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How Menopause Impacts the Body, Plus Menopause Relief Tips
By Jill Levy
September 16, 2023
Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation and fertility, defined as occurring 12 months after your last menstrual period. The road to menopause is typically preceded by pre-menopause and perimenopause. This is a natural, normal progression.
You can start to transition into menopause as early as your mid-to-late 30s, with most women entering menopause in their 40s or 50s.
Menopause is a completely natural biological process, and therefore not a problem to solve. And although it concludes the time in a woman’s life for fertility, you can stay healthy and vital through your 50s and well beyond. That being said, menopause can typically affect the body, as the hormonal shift that occurs in women during menopause may lead to hot flashes and impact one’s outlook, sleep and more.
Learn about common menopause signs and then some helpful tips, including ways to take care of your body.
Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplementation.
Menopause occurs as a natural, normal biological process when women’s menses cease to occur. Generally speaking, for most women, menopause typically occurs between the ages of 40 and 58 — with an average age of 51 or 52, according to some sources. However, every woman is different.
Perimenopause is a transitional stage that occurs before menopause, marking the natural decline in reproductive hormone production in women, including in estrogen and progesterone. It typically begins several years before menopause.
Menopause can involve many natural changes to a woman’s reproductive system, impacting her internal organs, external genitalia, breast tissue, and various reproductive and non-reproductive hormones. For most women, around the time of the mid-30s, the ovaries start to produce less estrogen and progesterone, and therefore fertility starts to decline.
The hormones primarily involved in a woman’s reproductive system, and therefore menopause, include:
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
Luteinizing hormone (LH)
Estrogen (three types including estrone, estradiol and estriol)
Prior to menopause during the reproductive years, estradiol is the major form of estrogen, which is released primarily from the ovaries. After menopause, estrone becomes the most abundant type of estrogen produced, which is mostly released from a woman’s fat cells and adrenal glands. Estrogen works by attaching to receptors on cells within tissues, including those in the uterus and the breasts, and also the kidneys, heart, blood vessels and other tissues to a lesser degree.
There isn’t one sole factor leading to menopause since it’s a very complex process. However, one of the most significant changes taking place in a woman’s body during this transition are that there’s a natural decrease of ovarian follicles (called follicular atresia) and therefore a decreasing amount of estrogen being produced. Estrogen levels start to drop six to 12 months before menopause (during perimenopause) and continue throughout the process.
Women may become aware of some normal changes taking place in their bodies leading up to menopause, which can include lighter or less regular periods, and changes in body weight or body composition, among other signs. Some women may have no awareness of these changes at first.
What are the ways that menopause impacts the body? Women can experience a variety of signs related to those natural changes in sex hormone levels and normal aging.
Some of the most common menopause symptoms include:
Irregular periods: As perimenopause begins (the period before menopause technically starts), periods can come and go, plus get heavier or lighter at times. This can sometimes continue for several years during menopause.
Hot flashes and night sweats: Sudden feelings of intense heat, often accompanied by flushing of the face and sweating, can occur during the day or at night, leading to occasional disrupted sleep patterns.
Occasional sleep disturbances: Many women experience difficulties with falling asleep or staying asleep, often due to night sweats, hormonal fluctuations, or overall anxiousness.
Mindset changes: Hormonal fluctuations can affect one’s mindset, too. Some women may experience occasional irritability, anxiousness or other changes.
Occasional vaginal dryness and discomfort: Declining estrogen levels can naturally lead to occasional vaginal dryness, itching, or discomfort for some women.
Changes in urination: Due to changes in vaginal tissue some women experience frequent, sudden, strong urges to urinate, or might have trouble controlling urination.
Changes in libido: Some women may experience decreased libido or changes in sexual function that are common during this life stage.
Changes in energy levels: Hormonal changes, sleep disturbances, and other changes can impact energy levels.
For some, there is a greater interest in focusing on bone health, cognitive health and heart health.
While these menopause changes to the body are natural, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. There are many ways to help provide some menopause relief. As always, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including as you go through menopause.
Following a diet rich in protein, antioxidants, omega-3s, calcium, and vitamin D can work well for women either entering menopause and already in it. High-fiber foods as well as probiotic foods are also beneficial to help support gut health.
Here are some good foods to include:
All types of fresh vegetables and fruits, such as leafy greens and berries
Wild-caught fish, such as salmon and tuna
Nuts and seeds, such as chia, flax, walnuts and almonds (they’re also high in calcium and healthy fats)
Fermented soy products, such as organic tofu or tempeh
Healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds
Quality proteins, including poultry, fish, eggs, legumes and organic dairy products
Probiotic foods, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi
Women (of all ages) should get regular exercise, including a mix of resistance training and endurance exercises, to stay at a healthy weight and support their overall health. It’s especially helpful for women to continue exercising before, during and after menopause transition since it can help promote heart health, bone health and hormonal health.
Walking, stretching, climbing stairs, swimming, dancing, and playing tennis are some exercises that may interest you if you’re 40+. Strength-training, such as lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises, will also help you maintain muscle and bone mass.
Other lifestyle habits to prioritize include getting enough sleep and managing stress, which can both impact hormones. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, as well as building stress-reducing activities into your day, such as yoga, meditation, journaling and reading.
Other tips for navigating perimenopause and menopause include:
Sharing your experiences with trusted friends or support groups.
Avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, as they can worsen symptoms.
Dressing in light layers and wearing natural fabrics that allow your skin to breathe.
Using a fan or open windows to regulate temperature.
Avoiding triggers like spicy foods, hot beverages and stressful situations that can exacerbate hot flashes.
Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine and creating a comfortable sleep environment.
Avoiding too much caffeine and electronics before bed.
Using vaginal lubricants to help ease discomfort.
Aside from eating well and exercising, certain supplements can also support overall health during perimenopause and beyond. These include:
Eastern thought points out that the body needs to maintain its “equilibrium” against stressors and more, especially during challenging times of life that involve significant changes. Beneficial mushrooms help the body maintain its equilibrium or balance. Generally speaking, some of the beneficial compounds in “functional mushrooms” include polysaccharides and polysaccharide peptides, beta glucans, glycoproteins, and triterpenes.
Reishi is also generally considered an adaptogen and body tonic, helping the body to “adapt” its responses to stressors to help support the health of the whole body. It’s also used as a tonic that may help to “tone” and energize systems in the body, including a healthy immune system. Additionally, reishi features certain antioxidants, such as triterpenes, that can help fight free radicals, thereby helping to promote overall health.
For help maintaining overall balance, consider taking Ancient Nutrition’s Reishi Stress and Immune Support capsules.
Vitamin D is essential for proper absorption and metabolism of calcium, phosphorus, and other nutrients. Older people make less vitamin D than younger people do when exposed to sunlight, but some people avoid being out in the sun altogether — meaning they aren’t making vitamin D.
D3 is the preferred form to take in supplement form. Supplementing with vitamin D3, such as Ancient Nutrition’s Vitamin D formula, can help to support bone health, healthy immune system function, and one’s overall outlook, too. You can also consider taking a high-quality multivitamin to cover your nutritional bases, including for vitamin D, which can be difficult to get from foods alone.
Black cohosh is an herb and root that has been used to support women’s reproductive health for centuries. It naturally contains chemicals that can be beneficial to the body, including for hormonal support: Research indicates that black cohosh needs to be taken in certain amounts consistently for 3-6 months before seeing results, so consistency is important when using this herb.
You’ll find Organic Fermented Black Cohosh in Ancient Nutrition’s Women’s Hormone Balance capsules, which support healthy energy, help reduce fatigue and effects of stress, and promote a positive mindset and reproductive health.
Probiotics are “friendly” microbes that live in your gut and assist in healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. Eating probiotic-rich foods can help your gut produce more good bacteria, as can taking a quality probiotic supplement each day.
Try Ancient Nutrition’s SBO Probiotics Women’s capsules for digestive support, healthy immune system support, and reduction of occasional constipation, gas and bloating. There’s also SBO Probiotics Women's Once Daily that brings prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics for powerful gut benefits.
Note: If you are experiencing significant or bothersome menopause symptoms, then consult with a healthcare professional for support. They can help evaluate your symptoms, provide appropriate management options and discuss potential treatments, if necessary.