From irregular periods and hot flashes to night sweats and sudden weight gain, menopause can bring a host of scary symptoms with it. But there's nothing to be scared of about this natural process! Menopause is a natural process that signals the end of your menstrual cycles, and it's something all women experience as they age.
To explain it a little better: menopause is a time in a woman's life when her menstrual periods stop, and she can no longer get pregnant. Ups and downs are typical during a menstrual cycle, so skipping one or even a few months doesn't always mean you're going through menopause. Skipping an entire year, however, is one of the most common symptoms of menopause.
Menopause typically occurs between 45 and 55 but can occur earlier or later, depending on various factors. If it happens earlier, you may be experiencing premature menopause, which can occur due to medical conditions and genetics. The average age that women experience menopause symptoms in the United States is 51 years old, but some people may experience early menopause.
Everyone's experience is unique, but some common symptoms can be clues to help you figure out whether what you're experiencing is indeed menopause. For example, many women experience changes in their metabolism during natural menopause, leading to problems such as weight gain and difficulty losing weight.
Fortunately, healthy lifestyle changes and hormone therapies (like hormone replacement therapy) can help you manage your metabolic health during your menopausal journey.
More About Menopause and Its Symptoms
Menopause can be a tumultuous experience for some women. But while it can be challenging for some, it's also a natural experience and something of a milestone in a woman's life. After all, it's often a sign of the end of your fertility.
When you go through menopause, your ovaries produce fewer estrogen and progesterone hormones. For some women, the symptoms of menopause last for the entire duration of this experience—which can vary from person to person. They usually last for an average of four and a half years but can go on for up to 11! Postmenopausal women may experience some symptoms that linger even after they have gone through the menopausal transition.
Everyone experiences menopause differently, but some of the symptoms of menopause that you might experience include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Difficulty managing your weight
- Increased levels of belly fat
- Joint aches and pains
- Loss in libido
- Increased anxiety
- Brain fog
- Irregular menstruation
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain due to slowing metabolism
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary incontinence
An official diagnosis for menopause is typical after you have gone around 12 months without a menstrual cycle. Many women experience changes in their menstrual cycle and other symptoms for a few years leading up to menopause. It's known as a menopausal transition or perimenopause.
What Is Metabolic Health and Why Is It Important?
If you're like most people, you probably don't give much thought to your metabolic health. But did you know that it's one of the most critical aspects of your overall health?
Metabolic health refers to your body's ability to convert food into energy. When it's functioning optimally, it allows you to maintain a healthy weight, strong bones, and good cardiovascular health. It's all about maintaining a healthy balance of chemicals and enzymes in your body. When this balance is disrupted, it can lead to a higher risk of developing medical conditions.
So, in a nutshell, metabolic health is a term used to describe how well your body functions metabolically. It's not just about weight or body composition but also about how all the different metabolic processes work together. Improving your metabolic health can help you feel better, look better, and reduce your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And, it can help during menopause too!
How Is Metabolic Health Related to Menopause?
As you transition into menopause, your body will go through several changes. Metabolic health is one area that can be affected, and it's essential to understand how these changes can impact your overall wellbeing.
It's imperative to focus on metabolic health as there are links between menopause and metabolic syndrome. Assessing your metabolic health with your healthcare provider during perimenopause may help prevent metabolic syndrome when you go through menopause. And balancing your blood sugar levels and closely monitoring your diet may help you prevent weight gain during this time too.
Remember that menopause leads to a decrease in estrogen levels and an increase in circulating androgens, resulting in changes to body fat distribution. All of this can lead to the development of fat in your abdomen.
It's essential to maintain metabolic health during perimenopause and menopause to avoid metabolic syndrome, which can increase the risk of various conditions, including breast cancer, kidney disease, bone loss, high blood sugar, mental health conditions, and osteoporosis.
How to Stay Healthy During Menopause
Menopause can bring about some unwelcome changes, including hot flashes, insomnia, changes in hormone levels, and mood swings. As you approach menopause, it's more important than ever to focus on your health. It means making sure you're getting enough exercise and eating a balanced diet that's best for your specific needs.
It also means paying attention to any symptoms you may be experiencing and taking steps to manage them. You can work on your diet and lifestyle, making changes to improve your chances of going through menopause with fewer symptoms and a lower impact on your metabolic health.
If you begin experiencing the symptoms of menopause or you're approaching 'midlife,' you may want to consult (regularly!) with a healthcare provider that specializes in women's health. It's vital to get medical advice as you begin regulating your overall health during the time leading up to your last period.
Your doctor may recommend supplements, hormone replacement therapy, birth control, lubricants (for vaginal dryness), or other treatment options to help you during this transitionary period. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy during menopause:
Maintain a Healthy Diet
While there are no one-size-fits-all remedies for managing the symptoms of menopause, good nutrition is undoubtedly an essential part of the equation. By eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, you can ease your symptoms and maintain optimal health during menopause.
- Eating a diet high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats with fewer carbohydrates can help promote healthy weight loss. It can also improve insulin sensitivity in some, leading to better glucose control and an overall improvement in how your body responds to menopause.
- Add a moderate amount of healthy fats like nuts, olive oil, avocado, or oily fish to your diet. It can help your body keep your blood sugar levels more stable.
- Opt for whole grains over processed grains. Eating fewer refined carbohydrates can help lower your blood glucose response.
- Ensure your diet includes essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D.
Stick to an Exercise Routine
Exercise has many benefits, including helping to reduce the symptoms of menopause, improving your mood, and preventing weight gain. Without regular exercise, you can lose muscle mass, leading to a decline in metabolism and inevitably to weight gain, whether you're going through menopause or not!
Any type of physical activity is good for you, so find something you enjoy and stick with it. Physical activity can also prevent weight gain and help with mood changes during menopause.
Here are some exercises to try during (and before) menopause:
- Stretching can help you maintain flexibility during menopause.
- Aerobic activity is the perfect way to keep weight off or lose weight. Aerobic exercises include walking, running, biking, rowing, and swimming.
- Strength training will strengthen your muscles and help your metabolism burn calories more efficiently.
Reduce your Alcohol Consumption
Menopause is a natural occurrence, but it's not always an easy journey. For many women, the symptoms can feel miserable, and it can take a few years to feel like yourself again.
So, it might seem like the right time to give yourself a pass on that extra glass of wine. Still, excess alcohol may worsen menopausal symptoms. You can enjoy a drink or two during menopause, but the key to maintaining your health is to indulge in moderation.
If you're experiencing changes in blood glucose trends (it's a good idea to check these as often as possible), you may want to consider seeking medical advice as alcohol can cause dips in blood sugar levels.
Use a Continuous Glucose Monitor
Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can be a real eye-opener to the changes that are going on in your body. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable will help prevent spikes and dips, which will cause long-term health issues. Blood sugar imbalances may also trigger symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and brain fog. So, it's best to stay on top of them even if you're not already perimenopausal.
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Cheri is a registered dietitian with a Master's degree from the University of Utah in Integrative Physiology and Nutrition. She has a strong interest in functional and integrative nutrition and emphasizes the importance of exploration and using your own body (symptoms, energy, mood, labs, CGM data) to find what your personal optimal is.