Menopause

"Menopause is like PMS times 100"

Menopause can be frightening. Anger, frustration, fear... these are all common feelings. If we change our attitude to menopause, with the right foods, herbs and supplements, the process can be made much easier.

Current medical thinking can often treat menopause like an illness or disease. Menopause is a natural stage in our lives and there are many alternatives to HRT (hormone replacement therapy), some of which are described below.

In western societies there are many negative associations of the menopause. Loss of fertility, loss of hormones, the problems with the empty nest syndrome, these are all things associated with loss.

However, other cultures see this time of life as one of great wisdom and experience. It is interesting that women in these cultures do not seem to have the same negative physical and emotional symptoms of the menopause or perimenopause.

So what can we do about it?

What happens physically during the menopause?
Several years before the cessation of ovulation, the ovaries reduce their production of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones are not only required in the reproductive area but all over the body. For example oestrogen is necessary for the thyroid, bones, skin etc.. Other endocrine glands in the body take over the production from the ovaries such as the adrenal glands, fat cells also produce oestrogen.

The symptoms
  • Hot flushes
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low liabido
  • Osteoporosis
  • Dry skin
  • Poor energy
  • Joint pains
Role of the mind
As the hormone levels change, the amygdala and hippocampus (in the brain) are affected. These areas are important for memory, hunger, sexual desire and anger. These changes may cause old memories and emotions to come to the surface; and it is very common for women to become irritable and angry about things which before they could overlook.

Women often feel that there is an internal shift during menopause.

Premenopausally, women were genetically geared towards raising and nurturing their families. Traditionally their focus was outwards, towards the well being of other people, helping them with their needs and providing them with emotional support.

The menopause, is the divide, the switch when women move from a nurturing perspective to a "self" perspective.

This change of internal focus can make women feel insecure as things they loved and did in the past no longer feel appropriate.
A great way of regaining the control is to explore your new feelings and emotions, face them head on.

Emotions are there as our inner guides. Anger, fear, frustration, guilt are all things which tell us we are on the wrong road or just ignoring our own emotional needs/not addressing certain events that need to be addressed.

If we change our outlook, see our emotions as guides telling us what we really want and need, this can often help the helplessness and powerless feelings and turn them into something positive.

So just ask yourself the question, what do YOU really want? Forget about what your family, friends expect you to do? Forget about your guilt, insecurities. Facing the issues that bother you can seem overwhelming, but if you allow yourself to feel them, cry, laugh, scream, whatever allows you to feel the intensity of them, you can then let them go.

Writing in a journal can be a great way of doing this. I like to think of the journal as a place to vomit out all those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
Often women don't want to feel like a burden or become a nag, so they will suppress certain emotions or feelings. If they have things that bother them, they may discuss it with their friends, family, partners, but sometimes this is not enough to help to let go of this issue.

This is where journal writing and reflexology are particularly beneficial.

In the journal you can write about the same issue every day for a month if that is what it will take to help you let it go. No one in the journal will tell you, you are a nag or a burden.

It is your safe place to express yourself without any inhibitions or boundaries. If you are worried that someone will find it, just shred it after you have finished. It is the process of writing that helps us to let go, it is not necessary to keep it and re-read it.

What can reflexology do to help?

Reflexology is particularly wonderful during this time, since it helps the body to let go and relax. By rebalancing the nervous system and endocrine system, it is wonderful at reducing the symptoms of menopause, helping you create a smooth transition.

Thyroid-Menopausal connection
Source - Dr, Christiane Northrup:
Many women are diagnosed with hypothyroidism at midlife. Statistics show that 1 in 8 women between the ages of 35 and 65 has thyroid disease, and 1 in 5 women over 65 is affected. Approximately 26% of women in or near perimenopause are diagnosed with hypothyroidism.

While many women with these problems are completely asymptomatic, others may have a wide variety of symptoms; most commonly are mood disturbances (usually in the form of depression and irritability), low energy levels, weight gain, mental confusion, and sleep disturbances. (Note: Common drugs can block thyroid function, including steroids, barbiturates such as Seconal, cholesterol-lowering drugs, Dilantin, and beta blockers such as propranolol.)

Many of the symptoms of hypothyroidism are the same as during perimenopause. However, it is still possible to have hypothyroidism yet have completely normal thyroid function. According to Dr. John Lee, when excess oestrogen exists it can block the action of the thyroid hormone, so that even when the thyroid is producing normal levels of the hormone, the hormone is rendered ineffective and the symptoms of hypothyroidism appear. In this case, laboratory tests may show normal thyroid hormone levels in a woman's system, because the thyroid gland itself is not malfunctioning. (see
hypothyroid for more information)

DIET

So what can we do?
  1. Eat more phytoestrogens
  2. Increase foods and supplements with essential fatty acids
  3. Eat as many natural, pure, whole, fresh foods as possible
  4. Eat more alkaline foods
  5. Try and avoid the following - caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, soft drinks, fried and fatty foods, diary, red meat, white flour and gluten
  6. Eat little and often
  7. Drink more water, although avoid drinking around meal time
  8. Eat enough fibre
Japanese women have considerably fewer menopausal symptoms and breast cancer cases than we have in the UK. When these women move to the West their symptoms come in line with those in the UK, eliminating possible genetic factors but are more likely to be dietary. Their diet traditionally is very high is fish (essential fatty acids), low levels of diary and high levels of fermented soya and iodine (which is vital for a healthy thyroid).

Phytoestogens are a group of plant hormones (fermented soya (not the milk or yoghurts), linseeds, wholegrains like brown rice, oats, chickpeas, lentils, garlic, fennel, celery, rhubarb, parsley, hops) that produce a very low oestrogen rate in the body. They help prevent free radical damage (which causes ageing) and abnormal cell growth.

Like other oestrogen, these phytoestrogens bind to the oestrogen receptors found in the body; as they do so they act as a balancer. If oestrogen levels are low they will have an oestrogen impact, if they are too high they will block the stronger oestrogens produced in the body. They have been found not to stimulate the growth of oestrogen sensitive tissue such as in the breast and uterus but have been shown to inhibit breast tumours it is thought since they occupy the oestrogen receptor sites and prevents overstimulation of the cells. For further information see
digestion

Exercise
Menopausal women have been found to have a higher risk of osteoporosis. This is when the bone becomes very porous and can break very easily. Weight bearing exercise has been found to increase bone density in post menopausal women.

Magnesium rich foods are particularly important at this stage of life, since magnesium is biochemically responsible for keeping calcium in the right place. Often with bone density problems, it is not low levels of calcium which are the problem, but more that the calcium is not staying in the right place. Magnesium works with calcium to keep it in the right place.

Magnesium rich foods include -
Black beans, peanuts, seeds, spinach, chickpeas, sweetcorn, walnuts, grapes, figs, plums and most green leafy vegetables.
Epsom Salt baths (magnesium sulphate) are also beneficial here, put 1kg in the bath and soak for 20-30 mins once a week, 3 weeks a month; provided that you do not have any of the contraindicator factors to the baths - high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes.

Smoking
This can cause an early menopause (which increases the risk of osteoporosis) and can reduce bone density by 25%.

Other
Weight
Fat cells produce a form of oestrogen called oestrone. A number of studies have also shown that BMI is a reliable indicator of osteoporosis risk; if your BMI is below the normal range your risk increases. Therefore, it is important to be within your normal
BMI range.

Relevant Reflexology Research
Mental Well being
A reflexologist and a counsellor worked with a total of 74 people (49 received reflexology and 25 received counselling).

Physical improvements underpinned feelings of enhanced mental/emotional well-being for many participants. The researchers observed that the release of tension through being able to talk led to greater relaxation, was found to alleviate headaches and improve sleep.

With the exception of 2 participants in the reflexology sample, there was a reported increase in relaxation levels and a decrease in anxiety levels.

The participants developed an increased awareness of tension in the body and an increased ability to change that state, e.g. they consciously altered their breathing and their posture.

Many participants reported improved emotional status. Fear, worry and despair reported at the beginning of the study had changed into more positive and fulfilling emotions.

Perhaps the most interesting finding of the study was that the participants tended to make greater progress when reflexology and counselling were offered together, and the report recommended greater integration of the therapies.
Reflexology and Counselling: an evaluation of a complementary health care project at Worthing Mind. September 1997.

Menopausal Symptoms
82 diagnosed with menopause were randomly divided into two groups. 42 women received reflexology and 40 received reflexology with auricular point magnet adhesion. 30min sessions were provided daily for 60 days.

For the reflexology group: 19 (41%) had fully recovered, 20 (48%) had significantly recovered, 4 (9%) had effective results and 1 (2%) ineffective.

For the reflexology with auricular point magnet adhesion: 9 (23%) fully recovered, 16 (40%) significantly recovered, 9 (23%) had effective results and 6 (14%) had ineffective results.
(Sun Jianhua, "Observation on the Therapeutic Effect of 82 Cases of Climacterium Syndrome (menopause) Treated with Reflexotherapy," 1998 China Reflexology Symposium Report, China Reflexology Association, Beijing , p. 60-61

Recommended Reading
The Wisdom of Menopause - Dr. Christiane Northrup

All material provided on the levelfooting web site is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health program.