Back Pain and brittle bones
Bones are mostly made of collagen, a protein, which is woven into a flexible framework, as well as calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate, minerals that add strength and harden the framework. Because it is a growing tissue, throughout the lifetime old bones are being broken down and the new ones are added to the skeleton.
‘During and after menopause, when oestrogen levels are low, the process of bone loss starts to speed up and it can lead to osteoporosis. That’s when women should keep their bones healthy and strong by following a healthy diet and maintaining a good exercise routine, including weight-bearing exercises. It is also crucial to support your body in this difficult time with the right supplement. Nature’s Plus AgeLoss Bone Support (Whole Foods, £47.00) focuses on replenishing bone rejuvenation, including bone flexibility as well as density. Packed with Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamins D3, K2, Guava, Mustard and Moringa Extracts as well as antioxidant blend it supports a healthy inflammation response.’ recommends Michela Vagnini, Nutritonist at www.naturesplus.co.uk.
Hormonal imbalances associated with menopause have a significant impact on our muscles and joints. Oestrogen gives strength to muscles and ligaments, so when these levels fluctuate at this time, we can feel achy and become more vulnerable to injury. This, coupled with the normal wear and tear of ageing, can cause chronic back pain. Even though, exercise might seem like the last thing that you want to do, when you suffer with back pain, it can actually bring an enormous relief. ‘Try to do Pilates at least twice a week with a well-qualified teacher (www.bodycontrolpilates.com) to strengthen your back muscles and improve core stability. Unlike other sports and exercises, Pilates id done in safe and supportive positions to cut out the risk of strain on joints.’ Suggests Lynn Robinson, Founder of Body Control Pilates and author of Pilates For Life.
Excess wind and constipation
‘During menopause excess wind, constipation and bloating can be a common issue. Hormones such as oestrogen become unbalanced, causing decreased levels of bile, a substance than keeps the gut lubricated. That leads to dry stool (and eventually constipation), which together with water retention and intestinal gas can cause bloating stomach. To make sure that you have enough of the ‘friendly bacteria’ in your gut go for fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, yoghurt or pickles. You can also take a supplement, such as ProVen’s Adult 25 Billion (www.provenprobiotics.co.uk, £13.95)’ Adrienne Benjamin, Nutritionist at ProVen Probiotics.
Excess sweating and hot flushes
Hot flushes and night sweats are among the most common and uncomfortable symptoms and their frequency and severity can vary from woman to woman. ‘If you’re experiencing hot flushes, avoid clothes made from synthetic fabrics and wear layers instead to keep warm. Use bedclothes made from cotton and layers rather than a big duvet. Watch what you eat and drink. A hot drink before bedtime can often trigger night sweats or even make them worse. Try to stay away from caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods. Remember, that caffeine can be found in both food and drink (chocolate, caffeinated soft drinks, energy drinks, coffee and tea). It can cause your blood vessels to expand making you sweat more, which can increase the hot flushes. Don’t forget to move! Although it may make you feel hotter and sweatier in the short-term women, who exercise regularly, seem to have fewer flushes. You can also take Vitamin C – Bioflavonoids help to strengthen the capillaries, improving blood flow and so reducing hot flushes’. Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist and author of The Natural Solutions to Menopause (www.marilynglenville.com).
Thinning hair, lack of lustre
More than 40% of women during menopause experience hair loss. Why? ‘When the levels of female hormones drop, the effects of androgens (male hormones) can increase, causing hair to fall. Another primary cause of hair loss in women is low levels of iron. This results in loss and thinning of the hair all over the scalp, although it can be worse on the top. If this matches your symptoms, ask your doctor to test your ferritin levels (ferritin is the ‘storage’ form of iron in the body): anything below 40 ng/ml can trigger hair loss, even if this is not considered to be below the ‘normal’ range. The best sources of iron are meats, beans and lentils, green leafy vegetables and seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds. You may also need an iron supplement if you are found to be deficient. Go for Synergistic Iron by Quest Vitamins (www.nutricentre.com, £10.49).’ explains Shona Wilkinson, Head Nutritionist at www.nutricentre.com.
‘Like our skin, as we age hair tends to become dry. Although it varies greatly from woman to woman, typically in our late twenties and thirties our scalp starts to produce less oil. Hair has no natural lubrication and it relies on oils made in the hair root to keep your hair moisturised and looking glossy. To combat this, opt for products that are designed to give hair a moisture boost. Women in their menopause will benefit from an intensive moisturising treatment such as a hair mask. It is also worth switching to a sulphate free shampoo such as Naturtint Shampoo. Sulphates are harsh detergents that strip the scalp of its natural oils and can potentially cause irritation. Repeatedly stripping these oils away undermines the protective function of the natural oils our scalp produces. This can lead to dry and brittle hair and an itchy, flaky scalp. To give the appearance of thicker hair the first thing you can do is always having a regular trim every 6-8 weeks to ensure that the ends of the hair are blunt and free from split ends. A particularly good hair cut to make hair look thicker is a blunt bob.’ Kerry Capewell, hair expert at Naturtint.
Fat Around The Middle
Have you noticed an extra flab? Don’t worry, it’s completely normal. ‘If you are going into the menopause, your body will be extremely reluctant to let go of the fat around your middle. This is because fat is a manufacturing plant for oestrogen which will help protect your bones from osteoporosis. It’s a very clever system, designed to protect you, but it helps explain why mere diet and exercise alone will rarely shift that stubborn fat. The combined effect of female hormonal changes, slower metabolism and stress with high cortisol levels create a bigger likelihood of fat around the middle.’ explains Dr Marilyn.
1) Stop dieting
Stop dieting and don’t count calories, otherwise your body will think there’s a famine and will raise stress levels, which contribute to fat storage.
2) Eat little and often
Try to keep your blood sugar levels and energy levels stable by eating regularly. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a snack mid morning and one mid afternoon, with no longer than three hours between. Try not to eat carbohydrates after 6pm.
This will stop those roller-coaster highs and sugar cravings. Because your blood sugar isn’t allowed to drop, your body will no longer have to ask you for a quick fix. As the blood sugar steadies, so will the mood swings.
3) Don’t skip breakfast
If you miss breakfast your body immediately registers famine and hangs on tight to your ample stores of fat.
4) Eliminate or reduce all added sugar and refined carbohydrates
Avoid any foods that make your blood sugar rise quickly, because – as blood sugar drops again – your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to stabilise it once more and you end up caught in a catch 22 situation. Swap to whole grain alternatives that release energy slowly.
5) Add protein to each meal
Protein slows down the rate that stomach processes food and delays the passage of the carbohydrates with it. As soon as you add a protein (be it animal or vegetable) to a carbohydrate, you change it into a slower releasing carbohydrate, that keep your sugar levels at bay.
6) Eat essential fats
Long term dependency on low fat products might mean that you’re consuming less saturated fat, but also that you deficient in the good fats – essential fatty acids, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. They help to boost your metabolism so don’t forget to include them in your diet.
7) Don’t eat on the run
It gives your body the message that time is scarce, you are under pressure and stressed. Furthermore, your digestive system will be less efficient. Make a point of sitting down and eating your food as calmly, as possible.
8) Watch what you drink
Cut out all caffeine and sugary drinks and significantly reduce alcohol intake (cut it out completely for a month if you can).
Exercise or physical activity has never been more important. If you have fat around the middle of your body caused mainly by the activity of your stress hormones, exercise MUST become one of your priorities. By simply making time for exercise in your life, you can control the potentially damaging fight or flight response.
Changing the way you eat, adding supplements and an exercise regime may not seem easy at first. But be persistent because – before you know it – your clothes will start to feel loose and your shape will change.
Dry, rough Skin
Why our skin gets dry and rough during menopause? ‘It is down to a combination of lower levels of oestrogen plus ageing. Skin regenerates itself every 2-4 weeks when we are younger but take between 6-7 weeks as we get older. Low levels of oestrogen mean slower production of skin-smoothing collagen and oils as well as reduced ability to retain moisture. To reduce itchiness and dryness focus on essential Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, nuts and eggs. Omega 3, can help prevent wrinkles, delay the ageing process of the sun and keep the skin supple.’ explains Dr Marilyn Glenville.
Don’t forget about your skincare routine. Now, it’s more important than ever. ‘Wash your face twice a day with a water-soluble, gentle cleanser. Every day apply a sunscreen (30-50 SPF) that will protect your skin from free radicals and sun damage. Skin during menopause needs moisturisers packed with ingredients that will restore skin’s lipid layer. Go for essential oils (Aloe Vera, Lemon, Ylang Ylang or Green Tea) that will naturally sooth and bring relief to itchy skin. It’s important to feed your skin with the same level of respect you have when you feed your body, and as your skin is extremely porous, it is especially susceptible absorbing toxins. Try Skin Balm by What Skin Needs (www.whatskinneeds.co.uk, £13.99).’ Sonja Dymalovski, skincare specialist at What Skin Needs.
Vaginal Dryness, itching
‘It may take you longer to become lubricated during lovemaking, which can make sexual intercourse feel uncomfortable, or even painful. And not only can vaginal dryness cause pain and bleeding during intercourse, it can also increase the possibility of developing an infection, which itself compounds the problem.’ says Dr Marilyn.
‘Normally, mucus membranes located at the mouth of uterus keep the vagina moist. Oestrogen helps these membranes to produce lubrication and stay plump and soft. The lubricant is slightly acidic so it protects the vagina from foreign bacteria, keeping it free from infection. Low levels of estrogen also cause the vagina and surrounding connective tissue to lose elasticity and the tissue that lines the vagina to become thinner and more fragile. Although hormone imbalance is the most probable cause of vaginal dryness, stress and fatigue play a part, too.’ continues Dr Glenville.
Using your diet
For hormone balance it is especially important to make sure you eat enough essential fatty acids or EFAs and to supplement with fish oil. ‘A low- or no-fat diet can make your whole body drier, including the vagina. It’s also important to stock up on phytoestrogens, as research shows that foods rich in phytoestrogens, such as soya, chickpeas, lentils, flaxseeds and so on, can change the cells of the vagina so that they become more soft, elastic and moist. Vitamin C is a great nutrient when it comes to collagen formation. IT gives tissue elasticity and taken daily can ease discomfort.’ says Marilyn.
‘Go for natural bacteria! To make sure your natural bacteria is balanced not only in your gut but also in your vagina, include organic yogurt with live culture in your daily diet. You can also take daily a probiotic supplement (go for Proven Probiotic Plus Total Immune & Energy Support, available from www.nutricentre.com, £10.99).’ recommends Shona Wilkinson.
Keep it fresh down under
‘Try to avoid foams, bath salts and perfumed toilet papers. If you use feminine washes or wipes, choose those that are free from fragrances and surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulphate (SLES). They not only upset the natural balance of flora in the intimate area, but can also irritate the delicate skin around the vagina and strip the skin of natural oils too. Try Organyc Intimate Feminine Wash (www.organyc.uk, £6.95) with organic calendula, aloe vera and chamomile extracts.’ recommends Nutritionist, Cassandra Barns.
‘Loss of libido is very common around the menopause, but it can also affect women of any age. Sometimes, it is just connected with basically not having enough energy so that when you get to bed all you really want to do is sleep. It is important that your adrenal glands are not being overworked through stress or blood sugar fluctuations, as they produce androgens, male hormones that boost libido.’
‘Make sure that you are getting enough of the essential fatty acids in your diet or take a linseed oil capsule. Our hormones are manufactured from cholesterol, so a low fat or no fat can contribute to a low sex drive. When it comes to nutrients, Zinc is essential for hormone balance and sex drive, hence the old wives’ tale of using oysters (which contain high amounts of zinc) as an aphrodisiac.’ advises Dr Glenville.
Hormonal imbalances (low oestrogen, which influences the production of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’) as well as sleep deprivation and sweats can strongly affect mood levels during menopause. You are most likely to feel anxious, sad, irritated and melancholic. The good news is that simple lifestyle changes can make a huge difference. ‘Sometimes simply getting enough sleep and changing your diet can alleviate the symptoms. We’ve all heard of fish being great ‘brain food’ and there is a reason for this. Almost 60% of our brains are made up of fat, and about half of that fat is DHA omega 3 fatty acids, which really can only be found in fish. Omega 3 are known as ‘essential’ fats (essential because we cannot make them in the body and therefore need to get through eating oily fish and taking a good high strength supplement) are needed for the brain cells to actually ‘pick up’ our neurotransmitters (i.e. serotonin) so they can be utilised by the brain cells for efficiently.’ explains Shona Wilkinson.
Certain nutrients can be very helpful in reducing stress levels. ‘Go for the B vitamins, especially B5 for stress relief, as it supports adrenal function. The more stressed we are the more depressed we can become so it is important to tackle our mental state not just from the brain but also our adrenal glands. Magnesium (also known as nature’s tranquiliser) is crucial for relaxation and sleep, chromium for blood sugar balance, L-theanine for reducing anxiety and finally Siberian Ginseng, which acts as a tonic to the adrenal glands. Try NHP’s Tranquil Woman Support, which is a ready, natural blend of those minerals, vitamins and herbs (from www.naturalhealthpractice.com).’ recommends Dr Marilyn Glenville.
Many women during menopause can experience leakages of urine when they laugh, cough, sneeze or exercise. Why? ‘The drop in oestrogen after the menopause causes the bladder muscles to lose their strength and flexibility. In addition, the pressures during a vaginal birth can often weaken or stretch the tissues supporting the bladder making us more susceptible to problems after the menopause.’ explains Dr Glenville.
The main and first thing to do is to perform pelvic floor exercises. ‘Kegel exercise can help combat incontinence. To find our which muscles you need to use, the next time you go to the toilet stop urinating in midstream by contracting your muscles; these are your pelvic floor muscles. Use these muscles to perform a Kegel, contract them and hold for a count of five and then relax. Repeat this ten times and do at least five times a day.’ recommends Dr Glenville.