Mastering Menopause: Make It a Smooth Transition

June 13, 2016 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Mastering Menopause: Make It a Smooth Transition
Hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, memory problems, night sweats. These symptoms of perimenopause and menopause are often disruptive and distressing. Surviving this natural transition into menopause does not have to be an enormous battle. Menopause is not a disease. Fortification of the body is essential. Knowing how to support this process is fundamental to making a healthy, smooth transition into this part of life.

It is interesting to note that menopause symptoms differ in various parts of the world. In America or Western countries, hot flashes are the primary symptom. Women who live in India do not have problems with hot flashes, but rather poor vision is the hallmark symptom. In Japan, the symptom is shoulder pain. Third world countries void of the Western lifestyle and modern stress are often reported to not have the vocabulary to describe the symptoms of menopause, because there are no symptoms.

Severity of menopause symptoms in the Western world varies considerably. New research states that eight out of ten women experience symptoms with menopause and the symptoms last on average for four years. One in ten women will have symptoms that may last for up to 12 years. Does this nightmare have to persist?

When thinking about menopause, several things come to mind. This certainly includes the balance of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and the thyroid struggles that manifest during this life change. There is a much broader focus to menopause than the sex steroid hormones. Rather, it becomes the quest of how well can the body handle the stress of normal hormone changes.

Several studies show us the importance of fortifying your body prior to and during the transition to help reduce hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and sleep problems. Inadequate nutrients, high levels of oxidative stress, amidst decreasing hormone levels can make this natural ebbing of hormones into an often unbearable struggle. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be suffering with hot flashes and insomnia for the next ten years or on hormone replacement therapy until you are 80 years old.

Often when this transition is occurring or even years before “the change” begins, one begins to see how healthy their stress management system has been able to withstand life’s demands. The adrenal glands provide small amounts of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone on a daily basis throughout life. During reproductive years, the ovaries provide higher amounts of estrogen and progesterone. Once the ovaries stop their on-call job with the reproductive cycle, the stamina of the adrenal glands is revealed.

If the body goes into menopause depleted, the removal of the natural buffering and protective effects of balanced estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, will be felt like an earthquake. In younger women, the monthly cycle is a mini-test of this same process. The reality of life’s wear and tear will reveal itself through oxidative stress, inflammation, and nutritional depletion. Symptoms escalate. Blood sugar dysfunction, sleep problems, thyroid problems, blood pressure, weight gain creeps in insidiously or even explodes into a problem for many women.

Diet Lacking in Nutrients

A recent study published last year outlined some major dietary and nutritional findings for women and menopause. A group of 402 women participated in the study. Women had at least two years since their last menstrual period. Extensive dietary analysis occurred. What they found was an overall very poor quality of diet. The daily diet had too high of calories, but was nutrient poor; this is known as high calorie malnutrition. As many as 45 percent of the women simply consumed excessive calories. Excess monounsaturated fats were consumed. Monounsaturated fats are oils that are liquid at room temperature. Common examples include canola, corn, peanut, safflower, sesame, soybean, and vegetable oils. It also includes olive oil, avocados, peanut butter and many seeds and nuts, although these are healthier options.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) were found lacking in this study group. Healthy choice PUFAs are found in fatty fish like salmon, herring, trout, mackerel, and tuna. It is also found in walnuts, flax, chia and sunflower seeds. Foods like sunflower seeds and walnuts have a mixture of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Corn and soybean oils are also PUFAs, however, avoid using these oils because of the pro-inflammatory nature of the oils and GMO concerns.

The study clearly showed that there was insufficient intake of healthy PUFAs from fatty fish and excessive intake of plant based oils in these women. This is a challenge for inflammation and substantially raises the risk for heart disease and dementia. One of the main points of the article pointed out just how this seemingly small imbalance of dietary fats stacked the deck against these women with blood pressure, cholesterol, and a decline in memory after menopause by eating the wrong fats. Supplementing with high quality DHA fish oil, an omega-3 fatty acid, helps to increase your anti-inflammatory oil intake.

Other findings within the study identified too much sodium and phosphorus intake. Deficient nutrients found were iron, copper, zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, D, and K. As many as 68 percent of the women were significantly deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is critical for energy production, bone structure, sleep, mood, and brain health. Magnesium protects memory and prevents oxidative injury. Insufficient magnesium is linked with dysfunctional cholesterol function, blood pressure, blood sugar and even autoimmune thyroid disorders that often occur with major hormone changes.

Critical Importance of Antioxidants in Menopause

Several recent studies have identified just how essential and beneficial certain antioxidants and nutrients are in assisting with a healthy menopause transition. One recent study compared the antioxidant status of level of premenopausal women to postmenopausal women who were between the ages of 30 and 60 years. The most significant finding in this 2015 study was the marked decrease in antioxidant levels in menopausal women. They found that major antioxidant enzymes like superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase, and catalase (CAT) were considerably depleted, causing oxidative stress inside cells.

This loss of antioxidant status is felt throughout the entire body and brain. Its effect spreads far and wide on memory, mood, heart health, blood pressure, detoxification, sleep, stress tolerance, thyroid, cancer risk, osteoporosis and more. Before menopause hits, daily dietary intake of unprocessed, brightly colored fruits and vegetables and high quality proteins, grains, and oils are essential to keeping this antioxidant reservoir intact.

Bone Loss

Bone loss provokes fear in menopausal women. It has been drilled into women that estrogen and calcium are essential and should be the focus to maintain healthy bones. There certainly is a place for this, but evidence suggests that high levels of oxidative stress or inflammation causes bone loss. Bone loss is also related to gut health.

In a brand new study, animals went through surgically-induced menopause, i.e. had a loss of estrogen. The rodents were treated the herb, Cissus quadrangularis, known for its bone health benefits, for 60 days. Thigh bone strength was evaluated after this time. It was found that this herb improved several major antioxidants that helped to protect the bone from estrogen deficiency and improved collagen content of the bone. It was suggested that Cissus quadrangularis be used to treat the bone loss caused by estrogen deficiency and high levels of oxidative, inflammatory stress.

Stressed Mood

Mood swings, anxiety and depression also reflect the brain’s stress response to the changing levels of hormones and their protective effects. Rather than feeling like you are at the mercy of fleeting emotions, it may be helpful to know that the emotional rollercoaster that you are on can be helped with antioxidants. The emotional barrage of challenges reflects the oxidative stress or inflammation felt by the brain.

Heart and Cholesterol Health

The menopause shift brings the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that women who developed heart disease as they went through menopause or shortly after had much higher levels of oxidative stress and inflammation. Women who did not develop menopause associated cardiovascular disease had less oxidative stress and had better antioxidant stores than those who had cardiovascular disease develop.

Natural Hormone Support

As we have seen, the focus of pre-menopause and menopause has broadened to the levels of oxidative stress. Excessive and even unnecessary high-dose hormone therapy simply prolongs the transition and creates risk. Rather, fortifying the body, calming down wear and tear, and improving diet and nutritional reserves helps the body and brain cope with this rite of passage.

If the brain and body are on fire because higher levels of hormones are now gone, you restore the antioxidant status to the body to quench the fire. Small dose natural hormone support may be used to get you stable if the menopause fire is out of control. It is, however, essential to work on this while reducing oxidative stress. Other compounds like chaste berry extract and Rhodiola rosacea may be used to help support how hormones work at the receptor sites.

In a June 2016 publication, it was shown that the adaptogenic herb Rhodiola rosea helps menopause related fatigue, stress, cognitive health, cardiovascular health and bones. Chaste berry extract was found to be helpful in animal studies for memory.

Zinc and DHEA are critical to helping the adrenal glands manage the menstrual cycle and hormone production. Zinc deficiency is very common. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol not only deplete zinc, but it can also deplete DHEA from the body. Replenishing zinc and DHEA may make a tremendous difference in motivation, mood, memory, energy, thyroid and body temperature, stamina, libido, vaginal dryness and helping keep muscle strength. DHEA levels may be tested through blood or saliva samples.

Make sure the diet is rich in omega-3 oils rather than overabundant omega-6 plant based oils. Consume a diet rich in a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Reduce or remove processed foods, grains, white flour, white sugar, GMO or markedly hybridized foods. Check out the local farmer’s markets for some the heirloom foods which may bring you back to the taste of food in your childhood.

Focus on adding in key elements to restore common nutritional deficiencies like zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium. And add in powerful spices and herbs that help antioxidant stores like curcumin, Cissus quadrangularis, and resveratrol.

Several studies focused on the status of glutathione levels. This is the master antioxidant system in the body and requires multiple nutrients to make it work. Some of the main nutrients needed to make glutathione in the body are N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) or the amino acid l-cysteine, R-alpha lipoic acid, zinc, copper, B vitamins, magnesium, MSM sulfur, glutamine, vitamin A, C, and E.

Sulfur-rich foods and cruciferous vegetables must be included in the diet. For example asparagus, beets, green beans, broccoli, and watermelon help the body make these precious antioxidants. Consider supplementing with 7-keto DHEA, Rhodiola rosacea, and chaste berry for natural hormone support. Wild yam extracts of progesterone and estriol may be used for additional support.

Dreading menopause or having ten years of on-going symptoms does not have to happen. Preparing for it with good health management in your 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s is a must for all women. If sleepless nights and hot flashes are plaguing you now, quench the fire while the body goes through this natural transition. The symptoms may certainly reflect how stressed the body is, but menopause is not a disease.

Nutritional Options

Magnesium – This mineral is often lacking in the food supply and needed daily for hundreds of different functions in the body. Stress rapidly depletes this necessary nutrient. Magnesium is essential for bones, thyroid, mood, energy, heart, cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.

DHA fish oil – Omega-3 oils are essential and must be consumed daily. If you do not consume cold water fatty fish regularly, then a mercury-free DHA supplement provides a clean source of this oil. It helps keep omega-6 oils in balance and manage inflammation. Bones, heart, brain, blood vessels, hormones, cell membranes, gut, and skin need omega-3 oils to maintain quality health and function.

Chaste berry extract – Chaste berry is a natural phytoestrogen that helps menopausal symptom. A favorite of many women for stopping hot flashes. Research shows chaste berry helps the memory center of the brain because of the positive effects on estrogen.

Rhodiola rosacea – This herb acts on estrogen receptor sites and selectively helps hormone management on the cell membranes. Studies show benefit for fatigue, stress, cognitive health, cardiovascular health, and bones.

Zinc – This mineral is essential for numerous functions in the body. This includes steroid hormone production, adrenal glands, thyroid hormone function, physical energy, and blood sugar. Sweating depletes zinc.

7-keto DHEA – Adequate DHEA in the body is essential for memory, muscle strength, libido, and cortisol balance. DHEA production declines with age. The 7-keto form of DHEA does not readily convert into testosterone or estrogen, thus is safe to supplement.

Cissus QuadrangularisCissus quadrangularis is an herb found to protect bones from breaking down or losing minerals after estrogen loss. It is has the nickname of “bone setter” for its long-standing history of bone health.

Antioxidants – Glutathione is a master antioxidant and its enzyme system requires several nutrients to be in adequate supply to withstand wear and tear and oxidative stress. These nutrients include NAC, lipoic acid, B vitamins, vitamins A, C, and E, glutamine, silymarin, magnesium, glycine, zinc, copper, and MSM sulfur.

Curcumin – Curcumin is derived from the popular turmeric spice. Curcumin helps manage inflammation, oxidative stress, and stressed mood. Curcumin could have a positive effect against anxiety difficulties and brain stress due to hormone deprivation associated with menopause.

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