Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period. You can start to transition into menopause as early as your mid-30s, with most women entering menopause in their 40s or 50s.This is known as peri-menopause or pre-menopause. For some, menopause comes earlier due to high stress and/ or health conditions, including a history of eating disorders, cancer treatment or surgical removal of the ovaries.
Menopause is a completely natural biological process, and therefore not a problem to solve. And although it concludes the time in a woman’s life for fertility, you can stay healthy, vital and sexual through your 50s and well beyond. That being said, there is generally a hormonal shift that occurs in women during menopause that may lead to mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia and other common symptoms.
I’ve been talking about menopause and peri menopause in my womens circles for a few years now and most of the women seem to think it doesn’t happen until you are late 50’s-60’s…well I have news for you…symptoms can start as early as 30s and when I say that to women who are post menopausal they nod and identify that they may not have had physical symptoms, but they made some big changes in their lives that they now look back on as “the start of it all!”
So, first you need to know it’s not just about periods stopping…there’s a whole load of other stuff going on!
Tiredness, irritability, fuzzy thinking, gaining weight…. these are all menopause-related symptoms….and according to the Womens Health Network the average woman has eight different menopause-related symptoms. But she may never connect the dots to realise that the underlying cause behind all of these confusing symptoms is menopause!
And then there’s the “Bullshit detector”….suddenly (so it seems) you just won’t put up with the bullshit, fakeness, lack of authenticity around you…so you may find yourself dropping friends, family, changing jobs, moving….It’s a lot to deal with! But lets come back to the physical, emotional and mental changes…(oh and theres the spiritual changes too…but I think I’ll focus on that later!)
Because of all the changes going on inside your body are happening too quickly for your body to manage them you may experience wide-ranging symptoms, from fatigue and moodiness to vaginal dryness and joint discomfort, to low libido and fuzzy thinking. You may just think these are signs of worsening PMS but in fact it’s the start of your menopause transition…..
And it’s not just your hormones that can affect how you feel: insulin levels, thyroid function and adrenal health are all intertwined with hormones too, because all your body’s hormones affect one another. This explains why the conventional approach to menopause and symptom relief is often too simplistic to be safe and effective.
The best way to know if you’re in menopause is to check in with how you’re feeling and do it often, especially because there’s no single test to confirm you’re in perimenopause or menopause!
Here are some common symptoms of perimenopause & menopause
Cycle becoming irregular: The most important question to ask “is it irregular for you?” in terms of the length of your cycle or heaviness of your bleed. Changes in your moontime are often the first signal that you’re beginning to shift in perimenopause.
Hot flushes and night sweats: Hot flushes can strike once a day, or up to 20 times or more, causing intense flashes of heat along with increased heart rate, dizziness, headache and even claustrophobia or the feeling of being trapped. They can be debilitating, especially when they occur and night and cause sleeplessness….leading on to…
Sleep difficulties: You may toss and turn restlessly as you try to sleep, or wake up regularly in the middle of the night. Insomnia is often caused by a progesterone deficiency in perimenopause or menopause.
Headaches/Migraines:Hormonal headaches occur due to imbalanced levels between oestrogen and progesterone. This is why many women notice headaches right before their periods when progesterone naturally dips. Progesterone can also drop during perimenopause (the period leading up to menopause) sometimes causing headaches as well.
Weight gain: Changes to your weight or the shape of your body are another noticeable symptom. Shifting hormones tell your body to store fat in the abdominal area, even if you’ve never had a weight problem before. This fat is difficult to lose even with diet and exercise.
Fatigue/loss of energy: Not getting enough sleep may make you feel tired, but fatigue can occur even when you get a lot of rest, leaving you feeling physically and emotionally drained.
Forgetfulness or fuzzy thinking: One of the most alarming symptoms for many women is memory changes or fuzzy thinking — and it’s extremely common.
Thinning hair or hair loss: Imbalances between oestrogen and testosterone can cause thinning hair. Many women start to notice clumps of hair in their shower drains during menopause or perimenopause.
Vaginal dryness: It can be a difficult symptom to discuss, but 50% of women in perimenopause and menopause experience vaginal changes, with dryness, itching and pain that affect their sex lives, activities and even the clothes they wear.
Low libido: While vaginal dryness can contribute to low libido, a drop in progesterone or a testosterone deficiency by itself can also leave you without a sex drive.
Joint discomfort /stiffness: Joint pain or stiffness in the back, knees or hips is an unexpected symptom that may be caused by fluctuating oestrogen levels. Hard to believe but true!
Food cravings: If you had cravings with PMS, you may notice they are getting worse. This can be due to your body’s increased needs for valuable micronutrients, or to the “crash cycle” pattern of fatigue/carbohydrates/fatigue with hormonal imbalance that so many of us fall into.
Digestive discomfort: Embarrassing and uncomfortable gas, diarrhea, and constipation can all increase in perimenopause and menopause.
Anxiety and/or sadness: Perimenopause can raise your stress levels, and can create hormonal imbalances that affect mood and emotional health. Stress hormones directly affect the production and balance of other hormones.
Irritability and/or moodiness: Feeling angry all the time and snapping at your friends and family doesn’t feel good — for you or them. Outbursts and mood swings are some of the first signs many women notice in perimenopause.
PMS-like symptoms: You may think stronger cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches or mood swings are due to worsening PMS, but as symptoms get more frequent or severe, it’s often a sign of perimenopause.
Feeling overwhelmed: Perimenopause and menopause can compound existing stress levels, causing your body to be overcome with too many demands. Under these conditions, it’s likely you’ll feel overwhelmed mentally and feel unable to deal effectively with anything.
Look into how you can reduce your perimenopause symptoms naturally
Your symptoms are your body’s way of getting your attention. By listening to your body you’ll be able to find out what support it needs to naturally rebalance its hormones. Effective natural options include include vitamins and minerals, and simple dietary and lifestyle adjustments that can provide relief by resolving the single root cause of all your symptoms.
What types of things can you do to help get find relief from menopause symptoms? First and foremost, it’s important to realise that in most women, symptoms such as night sweats will decrease over time and then often go away completely without any treatment, including hormone replacement drugs. As the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care puts it, “Menopause is not an illness. It is normal for hormone levels to fall in middle age. These hormones do not need to be replaced.”
Natural remedies for menopause symptoms — meaning those that don’t involve taking hormone replacement therapy drugs — are safe and can be helpful during this transition phase to decrease symptom severity and duration. These include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, taking certain beneficial supplements to balance hormones, and using natural herbal treatments, such as black cohosh and progesterone cream.
Allies that will support the Menopause Transition…
Wider Community & Relationships
Comprehensive clinical trials have shown that lifestyle habits including regular exercise, sleep management, optimal nutrition, healthy relationships, social support, and relaxation can be effective as a “whole system approach” to supporting menopause symptoms . Connect with other women- listening partnerships, inspiring stories (Red Moon Passage book), women’s circles- red tent groups, purple tent groups, grandmother circles, inspiring older women in your community and in the media.
When trying to balance hormones and reduce menopause symptoms, your diet should include plenty of essential minerals and healthy fats. Filling up on the following foods which are “hormone-balancing,” nutrient-dense and unprocessed can help you eliminate your intake of empty calories and manage weight gain.
Keep in mind that you might need to consume less calories overall in order to maintain your weight as you get older. Due to a decrease in muscle mass and slowing of your metabolism, it’s more important than ever to limit processed foods and focus on eating a clean diet.
Organic fruits and vegetables: These contain dietary fibre to manage your appetite, antioxidants to slow the ageing process and phytosterols that can help balance hormones.
Cruciferous vegetables: Vegetables in the cruciferous family such as broccoli, cabbage and kale contain indole-3-carbinol, which naturally helps to balance oestrogen levels. These veggies are also high in fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K and electrolytes that are important for blood pressure and heart health.
High-fibre foods: Fibre is important for cardiovascular and digestive health, plus maintaining a healthy weight. Some studies have even found that diets higher in fibre might help to balance production of oestrogen. High-fibre diets are associated with less weight gain, healthier cholesterol levels and reduced constipation. Some of the best sources include nuts, seeds, legumes/beans, ancient grains, avocado, veggies and fruit.
Tempeh- Fermented soya contains a phytoestrogen that can help balance hormones. However, avoid this if you have had oestrogen-positive breast cancer in the past.
Phytoestrogen foods: Phytoestrogens are plant-based oestrogens that can mimic the effects of natural hormones your body produces. Their effects are controversial, so the research on their benefits or risks can seem overwhelming and conflicting. However, a large variety of studies have proved these dietary oestrogens actually help some women during menopause by reducing cancer risk, reducing night flashes, protecting the heart and making a decrease in natural oestrogen feel less drastic.
Omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fats from fish and flaxseed can protect the heart, promote smooth skin and help to counteract inflammation from omega-6 fats (found mostly in refined oils and low quality meat). Some of the best sources include wild-caught salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel and anchovies. Studies show that frequently consuming omega-3s facilitates in hormone production and might help to prevent preeclampsia, postpartum depression, menopausal problems, postmenopausal osteoporosis, heart complications, depression and breast cancer.
Healthy fats and cold-pressed oils: It’s true that fats have more calories than protein or carbohydrates do, but they are also the building blocks for hormone production, keep inflammation levels low, boost your metabolism and promote satiety that is important for preventing weight gain. Unrefined oils provide essential vitamin E that helps regulate oestrogen production. Look for virgin coconut oil, palm oil, extra-virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil. Other sources of healthy fats include avocado, coconut milk, nuts, seeds and wild seafood.
Probiotic foods: Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can actually improve your production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin. They’re even capable of raising immune function and protecting cognitive functioning. The best sources include yogurt, kefir, cultured veggies such as sauerkraut or kimchi, kombucha and other fermented foods.
Water: Aim for 8 glasses daily to help replace fluid lost from hot flashes and to decrease bloating.
Avoid Foods that Make Symptoms Worse
Packaged foods: The No. 1 food to avoid during menopause? Packaged and processed foods. The majority of processed/packaged foods contain added sugar (see below), chemical preservatives, high amounts of sodium, toxins and synthetic additives. Many of these foods are typically high in carbohydrates that can cause worsened hormone imbalances, and may contain GMO ingredients that are toxic to the liver.
Conventional meat: Conventional (farm-raised) neat or poultry may contain added hormones that can cause problems, including increased inflammation. Make sure to choose hormone-free, grass-fed, cage-free or pasture-raised animal proteins whenever possible. Buying organic meat, eggs, dairy and poultry is another layer of protection that ensures that you won’t be consuming antibiotics, GMO-fed meat and added hormones.
Added sugar: High intake of added sugar can cause weight gain, digestive issues, worsened hormone imbalances and candida, increasing hot flashes and other symptoms.
Refined oils and fried foods: Foods cooked in highly-processed vegetable oils (sunflower, corn, safflower, soybean or canola oil, for example) are high in omega-6 fats that can contribute to inflammation and other health problems. Fried foods and transfats are also tied to heart problems, weight gain, diabetes and cognitive impairments.
Carbonated drinks: Carbonated soda or other drinks may be able to deplete the body of calcium and contribute to osteoporosis, bone loss and teeth problems.
Alcohol: Many women find that drinking more than “moderate” amounts of alcohol can aggravate hot flashes and contribute to weight gain.
Herbs and Supplements for Menopause Relief
Motherwort: fast relief for those with menstrual cramps. A 5-10 drop dose, taken at the first twinge of pain and repeated every 10-15 minutes, or as needed, will do the trick for most women Motherwort is a favourite ally of menopausal women too. A dropperful stops hot flashes, relieves rapid heartbeat, soothes frayed nerves, and helps the tears flow. A dose of 10-15 drops taken just before bed can help ensure deeper sleep. Daily use of 15 drops several times a day can improve vaginal elasticity and bolster libido.
Black Cohosh: Can help prevent menopausal symptoms including hot flashes and night sweats. Research shows it might also help improve sleep quality, reduce hormonal imbalances tied to diabetes or fibroids, and even help women with fertility prior to menopause. This works better taken for 3 months and then have a break for 6 weeks and start taking again.
Vitex or Chasteberry: Vitex has been clinically proven to relieve hot flashes. It also has many of the same hormone-balancing properties as black cohosh, helping to regulate hormones tied to sleep problems, fibroids, skin changes and irregular periods. Research shows that vitex increases luteinizing hormone, modulates prolactin and aids in the inhibition of the release of follicle-stimulating hormone, which all helps balance out the ratio of progesterone to oestrogen, slightly raising the levels of progesterone.
American Ginseng: For thousands of years, ginseng has been used to increase energy and sexual arousal. Some research suggests it can help relieve hot flashes, fatigue, depression and cognitive impairments, and vaginal dryness.
Red clover: Can help prevent loss of bone density and lower risk for heart complications. Red clover contains isoflavones that have positive effects in reducing symptoms related to oestrogen loss — such as hot flashes, trouble sleeping, weight gain, bone loss, bone fractures or osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems, and inflammation of the joints.
St. John’s Wort:This herb has been safely used for over 2,000 years, often to lower anxiety, depression and sleep-related problems. It may be able to help to stabilize your mood, reduce inflammation, improve your sleep and make the emotional/mental transition through menopause a bit easier.
Maca Root As an adaptogen herb, maca has been used for thousands of years to lower the effects of stress and aging on the body by decreasing cortisol levels. It can help reduce hot flashes, low energy/fatigue, restlessness and weight gain while improving libido and energy.
Adaptogen Herbs: These plants offer protection from a variety of diseases, including those caused by excess stress. Adapotogens include ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms, rhodiola and holy basil. Research shows they can help improve thyroid function, lower cholesterol, reduce anxiety and depression, reduce brain cell degeneration, and stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.
Although less commonly used at home on your own, other botanicals/herbs can also help manage symptoms including: evening primrose oil, licorice root, wild yams, red raspberry leaves, chaste tree and sarsaparilla. Each one has a specific symptom (or sometimes symptoms) that they are able to help treat, so it can be very helpful to talk with a trained naturopath doctor to help guide you into using proper dosages and combinations.
Vitamins are defined as any group of organic compounds that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet.
Vitamin A – promoted an antioxidant to boost your immune system. May slow skin ageing.
Caution: Can be toxic taken in large doses.
Food sources include: sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, dried apricots, bell peppers, fish, liver, tropical fruits
Vitamin B Group
B5 (pantothenic acid)
B9 (folic acid)
These vitamins help your body to make energy from the food you eat and help to form red blood cells.
Food sources include: fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products, leafy green vegetables, beans, peas. Many cereals and some breads have added B vitamins.
A lack of B12 or B6 can cause anaemia. B9 is important for young women planning to become pregnant.
Vitamin C –promoted as an antioxidant to boost your immune system.
Food sources include: citrus fruit, leafy vegetables, red or green peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, cantaloup
Vitamin D –known as the sunshine drug. Known to reduce risk of breast cancer, offer protection from ovarian cancer and diabetes. Helps calcium absorption and plays a large part in muscle function.
For more information on the benefits of Vitamin D see this article: Vitamin D Facts.
Food sources include: milk, orange juice, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, boiled eggs. Fortified foods are a good source. Vitamin D is added to milk and other dairy products and cereals. Check the food label to see if vitamin D has been added to your staple foods.
Vitamin E – may protect against heart disease. Some women find that a high dose of vitamin E help with hot flushes, however, whilst studies have been encouraging it would appear that vitamin E has a relatively minor effect on hot flushes.
Food sources include: sunflower seeds, paprika and red chilli powder, almonds, dried apricots, cooked spinach, pickled green olives.
Also known for its beneficial effects on skin and hair.
Magnesium-Studies show that magnesium benefits symptoms of anxiety, irritability, insomnia and water retention ― all common symptoms of menopause. In addition, magnesium increases levels of the mood-elevating neurotransmitter serotonin, which is important to improving sleep and memory, as well as depression. Lack of magnesium can make itself felt in a number of ways ― stress, anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability and insomnia, to name a few.
Depending on your magnesium levels over time, you may have previously escaped these problems or experienced them only irregularly. But with the advent of perimenopause and menopause, some or all of these symptoms commonly appear or worsen for many women. Some may be severe.
Phosphorus – an essential nutrient for cell functioning and regulation of calcium. Phosphorus is a nutrient that we all need and is found in almost all food, therefore, deficiency is rare. Bran and wheatgerm, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews and almond, soya, beans, cheese, eggs, sardines.
Iron –too little of this mineral and you can become anemic (lacking in red blood cells), your immune system can also become weak. (Iron is also good for women experiencing heavy periods).
Food sources – you can probably get what you need from one cup of some breakfast cereals or iron rich goods like red meat. If these are not part of your diet you may need a supplement. Take advice from your healthcare professional as too much iron can be harmful.
Zinc –small doses helps with skin damage and repair as well as promoting a healthy immune system.
Food sources include – oysters, toasted wheat germ, veal liver, roast beef, roasted pumpkin and squash seeds, dark chocolate and cocoa powder, lamb, crab.
Copper –small doses may prevent bone loss. (Copper supplements should be taken alongside zinc.
Food sources include – liver (pate), oysters, sesame seeds, cocoa powder and chocolate, nuts, calamari and lobster, sun-dried tomatoes.
Manganese – low levels of manganese can result from a highly processed diet of convenience food. It is sometimes recommended that iron and manganese are taken together.
Food sources include – spices and herbs, wheat germ and bran, nuts, mussels, oysters and clams, roasted pumpkin, flaxseed and sesame seeds.
Selenium – selenium supplements have been associated with a reduction in cancers although study outcomes vary. To achieve this protective effect you will need higher amounts of selenium than can be provided by diet alone.
Food sources include – brazil nuts are the richest source, shellfish, liver, fish, brain, sunflower seeds, bacon and pork chops, lobster and crab, shrimp and prawn.
Probiotics –In order to be of benefit, probiotics must reach the intestine in sufficient quantities and so resist the effects of stomach acids. Certain strains of probiotics balance the intestinal microbiome, which helps support normal digestive and immune health. You can boost friendly gut bacteria by including low-fat probiotic milk, yogurts and other dairy products in your daily diet.
Ideally see a naturopathic nutritionist.
Get the vitamins and minerals (nutrients) your body needs through food first by eating a healthy diet consisting of fruit, vegetables and whole-grains..
Make sure that you absorb the nutrients: take your supplements as directed in the information and avoid caffeine as it inhibits absorption.
Caution: Always read the labels of ingredients and follow the recommended dosage. You must consult with your healthcare professional if you are taking prescribed medication and to ensure that the supplement will be beneficial for you.
Lets Look at Stress!
Many women experience increased anxiety, moodiness and even episodes of depression during the menopause years. Managing stress in your life is one important way to reduce behaviours or symptoms like emotional eating and weight gain, fatigue, getting poor sleep and low libido. Different stress-reducing complimentary and alternative medicines work for different people. Some effective ways to relieve stress include: exercise, meditation, acupuncture, aromatherapy, spending time in nature, fostering close relationships, volunteering and dedicating time to spiritual practices.
You may need to make some big life changes to reduce stress, take these steps carefully- be sure they won’t create more stress in the long run.
Clary Sage Oil
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Phytotherapy Research found that inhalation of clary sage oil had the ability to reduce cortisol levels by 36% and improved thyroid hormone levels (TSH). The study was done on 22 post-menopausal women in their 50’s, some of which were diagnosed with depression and at the end of trial the researchers stated that “clary sage oil had a statistically significant effect on lowering cortisol and had an anti-depressant effect improving mood”. This is just one of the many studies proving clary sage oil benefits hormones.
The biggest benefit of clary sage is that it helps balance out oestrogen production in the body. A lot of health issues today, even things like infertility, PCOS and oestrogen-based cancers, are caused from excess oestrogen in the body — in part, because of our consumption of high-oestrogen foods.
Because clary sage helps balance out those oestrogen levels, it’s an incredibly effective essential oil in the a wide array of hormone imbalances. So, whether you’re looking for natural remedies for PMS cramps during the month,or possibly already know you have excess oestrogen in your body, clary sage is a great essential oil to consider adding to your essential oil regime.
Research discussed in the Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine discovered thyme essential oil has progesterone balancing effects.
Thyme oil benefits the body by improving progesterone production. Both men and a lot of women are low in progesterone, and low progesterone levels have been linked with infertility, PCOS and depression as well as other imbalanced hormones within the body.
Improved progesterone makes thyme a great essential oil you can use to naturally balance out hormones in your body.
Of these three essential oils for hormones, sandalwood essential oil is very effective at balancing out testosterone levels in both men and women
Using Essential Oils
An oil burner is the easiest way to use oils, add a few drops of oil to the water on the top of your burner.
You can simply mix some coconut oil with the essential oil, itself, and rub it on different areas of the body. And, because essentials oils are so small molecularly, they can actually be absorbed into your body through your skin, so you can get full body effects simply by putting essential oils directly on the skin.
I like to put some Epsom salts in a jar and add essential oils to the salts, the after the salts have soaked up the oils, sprinkle into your bath…add rose petals for extra luxury!
A few other essential oils are also known to balance and support hormone health in the body include Rose essential oil, which has been used also as an aphrodisiac, as well as a natural mood lifter. It’s been shown to help in improving serotonin and other neuropeptides in the brain — aka those good mood hormones.
lavender oil and chamomile oil are effective at reducing stress, therefore naturally lowering cortisol levels, which is very important for the body when it’s trying to overcome disease.
In general, one of the best essential oils for thyroid function and autoimmune issues is frankincense oil, which reduces inflammation, also helping to lower those cortisol levels.
Exercise is important for managing several risk factors associated with menopause complications, including becoming overweight or obese, having high levels of inflammation, getting poor sleep, experiencing bone loss or muscle wasting, and dealing with chronic stress. Certain studies have found that even if you haven’t been very active in the past, starting an exercise routine consisting of aerobic and strength-training exercise training at least three times per week for 12 weeks can result in improvements in sleep quality, insomnia and depression. I recommend engaging in ten to thirty minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week. This will strengthen your bones, help prevent weight gain and preserve lean muscle mass, which can lower the risk for osteoporosis and obesity.
Studies show that both excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher levels of morning cortisol, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. To allow your body to recover from stress, control your appetite and improve energy, aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Insomnia?Take naps/rest where you can, when insomnia hits this is difficult, so find ways to rest while not sleeping if you’re having bouts of insomnia, have a head torch and a good book, listen to meditations or soothing music on an iPod, give yourself healing- make use of these wakeful hours as best you can.
Supplements for menoause- http://menopausehealthmatters.com/menopause-supplements/
Alan R Gaby, Forrest Batz, Rick Chester, “A-Z Guide to Drug, Herb, Vitamin Interaction: Improve Your Health And Avoid Side Effects When Using Common Medications.” (2006)
Jewel Pookrum, “Vitamins and Minerals from A-Z, (Ethno-Conscious Series), (2010)
Menopause. Retrieved from http://www.marilynglenville.com/womens-health-issues/menopause/
Diet, Exercise & Lifestyle. Retrieved from http://www.menopausematters.co.uk/diet.php
Healthy Eating for Strong Bones. Retrieved from https://www.nos.org.uk/healthy-bones-and-risks/healthy-bones?
Probiotics. Retrieved from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/probiotics/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Dr Axe- https://draxe.com/5-natural-remedies-menopause-relief/
Disclaimer-Any health advice that I give is my opinion based on my general professional experience but not your specific case. As such, you should always seek the advice of your own health professionals.
You are advised to do your own due diligence when it comes to making decisions about and all information, products, services that have been provided should be independently verified by your own qualified professionals.
Join me in my Broken Basket Woman online teachings, exploring the journey to menopause.
Read my other Blog posts on peri menopause
For Cycle Charting tools see Moon Times
(c) Rachael Crow all rights reserved 2018