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We’ve all heard the phrase “going through the change” but what does it actually mean – and can you treat the symptoms of menopause without taking hormones? Here, I explain how making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can dramatically decrease the need for HRT.
The menopause marks the end of menstruation. During this time a woman’s body prepares to switch off its reproductive system and stop producing eggs. This means she will no longer be able to have a period or have children naturally. The average age is 51 (in the UK) but some women experience it in their 30s or 40s. During this time a woman’s body prepares to switch off its reproductive system and stop producing eggs. This means she will no longer be able to have a period or have children naturally.
The years leading up to menopause are called peri-menopause and can be a source of worry and frustration. As hormone levels change, many women experience hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings and insomnia – just to name a few.
Some women find these symptoms can lead to awkwardness. For example, having hot flushes in the middle of meetings in front of their work colleagues. Others have mood swings so severe that it can put strain on their relationships.
We get taught at medical school that symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats are a result of falling oestrogen levels. However, every menopausal woman will have falling oestrogen levels but not every woman will have menopausal symptoms.
Why? Because there are many other factors that play a part – most importantly, nutrition and lifestyle.
The actual process of menopause is unavoidable – and so are the hormonal changes that can cause menopausal symptoms. However, it’s not just your hormone levels in isolation that dictate how unpleasant the symptoms are or even if you get them at all. Making positive changes to your lifestyle – eating better, moving better, sleeping better as well as knowing how to react in stressful situations – will all make your body better able to keep these symptoms under control.
I often manage to successfully treat menopausal symptoms without using hormones. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is a treatment used to relieve symptoms of the menopause by replacing some of the hormones that are decreasing in the peri-menopause. However, HRT has been linked with certain risks and side effects so I try and avoid prescribing it until I have explored all other options.
As always, I like to look at the root cause of problems rather than simply suppressing symptoms.
The first thing to understand is that hormones are messengers of communication. That is their job – to help communicate between different parts of the body. What’s key, however, is that they are all linked. If one set of hormones goes up, the other hormones in your body will change as they try and compensate for the fluctuating hormone. No hormone works in isolation. It is like a complex symphony where everything affects everything else.
If your stress hormones – like cortisol – are raised, this will have an impact on many of your other hormones. If you are on a blood sugar roller coaster all day because of your high sugar diet, your insulin levels will be fluctuating and this can lead to subsequent changes in your cortisol and adrenaline levels. They’re all linked.
Often I find when women make some simple (although often, not easy) changes to their diet and lifestyle, they can rapidly start to improve their hormonal symptoms.
These are some of the key areas I work on to improve hormonal balance:
If you’re suffering from peri-menopausal symptoms, why don’t you give these ideas a go before taking HRT? As always, I’m on hand to answer any questions that you may have. You can comment below or share your stories with me on Facebook or Twitter – I’d love to hear how you go.
— Dr Chatterjee