Post menopause starts the day you hit the one-year mark from your final period. From this point on, vaginal bleeding is not normal and should be reported to a doctor.

Related: Suffer From Hot Flashes? Menopause May Not be the Reason

How to deal with the symptoms?

woman suffering a headache

Several prescription drugs can help you with symptoms, but they must go hand-in-hand with lifestyle and dietary changes. We will briefly review the medication and dive deeper into the lifestyle changes and exercises you can do.

A prevalent medication method for hot flashes is called combination hormone therapy, or hormone replacement therapy where your doctor will prescribe low doses of estrogen and progesterone to help with hot flashes and night sweats. It may cause many complications, so it’s not for everyone.

Vaginal dryness and sleep problems can be solved with OTC drugs, such as sleeping pills or topical estrogen to be applied in the vaginal area.

Instead of taking prescription hormones, you can add foods high in plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) to your diet:

  • Soy and its products
  • Fennel
  • Celery
  • Parsley
  • Flaxseed and linseed oils
  • Grapes
  • Beans
  • Black and green tea
  • Sesame.

Increase your intake of omega-3 to reduce the inflammatory potential of phytoestrogens.

You may be at greater risk for osteoporosis since estrogen is responsible for keeping your bones healthy. Raise your calcium and vitamin D intake and do regular resistance exercises with weights to avoid osteoporosis. Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D are dairy products, sardines, tofu, salmon, seafood, and leafy greens.

Avoid high amounts of alcohol, caffeine, or spicy food that may trigger hot flashes. Sleep with a fan on and practice yoga, tai chi, and meditation for better sleep.

Related: Alleviate Menopausal Symptoms with these 8 Natural Remedies

elderly woman smiling

Acupuncture may also help with symptoms; it was proven to help with hot flashes and night sweats, mood swings and anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, and vaginal dryness in a 2019 study. It is a safe, minimally invasive, and effective treatment with minimal side effects.

If you don’t take hormones, sedatives, or blood pressure medicine, you’re not allergic to aspirin and don’t have liver problems, you can also take a well-known herbal medicine called black cohosh. It is a native North American plant used as a popular remedy for symptoms of menopause such as headaches, hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood changes, and sleep problems.

It is also used to relieve arthritis pain and lower blood pressure. For menopausal symptoms, the dosage will be anywhere between 20 and 40 mg twice a day. Do not take it for more than three months at a time. Allow for a three-week rest, and then begin a new three-month cycle.

Related: Going Through Menopause? Take These 10 Supplements!

Include high-quality protein in each of your meals. 25 to 30 g of protein a meal may protect you against loss of lean muscle tissue, which, in turn, will protect you from fractures and falling. If 25 g sounds like a lot, know that a piece of salmon the size of a bar of soap packs 22 g of protein. You will also find protein in eggs, beef, seafood, and poultry, as well as nuts, soy and tofu, beans, and other legumes.

Stay socially active, challenge yourself to learn something new, and remember that there is grace in aging if you let yourself embrace it. 

Sources: 1, 2, 3.

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