Menopause may well be, in many ways, a hideous and challenging phase. But it can also be seen as a window of opportunity for prioritizing your health and well-being.
By understanding the challenges and opportunities (yes, there are some!), you can, with time, embrace this transformative time and emerge stronger and more vibrant than ever before.
After menopause, whenever it occurs, due to the drop in oestrogen, changes in women's bodies can result in a greater incidence of various health concerns. This is often called a 'critical window of health' because it is a crucial time to tackle these issues and do what we can to mitigate them.
When menopause occurs in your 40s and 50s, it has often been linked to the discussion about when and if to start HRT. If your menopause begins before this, such as with premature ovarian insufficiency, then this window is really whenever you feel able and ready to think about such things.
The most talked about issues are cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. But diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and vaginal dryness are also common.
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)
CVD is the primary cause of death in women globally, and menopausal women are more prone to experiencing it due to the reduction in oestrogen production. Oestrogen has a protective effect on the heart. The decrease after menopause is believed to contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.
CVD is not just about heart attacks – it includes high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high non-HDL cholesterol.
Osteoporosis is where the bones become more porous and fragile, increasing their fracture risk. Bone is constantly breaking down and reforming. Oestrogen plays a vital role in this balance, so the decrease at menopause can contribute to bone loss.
Women may experience weight gain during and after menopause, partly due to changing metabolism and fat redistribution. This can increase their risk of other health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
Vaginal dryness, atrophy, and urinary tract infections.
As oestrogen levels decline, the tissues in the vagina may become dry and thin, which can cause discomfort and increase the risk of infections.
This may all seem a bit grim, but the point of this blog is to highlight that there is much that women can do to reduce the possibility of these diseases, both with and without HRT. This is even more important if you experience premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) and early menopause before 45.
Although hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has long been used to treat the symptoms of menopause and reduce the likelihood of associated health issues, it is not the only option. HRT is absolutely not the be-all and end-all.
The detrimental effects of menopause on women's health can also be mitigated by many lifestyle adjustments and interventions. To lower the risk of developing these issues and support their long-term health, women can take various measures such as:
A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats should be the goal for women. Junk and processed foods, excessive salt, and saturated fats should be avoided or restricted. As Michael Pollan says, eat foods, not too much, mostly plants.
Women can also perform 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises, such as brisk walking or cycling, on most days of the week to maintain heart health, enhance sleep quality, and elevate mood. Physical activity can be anything you enjoy but mix and match a bit of cardiovascular, weight training, and balance.
Avoiding smoking, drinking lots of water, and moderate alcohol consumption are also encouraged.
Address any blood sugar imbalances.
Various vitamins can also promote general health. Omega-3 fatty acids, for instance, have been demonstrated to lower inflammation and boost brain function, while probiotics and other gut-supporting supplements help enhance the immune system and digestive health. Get your Vitamin D checked.
Manage your stress. This sounds simple, but you will be amazed how many people, me included struggle with this.
Sleep and support your natural circadian rhythm. Where possible, ensuring you have a good eight hours of sleep most nights is vital. Going to sleep and waking up simultaneously helps your internal body clock, which knocks onto other systems.
In an ideal world, we would all tackle such issues throughout our lives. The world is not ideal.
Menopause may seem like a difficult journey, but it can also be an incredible opportunity for growth and self-discovery. By taking charge of your health and learning to navigate the challenges of this stage of life, you can unlock a world of possibilities and live your best life yet. Remember, menopause is not the end of your good health but rather a crucial window of opportunity for you. So, don't let menopause anxiety hold you back, and embrace this stage of life confidently.