Managing Menopause: What is it?
Part one of a five part series on menopause and your nutritional needs
Written by Teagan Evans, University of Alberta Student in the Nutrition and Food Sciences program and reviewed by our Health Stand Nutrition Dietitian Team
Ever wondered what is going on in your body during menopause? You are not alone in this inquiry! Women naturally go through menopause. However, often the changes occurring can be daunting and confusing. Throughout this series, we hope to make the transition to menopause as smooth as possible and provide resources to help you with managing menopause and living your best life!
What is menopause?
Menopause is the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles and signals the end of her reproductive age.
The average age of a woman reaching menopause is 51, yet every woman is unique and the age at which she experiences menopause is influenced by genetics and lifestyle. Menopause occurs over many years and begins in a woman’s 40’s and 50’s with a transition phase called perimenopause.
What is perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the time leading up the final period – or menopause. Perimenopause is characterized by irregular cycles and menopausal symptoms. Transition from perimenopause to menopause is completed when a woman has experienced 12 months without a menstrual cycle.
Perimenopause & Hormonal Changes
Females produce sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, that influence their menstrual cycles in addition to other hormones. The decreased levels of these hormones cause menopausal symptoms to occur.
Increased estrogen levels signal the ovary to release an egg every month during the middle of the cycle known as ovulation. Estrogen also maintains the vaginal layers and prepares the uterus for implantation. Around the age of 40, estrogen production starts to decline. Over time, estrogen will continue to decrease and eventually production will be significantly reduced. As estrogen decreases, fewer eggs are released, and most menopausal symptoms occur.
Progesterone plays an important role in the uterine lining and healthy pregnancies. In combination with estrogen, progesterone influences the monthly ovarian egg release. Leading up to menopause, progesterone levels decrease and eventually production stops, causing some menopausal symptoms.
Follicle-stimulating Hormone and Luteinizing Hormone
Follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones play an important role in regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle. They rise leading up to ovulation and then decrease towards the end of the cycle. During perimenopause, levels of these hormones decrease and influence the irregularity and cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
How to recognize and start managing menopause
Now let’s chat about the most noticeable effects of menopause – the symptoms! Every woman will have a different experience in menopause but there are common symptoms that many will experience. Night sweats and hot flashes are most common, but symptoms can present themselves in a variety of forms as a result of the decreasing hormone levels.
- Hot Flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings – particularly an increase in depressive mood
- Decreased libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain (often in abdominal section)
- Body composition changes
- Joint Pain
- Muscle aches
- Urinary incontinence
- Skin wrinkling
- Cognitive functioning and worsening of memory
Experiencing symptoms are a normal part of menopause. They may be annoying and uncomfortable, but there are nutritional and lifestyle changes that can help manage them. Stay tuned for more information and detail in later parts of this series!
How can menopause influence my long-term health?
With all the changes occurring during menopause, it can be easy to focus on the frequent night sweats, hot flashes and insomnia. However, some of the invisible symptoms of menopause can affect your well-being – such as your cardiovascular and bone health.
Estrogen may have some protective effects against cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol levels. Estrogen also plays a role in keeping your bones strong and healthy.
While these changes can feel overwhelming, there are many dietary changes and implementations that can help you stay healthy. Maintaining a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains is a great start.
Part 2 of Managing Menopause will look into the long-term effects of menopause and what you can do about it.
You may also want to check out this previous blog post:
If you need nutrition for menopause support please reach out for help. Our Registered Dietitian team can assist you with your health and nutrition goals and help you to achieve your personal best weight (still eating foods you love). For more information please visit our personal nutrition counseling services by our Calgary Dietitian / Online Nutritionist team.
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