by Kathleen Byrne, M.D., CHI Health Care
Menopause is a transition that every woman will experience in her lifetime. The average age of menopause, defined as not having a period for 12 months, is 51. The perimenopause period leading up to that can start in the forties. Common symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, weight gain and vaginal dryness.
For many women, these symptoms can be mild, but for others they can disrupt our sense of well-being, sleep and have an effect on daily life. This time of transition is an excellent opportunity to focus on personal health and wellness. It is important to partner with your medical provider who can help you through this time.
Focusing on nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important steps. As women, our bone density starts to decline after menopause and at the same time our risk of heart disease increases. It is important to ensure you are eating a whole-foods, anti-inflammatory diet to maintain both bone and heart health. Eating a diet rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K along with healthy fats and lean protein is recommended. Great sources of these include leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach and wild caught fish like salmon and sardines.
Exercise is just as important in maintaining our bone density and decreasing our risk of heart disease. We recommend 30 minutes of weight bearing exercise, like running, walking or hiking, five days per week, along with strength training two to three times per week.
In addition to nutrition and exercise, focusing on the mind-body connection is key to entering this next phase of life. Stress reduction techniques like meditation and mindfulness practices have been shown to improve hot flashes and sleep. Acupuncture can also ease the intensity and frequency of hot flashes that women experience, improving sleep, mood and daily activities. Yoga therapy is also another practice that can maintain bone density and ease the menopausal transition.
Your provider may recommend herbal or prescription medications to help with symptoms. Black cohosh, whole soy foods like miso and tempeh, and evening primrose oil can help with hot flashes. Other prescriptions medications and sometimes prescription hormones may be appropriate for women with severe symptoms. It is important to work with an integrative practitioner to discuss the risks and benefits of these and see what treatment is best for you. Addressing your mind, body and spirit at this time and partnering with the right integrative practitioner can help make menopause an easier transition for all women.
Kathleen Byrne, M.D., Byrne is a family medicine physician at the CHI Health Care, in Rockville. She has advanced clinical expertise and interest in the area of women’s health. To learn more, visit CHIHealthcare.org.