Ah menopause! It’s a touchy subject for those of us in our mid forties who are heading towards this transition. There seems to be so much to dread… hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, headaches, fatigue and weight gain. Clearly this doesn’t sound like fun but I have some good news. Here at the Yinova Center we have many patients who sail through menopause with the minimum of problems. What makes them different? They have invested time and effort in their health in the years leading up to menopause.
Inspired by these patients I have started to talk to my patients in their forties about training for menopause. It’s a bit like getting ready to run a marathon. If you know what’s ahead you can train your body to avoid some obvious pitfalls. So today I offer 5 tips for those of us who are (and I hate this word) peri-menopausal, designed to get us in peak shape now so that we’ll be fit and healthy in our fifties.
1. Eat less but make sure that what you do eat is high in nutrients.
My teenage daughter can eat empty calories and get away with it. I can’t. It’s not fair but there it is. It’s a fact. As we age our metabolism gets slower and we need fewer calories but we also need to eat food that supports our health. Because your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease increases after menopause, it makes sense to adopt some healthy eating habits in the years before. Aim for a low-fat, high-fiber diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and calcium-rich foods like low fat yogurt, tofu and leafy greens to give your bones the nutrition they need.
Being at a healthy weight makes menopause much easier and cuts your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. There’s also evidence that weight gain after menopause increases breast cancer risk. Women who gain in excess of 20 pounds after menopause increase their breast cancer risk by nearly 20 percent so it makes sense adapt to a slower metabolism in peri-menopause by cutting calories to avoid the risks of being overweight post menopause.
2. Get moving
Not only does exercise help boost your metabolism and stop weight gain but it also helps combat fatigue, reduces stress, strengthens bones and helps with sleep. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day. If you hate the gym try walking, cycling, swimming, gardening or dancing.
3. Practice a relaxation technique
Find a stress reduction technique that works for you. Mood swings are one of the symptoms my menopausal patients hate the most. Some women tell me that they feel volatile and out of control. Stress can make hot flashes worse too so combat this by finding a way to relax both your body and mind. Learn yoga, take a meditation class, study tai chi or qi gong. Take time to walk in nature or to read a book for pleasure. It doesn’t matter what you choose, but it’s a great idea to make this a habit in the years leading up to menopause so that when you need to find a way to calm down you’ll have the skills at your disposal.
4. Drop some bad habits
Many of my patients tell me that the older they get the less alcohol they’re able to drink. This has certainly been true for me as I’ve entered my mid forties. These days if I have more than one glass of wine, I have a bit of a hangover the next day. That’s my body telling me that it can’t metabolize alcohol like it used to. There’s no point in arguing! The only option is to cut back. At the Yinova Center here in New York we advise our patients who are forty and above to limit alcohol to one drink a day and make at least two days a week alcohol free.
As we age our livers get sludgy and work less well. An over-taxed liver does not metabolize hormones well leading to hormone imbalances. In Chinese medicine drinking too much alcohol is said to lead to liver heat and thus exacerbate symptoms such as night sweats and hot flashes. There is also evidence that excess alcohol post-menopause can increase the risk or both breast cancer and osteoporosis.
While we’re on the subject of bad habits it’s worth talking about caffeine and cigarettes too. Menopausal women will tell you that caffeine makes their symptoms worse so it makes sense to start to cut back on coffee in the years leading up to menopause. Caffeine causes heat and stagnation in Chinese medicine and there is evidence that not only does it make hot flashes worse but it can also increase the risk of fibrocystic changes in breast tissue.
Smoking is obviously never a great idea, but as we age we’re less able to get away with abusing our bodies. In clinical research women who smoke typically experience menopause 1 1/2 years earlier than women who don’t smoke. If you’re in your forties and you smoke it’s time to consider quitting. Acupuncture can help so ask us for support. We’d be delighted to get behind you as you quit.
5. Take Herbs and Supplements and consider regular acupuncture
From 1997 to 1999 Dr. Susan Cohen, D.S.N., APRN, associate professor of the University of Pittsburgh conducted one of the first studies in the United States to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture in alleviating hot flashes, insomnia and nervousness. She found that during the course of acupuncture treatments, hot flashes decreased by 35% and insomnia decreased by 50%. A follow-up study showed that hot flashes significantly decreased in those receiving acupuncture, compared to those receiving other types of care. At Yinova NYC we have found that our patients who have regular acupuncture during peri- menopause often have less unpleasant symptoms when they reach menopause. This is because we have been able to spot minor problems and head them off before they became more complex.
A specifically targeted herbal formula can help support you in peri-menopause and head off a difficult menopause. Often when a patient comes to me for help with a difficult menopause and I start to take a history I realize that there were warning signs for many years leading up to these symptoms.
As we age Chinese medicine says that we get more yin deficient and stagnant. Yin describes the body’s ability to moisten, cool, nourish and settle itself, so women who are yin deficient become dry, overheated, malnourished and unsettled. Dryness, hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia are all symptoms of yin deficiency so to avoid these symptoms in menopause it makes sense to nourish yin in the years before. As us to write a formula specially for you or for the sake of convenience you can take an over the counter formula in pull form. I like a formula called liu wei di huang wan for peri-menopausal women because it mildly nourishes yin.
Stagnation of qi and blood in Chinese medicine describes poor circulation leading to irregular menstrual periods and difficult hormone transitions. If you suffer from PMS or irregular menses in peri-menopause it’s worth taking Chinese herbs to correct this ahead of menopause and that way head off more major mood swings and emotional volatility. Again we can write a formula specifically for you or prescribe you a generic formula in pill form such a jia wei xiao yao san.
Other supplements that may be helpful are: –
- Zinc helps increase levels of progesterone and decrease levels of estrogen. In addition, it can help to boost the immune system. Zinc also helps to build strong bones, thereby reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
- Vitamin E can balance volatile hormones
- Flax seed oil lowers cholesterol and helps combat mood swings by smoothing hormonal transitions
- An essential fatty acid supplement like borage oil or evening primrose oil can help moisten tissue and prevent vaginal dryness as well as balance hormones.
- Calcium supplements help build strong bones in the years before menopause to prevent post-menopausal osteoporosis