Menopause is one subject that gives pause to women and their health-care providers when it comes to discussing women’s health. For middle-aged women – as well as a few younger and some older – it is the nearly inevitable condition that awaits when a woman’s ovaries quit releasing eggs and menstruation comes to a gradual halt.
Menopause can be described as a transition accompanied by fluctuating hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone are the two main hormones in women, per consumerhealthdigest.com) and a number of symptoms that usually become evident when a woman is in her 40s (sometimes earlier, occasionally later). Even though menopause is a normal part of aging for women, it can be induced by other triggers such as damage to the ovaries, undergoing a hysterectomy, or as the result of chemotherapy treatments, per webmd.com.
When menstruation finally comes to a halt for good, it usually means that the woman’s chances for future pregnancies is no longer possible, as eggs are no longer being released to be fertilized.
Menopause Signs & Symptoms
Any mention of menopause usually conjures up “hot flashes” as being the most prominent of the signs and symptoms, but there certainly are others. Note that most women make it through menopause without experiencing any complications or major symptoms, although keep in mind that the accompanying symptoms can affect not only the reproductive system but also your bones, breasts, metabolism, skin, hair, brain, etc., per consumerhealthdigest.com. Following is a summary of the most common symptoms beginning, yes, with the hot flashes:
- Hot flashes. Men and women alike sometimes will joke about “hot flashes,” but they are nothing to scoff at, especially for women experiencing them. These can come on suddenly and they vary in intensity – from mild to strong, as a hot feeling over most or all of the body. They can even be accompanied by facial redness and body sweats.
- Mood changes. Periods of depression and irritability have been reported, with some mood changes coming on quite suddenly.
- Night sweats. Speaking of body sweats, this menopausal symptom refers to hot flashes intense enough to wake up a woman out of her sleep in the middle of the night.
- Vaginal dryness. The production of moisture, which helps protect the vagina and keep it healthy, is regulated by the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This production of moisture drops during menopause as the levels of the hormones decrease, producing dryness in the vagina that can be accompanied by itching and burning, noticed especially while urinating.
- Sleep issues. Insomnia is another typical symptom, manifested in having trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. The cause: Usually it’s those annoying hot flashes and sweating.
- Decreased libido. Yes, a diminished sex drive. However, it needn’t be a lost cause, per redbookmag.com, which describes sex as a “use it or lose it” proposition. “If the woman is in an active sexual relationship, and continues that way, that often causes the vaginal lining to protect itself because you’re using it and it’s being stimulated,” says Dr. Wulf Utian, founder and medical director of the North American Menopause Society, quoted at redbookmag.com. If pain is still present, an extra dose of estrogen might help.
- Other symptoms. These can include slowed metabolism, weight gain, thinning hair, dry skin, and loss of breast fullness, per Mayo Clinic.
Proper Nutrition Can Alleviate Menopause Issues
Good nutrition can counter or fend off many unwanted health issues, and that includes menopause. Here are some dietary guidelines, based on information per webmd.com:
- Get plenty of calcium. Or at least the recommended daily amount. Dairy products and calcium-rich foods such as broccoli, legumes, sardines, and salmon can supply ample amounts of calcium. Shoot for 1,200 milligrams a day, and nutritional supplements can help as well.
- Load up on iron, too. Foods loaded with iron include eggs, leafy green vegetables, nuts, fish, red meat, and poultry. Supplements available here, too.
- Fiber. Foods high in fiber include whole-grain breads, pasta, cereals, and rice, as well as the old standbys – fruits and vegetables.
- Black cohosh. A native-American herb has been used for centuries as a natural support for women’s health.