For most women, menopause, the cessation of the menstrual cycle, is fraught with rumor and misinformation. Stories of menopausal hot flashes, vaginal dryness, wrinkles, weight gain, depression, anxiety, thinning hair, and loss of sex drive may have you dreading "the change." Relax. Most of the stories you've heard probably aren't true.
Too often, women confuse natural aging changes with menopause. The few symptoms actually associated with the hormonal changes during menopause can usually be handled with a few minor lifestyle changes. Contrary to what most women have heard about menopause, it's a natural period of transition and gives rise to an exciting and challenging period in life.
Although there is much talk about menopausal "symptoms", the only symptoms that have been clearly demonstrated to be associated with the hormonal changes of menopause are hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Mood swings or depression aren't related to hormonal changes as much as they are to fatigue caused from sleep disturbances due to hot flashes.
But menopause signals more than hormonal changes. It is the doorway to a new life. Postmenopausal women are free of the discomfort of menstruation, free of the need for contraceptives, and in many cases, free of child-rearing responsibilities. For the first time, many women find they can concentrate on their own agenda and do the things they want to do.
Here are some tips about how to make the most of this exciting transition called menopause:
Tip #1: DRESS FOR HOT FLASHES
Eight in ten women experience periods of sudden, intense heat and accompanying sweating often called "flushes" or "hot flashes". Hot flashes are the body's response to lower than usual estrogen levels. Wear clothing that is easily removed, such as cardigan sweaters.
Tip #2: DOUSE IT
If you're at home or in a place where it's convenient, you can "spritz" your face with a spray of cool water from a squeeze bottle or you can blot your face with a cool washcloth or moist towelette.
Tip #3: AVOID CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
If hot flashes seem to be triggered by caffeine and alcohol consumption try to avoid them completely. Try substituting non-caffeinated teas or decaffeinated coffee for caffeinated beverages. (Keep in mind that caffeine withdrawal may cause headaches and fatigue for several days.)
Tip #4: CARRY A PERSONAL FAN
Many women find they can get relief from the sudden heat of hot flashes by using a small personal fan. Inexpensive wood and paper fans or battery-powered personal fans are small enough to be carried in a purse and can be used anywhere.
Tip #5: TAKE YOUR TIME WITH LOVEMAKING
Hormonal changes associated with menopause often cause a woman's vaginal mucous membranes to become thin and secrete less moisture. The result can be painful sexual intercourse. Some of this lack of moisture can be overcome by taking more time to make love.
Tip #6: USE CREAMS OR LUBRICANTS
If patient lovemaking doesn't produce enough lubrication try using lubricating jellies (available in pharmacies), plain vegetable oil, or unscented cold cream. "One of the best lubricants is a product called Astroglide, because it's most like natural secretions. Jellies like K-Y Jelly are good, but Vaseline tends to be messy and gummy".
Tip #7: EXERCISE REGULARLY
Menopause has been erroneously linked with depression. Severe studies have found that women between the ages of 45 and 55 have no increase in susceptibility to depression. Mood swings during this time may have more to do with a woman's changing role and her self-concept and the physical changes of aging she's experiencing. For many women, menopause is a milestone, a negative milestone, in their lives. They find the idea of menopause depressing. Regular aerobic exercise such as brisk walking does much to increase the general health level, fight fatigue, and raise the spirits. Exercise also appears to slow changes like loss of strength that many believe to be age related, but are actually more associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Regular, weight bearing exercises such as walking or jogging can also help stave off the bone thinning of osteoporosis, a problem for many menopausal women.
Tip #8: GET SUPPORT
Another term for menopause is "climacteric". This word applies because it is a really big change. You're closing one chapter in your life and moving on. You may notice body changes, new aches, pains, and wrinkles. Menopause is one of life's major change signals. It's helpful to talk to another women about these changes. Join a menopausal support group at a local hospital, community college, or professional group. Or you might want to form your own support group with friends who are experiencing menopause.
Tip #9: GET PLENTY OF CALCIUM
Everyone loses calcium as they get older, but in women, as estrogen levels decline, the rate of bone loss increases. At menopause there's an outpouring of calcium in response to the lower estrogen levels. Unless you have really good stores of calcium already, during this time you're going to have an increased need for calcium. Postmenopausal women taking hormone replacement need 1,000 milligrams of elemental calcium daily, women not taking hormones need 1,500 milligrams of elemental calcium. Dairy products are good sources of calcium, although you'll be doing yourself an even bigger favor if you choose those that are low in fat, such as skim milk, nonfat yogurt, and low-fat cheeses. If your diet isn't calcium rich or if your stores of calcium are seriously depleted from a lifetime of poor eating habits, you might want to take a calcium supplement. Keep in mind that the number of milligrams of calcium listed on the label of a supplement may not reflect the amount of elemental calcium in the product. For example, it takes 1,200 milligrams of calcium carbonate to get 500 milligrams of elemental calcium. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on choosing a calcium supplement.
Tip #10: EAT A BALANCED LOW-FAT DIET
Women at menopause not only have an increased risk of osteoporosis; they may also be a risk for heart disease. At menopause, women's levels of LDL, or so-called "bad" cholesterol go up. Within about ten years, they have the same risk for heart disease as men. Diet can go a long way toward preventing serious health problems like osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease in menopausal women. Diets high in animal products and salt cause the body to excrete more calcium, which contributes to osteoporosis. Menopausal women should eat less animal protein and less salt. If they switch to more foods from the vegetable kingdom, and more complex carbohydrates, they'll be getting less fat, more calcium, and more of the anticancer elements found in beta-carotene.
Tip #11: PLAN FOR MENOPAUSE
The problem is that most women eat the typical American diet. 40 percent of calories from fat, 20 percent from sugar, and 5 percent from alcohol, essentially empty calories. That means they 're getting nutrients from only 35 percent of their calories. Many online health food stores carry nutritionally sound snacks, that are much healthier. Tip: Make sure to use an online coupon. On top of that, they don't do any regular exercise. When menopause comes, they need medical intervention in the form of hormone therapy just to catch up with what they've done to their bodies all these years. Only a small percentage of women would need hormone therapy if they'd anticipate menopause by eating right and exercising regularly for at least 20 years before the onset of menopause. Prevention is the best thing, a lifelong lifestyle of low-fat eating, not smoking and exercising regularly will usually get you ready to face menopausal changes without any problems. And of course no matter what stage in life you're in, it's never too late to benefit from switching to a healthier lifestyle.
-Article adapted from the book, "The Home Remedies Handbook - Over 1000 Ways to Heal Yourself" by the editors of Consumer Guide and hundreds of leading doctors.
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