Staying Healthy During Menopause
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on January 24, 2019 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Menopause
During menopause, your body undergoes a lot of changes. As estrogen levels drop, you may experience hot flashes, your mood might change dramatically and your menstrual cycle will come to a halt.
Amidst all these changes are a number of health risks, as well. Estrogen plays numerous roles in the body, and its decrease can significantly affect you. It’s very important for women going through menopause to take an active role in their health and prioritize healthy choices to minimize their risk for problems down the road.
Potential health risks during menopause
There are a few main risks that women experiencing menopause may face during their transitions. Specifically, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer are the major problems. There are also many other, more minor changes or risks that can contribute to an overall decrease in health.
One of the most common problems women experiencing menopause face is osteoporosis, or a condition in which the bones lose too much density. Estrogen is not only important for reproductive health, but also the health of your bones.
Women who have experienced menopause are at a higher risk for osteoporosis because estrogen helps the body absorb calcium, which is critical in retaining and building bone density. As you age, you lose bone rapidly. Having low levels of calcium can expedite this process, leading to brittle bones that are easily broken or fractured.
Another major risk for menopausal women is heart disease. Unbeknownst to many, estrogen actually plays an important role in the health of your heart. It helps improve flexibility within your vessels, so when estrogen levels drop, your vessels become more rigid. Blood flow may become restricted as a result. Estrogen also helps regulate cholesterol.
On top of other age-related problems like high blood pressure and excessive weight gain, restricted blood flow may put menopausal women at risk for heart disease.
More minor health risks for women during and after menopause include sleep disruption, weight gain, depression and more.
Sleep problems, in particular, can put a damper on your health every day. Continuously losing sleep can hamper your immune system, reduce your body’s ability to heal, worsen depression and increase stress. Sleep deprivation can also be dangerous in combination with osteoporosis, making you more likely to fall and become injured.
To improve sleep, maintain a regular sleep schedule to avoid disrupting your body’s circadian rhythms. Exercise during the day to make you more tired at night and create calm, dark atmospheres to relax in before heading to bed. In some cases, melatonin may help you fall asleep at the right time and stay asleep throughout the night.
Overall, getting solid rest may help improve your day-to-day symptoms and reduce the stress you experience during this somewhat tumultuous period of aging.
How to maintain good health during and after menopause
In addition to getting good sleep, there are a lot of ways you can improve your help during and after menopause to reduce your risk for heart disease and osteoporosis and feel better overall.
First, make sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet full of nutritious foods. Diet is extremely important as you transition in and out of menopause. Cut back on processed foods and refined sugars, as these can lead to weight gain and worsen heart health.
One nutrient you should focus on in particular is calcium. Increasing your calcium intake can help fight the effects of osteoporosis. Calcium can be found in dairy products, broccoli and legumes. You may need to take a supplement if your diet is lacking in calcium or if you’re unable to ingest enough as you age.
Along with calcium, make sure to increase your vitamin D intake. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. The best way to get vitamin D is to spend time in the sun.
Eating a healthy diet will also help you maintain a healthy weight. Many women struggle with weight gain after menopause, which can be harmful to your heart, as well as problematic if you suffer from osteoporosis. Balanced, nutritious meals will help keep weight gain in check to prevent these problems.
Second, you’ll want to make time for routine exercise. Exercise contributes to health in a wide variety of ways. It can help manage excessive weight gain, improve cardiovascular health and help you feel better mentally and physically.
Additionally, regular weight-bearing exercise can help with osteoporosis by preventing bone loss. Even doing as little as taking a 20-minute walk each day can work wonders for your body and mind and make the effects of menopause much easier to manage.
Menopause can be a difficult transition for many women, but it does not need to be an unhealthy one. By putting your health first, you’ll be able to significantly reduce your risk of major health problems and live a long and healthy life.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan