5 Tips To Minimize Your Menopause Misery

Mid-life symptoms can feel frustrating, but we can still have some fun and put on a flower head wreath like my friend Jenky here.

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that (peri)menopause would resemble a bout of PMS that lasts for years?

Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but as my estrogen levels start their inevitable plummet I’m finding I experience low-level menstrual cramps for weeks, often accompanied by the slight headache and sluggish depression that, in years past, I associated with the days before my period.

And speaking of my period – what happened? It arrived like clockwork every 26 days for more than 30 years.

But now “my little friend” comes knocking at all sorts of odd hours. It will surprise me as early as two weeks after my last cycle began, or make me wait a couple of months before its next visit (that’s when those PMS symptoms really have a heyday!)

I’m one of the lucky ones, I know. I was able to plan my activities around my expected cycles for all those decades, and – unlike some of my friends – I didn’t start with the perimenopausal symptoms until well into my 40s. And even now at 50 those symptoms don’t upset my daily life too much.

Well, at least until the last few months.

From PMS To Night Sweats

Take last night. All day I schlepped around complaining to myself about my low back pain and wondering how long my menses was going to wait this time. Then, instead of a restful sleep, I bolted awake every two hours, shoving the covers aside while sweat poured down my face.

I have fallen victim to the dreaded night sweats.

It’s weird because this hot flash/night sweat symptom only affects me at night. (Not that I’m complaining! Hot flashes, you can continue stay away during the day, thank you!)

But they are powerful enough to tell me that despite my best intentions and most health conscious practices, I am definitely headed down menopause lane.

And judging from the frequency that this topic comes up in conversation with my midlife women friends, I’m not the only one struggling to just feel normal.

Again – I’m lucky. My night time sweating episodes only last 10 minutes or so and don’t require me to change the sheets or go take a cooling shower in the middle of the night.

But still.

It’s time to do something about it. (And I guess it can’t be booting my husband out of bed. (Sleeping with him is like sleeping next to a giant hot water bottle, the man is a living furnace.)

I’ve been a little lazy about this whole “change of life” thing thus far. Since my symptoms were minor, I had not yet plunged full bore into researching the optimum nutritional and herbal therapies for lowered estrogen levels.

So What’s The Menopause Remedy?

During my years at Moonrise Herbs I spent hours helping women find the right herbs for their specific package of symptoms. Some found the teas, tinctures and supplements to be enough, especially when combined with some dietary modifications.

Others needed to turn it up and seek out stronger therapies, such as topical hormones, bioidentical hormone therapy – or going for the full on Hormone Replacement Therapy.

Most wanted to avoid that though – and that’s why they’d made their way into an herb shop, even if they’d never stepped foot in one before.

Here’s the frustrating part:  There are no quick fixes when it comes to relieving menopausal symptoms by natural means. By most accounts it can take six weeks to several months to bring the body into some semblance of homeostasis.

But, I guess that beats 10 years – that’s the average time the transition takes, from the earliest perimenopausal symptoms until the day a woman can proudly claim the title of Crone (12 months after her very last period.)

We’ve Only Just Begun

This is Part One of a “Menopause Series.” Over the next weeks and months, I’ll share some of the best natural menopause remedies I know of, along with case studies and stories about what works and what hasn’t worked so well – both for me and for women I’ve worked with.

And here’s where you come in.

To make this series the most useful for you, my dearest readers, I need to know what menopause symptoms plague you (or scare you with their imminence) the most. What would be most useful for you to learn about in future menopause articles?

You can tell me in the comment section below, or shoot me an email. You’ll find my email address on the “About” section of this blog.

For now here’s five tips on general lifestyle adjustments and natural remedies that may help to reduce the intensity of your overall symptoms. In future installments I’ll get more specific about each.

 Minimize Your Menopause Misery

1)   Nutrition (Foods & Substances To Add Or Avoid)

Now more than ever, it’s important to pay attention to what you are putting into your body. For example, much as I hate to admit it I’ve noticed that those night sweats ramp up when I’ve had a little too much wine.

Well, guess what? Alcohol (especially red wine) is on that ‘Avoid’ or ‘Reduce’ list for a healthy symptom-free menopause. (In my case it has to be ‘reduce’ – I love my wine!) I definitely notice a difference, though, when I forgo that second or third glass.

You might notice that it’s  caffeine that brings on the hot flashes, mood swings, or other unpleasant notifications that your estrogen supply is winding down. Start paying attention to your own triggers – then you can make the necessary decisions about how much you choose to consume.

The usual no-no’s can wreak even more havoc in your body during this time, especially too much salt, junk food, sugar and refined flours, and nicotine.

And then there’s all that hot stuff. It’s best to steer clear of cayenne and hot and spicy sauces – especially if you are dealing with hot flashes.

Replace some of these substances with sprouted seeds and legumes. They are packed with essential fatty acids, enzymes and lots of other goodness. Buy the sprouts at a health food store, or sprout them at home.

And bring on the fresh leafy green veggies  and other vegetables. Eat as much and as often as you can.

Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids will help keep the moisture in your skin, hair and (I’d say most importantly) the vaginal tissues. Such foods include walnuts, salmon, trout and flax seeds.

2)   Some Helpful Herbs

Some of the plants that get rave reviews for moderating hormones include:  chaste tree berry (often called vitex), black cohosh (specifically for hot flashes), motherwort, dong quai, red clover, licorice and panax ginseng.

You also want herbs that regulate liver function, act as natural diuretics, alleviate stress and support the adrenal system. Supporting all of these system makes for an easier transition through the menopausal years.

Consistency is the key here. You must make a commitment to drink your tea (or take your herbal supplement) several times a day.

Herbs can be taken as teas, liquid extracts, or even in capsules. Many herbalists recommend combining several different liquid extracts (that can get expensive), and there are plenty of combinations already formulated and readily available for purchase.

You have to experiment to find the right combo for your particular symptom pattern and constitution.

I’ll go into specific herbs and how they work in more depth – including references to entire books on the subject – in future posts.

3)   Movement

Ah, there it is again. No matter what your phase of life, exercise is going to improve things. This couldn’t be more true than during the menopausal years.

The good news is it doesn’t have to be sweating it out in spandex at the gym. Yoga, dance and good old walking can make a huge difference in how you feel during ‘the change.’

However, to prevent osteoporosis the exercise must be weight bearing. Now, you don’t have to do a weight lifting class or hire a personal trainer (although that is certainly an excellent way to avoid future broken hips).

Weight bearing exercise just means anything that combines use of the muscles with gravity’s pull on the bones.

So, while swimming doesn’t quite make the grade on this one, uphill walking or hiking and even gardening does. Ditto for dancing, yoga and Pilates.

4)   Supportive Supplements

Although it is always preferable to get your nutrients from food sources, supplements are a valuable addition. Vitamin E and Evening Primrose Oil are two that are on every menopause relief list.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another important nutrient worth supplementing with. In addition to increasing those needed moisture levels, they have been shown to minimize bone mass decline. Fish oil is a great source of Omega-3s, as is flax seed oil.

A good B-complex supplement can do wonders to stabilize stress levels and balance blood sugar, and Vitamin C can reduce hot flashes. Additional nutrients to consider are: calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D, silica and boron.

5)   Inner Attention

Menopause is not just a physical transition. Many of us find ourselves facing huge changes both in our inner and outer lives. Children leave the nest, marriages sometimes implode, buried feelings begin to bubble up and overflow in disturbing ways. And that’s just the beginning.

My friend Jackie Walker recently wrote this in an online conversation on the subject: I started noticing I was getting hot flushes, and I realised they were connected to anger, and if I released the anger, they stopped! And, anger in women is deemed ‘unseemly’ so there’s an awful lot of unexpressed or unfelt anger lying dormant and unconscious.

The truth is, most of us women spend decades giving emotional sustenance to others and only short shrift to ourselves. Once we get to perimenopause if we don’t turn some of this love and attention to our own needs, we can get slammed with hot flashes and other unpleasant symptoms.

How exactly to do this could be the subject of an entire book. (And Jackie is a great resource for help in getting rid of anger.) 

Taking some time to nurture and get to know yourself and your needs during this phase of life is essential. Meditation, walking in nature and journaling are three of my favorites – and any of these would be a great place to start.

Some of us might need to take it a little further with therapy or coaching – or maybe by joining a women’s circle.

The good news is, despite the tempest brewing inside of us, wiser women who have reached the other side tell us this is our time of power. It is a time of great transformation and a portal to a new relationship with our creativity.

 

This above information barely pokes the surface of a deep well. Future posts in the series will delve further into how to handle these physical and emotional changes as our hormones start to wreak some serious havoc.

So tell me – which of the topics above would you be most interested in learning more about? Or is there another menopause related issue or natural therapy you’d love me to write on? Let me know in the comments below or send me an email.

 

 

 

23 Responses to 5 Tips To Minimize Your Menopause Misery

  1. Well, I’m right there with you sister! My biggest challenge has been intense emotional states and mood swings. I’ve always had a tendency towards intense states, but you could say the past two years had me doubting my sanity just a wee bit!

    What’s finally started to make a difference is maca, which I now take faithfully. I haven’t had very many other symptoms so I’m interested in all of it and love the idea of a women’s circle. What if you started one of your own here???

    • Ooh, I forgot about maca. A great all purpose herb for all the symptoms. How do you take it? I drink a little that is mixed in to my mate tea – but I doubt its enough to make a difference so I may start taking more of it. I know some people add it to smoothies.

      And you must be psychic Sandi, because figured out my secret plan about a women’s circle! But there are some changes in store here on the blog that will need to happen first…

      • Yay to the women’s circle and my psychic abilities!

        I alternate my maca, some days in powder form mixed into yogurt or protein shake and other days capsules. Huge difference to my emotional well being when I take it consistently!

  2. Hey Sarah, I’m glad you’re addressing this topic! I, too, have not found too much of a remedy for hot flashes. I just endure them and occasionally swear at them while other times laugh at them.

    Here are my hot flash triggers: stress, drinking something warm, drinking wine, vacuuming (really), and being under the covers of my bed (periodic flashes throughout the night.) And, of course, sometimes the trigger is … nothing!

    I’m lucky that I don’t experience mood swings or other symptoms of menopause other than the flashes and the memory problems.

    Wait, what was I saying? 😉

    • Hi Bobbi, thanks for stopping by. Those triggers sound familiar indeed. It’s nice to know when certain foods are actions start them and/or make them worse because sometimes we can avoid those things. Of course our carpets might get pretty grungy if you gave up vacuuming to avoid hot flashes!

      And, oh, those memory lapses! My problem is they’ve always been there – and now they’re just worse! But you’re reminding me that I want to start taking ginkgo again. Great for memory!

  3. Fabulous tips Sarah, and thank you for the link, you have such a good memory!! I used Maca years ago too Sandi, in the peri stages and it was really good. I find Evening Primrose Oil is a must to get through the night without waking up!

    • Thanks Jackie – and I’m honored to link to your fabulous site. Love what you’re doing!

      I take Evening Primrose Oil daily – have for years – and I definitely think it helps. But it might be time to up the dose!

  4. Some great suggestions! I started a list!

    “PMS that lasts for years” how can something so true, be so funny!

    I am just starting down the road with this phase of my life and only being 42, crazy PMS which I have never had before and hot flashes boo!

    but as you say power and transform are waiting for us and I keep this in my mind at all times!

    • Thanks for stopping by Lori! I started with the perimenopausal stuff around your age too, but just weird menstrual cycles and big cramps, no flashing. But my friend who is 42 is in full on symptom mode – so it varies for all women! Try some of these herbal/lifestyle ideas and see what happens.

      And definitely so important to keep in mind the wisdom and transformation that await!

  5. Sounds like I need to get me some maca! 🙂

    I’ve been very lucky so far in that I only very occasionally have to throw the sheets off during the night and my sleep has not been disrupted much. I am just coming up on the Big 5-0, though, so I’m sure there’s more in store for me.

    I have been taking Vitex for years, first for infertility at 39-40 and now for perimenopause. It seems to really help with my mood. I’d love to hear more about vitex/chasteberry on your blog, Sarah.

    Great article! Can’t wait to read more.

    • I definitely think that the vitex you’ve been taking has probably helped to prevent the unbearable hot flash potential Sue! It is an amazing hormone balancer. I’ve been meaning to start taking it for years, and now I wish I’d gotten on it sooner.

      I know women who manage their symptoms beautifully just with a committed practice of herbal supplements and attention to diet.

      I’ll certainly devote some space on the blog to discussing vitex in a future post, maca too! (Looks like this menopause series is developing into quite a long one – maybe 20 posts!?)

  6. It’s the LOA thing working again! Like you, Sarah, my periods have been like clockwork my entire life with light flows and very little cramping (lucky me!) – until now. They’ve been just the opposite. I went to the doc and got checked for everything. Results: I’m perfectly healthy, just getting older and experiencing peri-menopause. Maybe it’s because I feel young but I wasn’t quite ready for the news. Since then I’ve been attracting information on the subject from every direction. I love that some of the best info is coming from you!

    Also like you, I’m finally resigning myself to the fact that I need to start the research process.

    I can’t wait to see what this journey has in store for me!

    Thanks for all the great info! Can’t wait to read your future posts!

    • It’s funny how the information shows up just when we need it, isn’t it? You’re so lucky that you haven’t had to deal with cramps up to this point. Although, I’d suffered cramping during my period my whole life, the big indication that perimenopause was upon me was when they suddenly became absolutely debilitating! Ugh!

      But then, I’ve talked to women who say their cramping lessens as they approach “The Change.” It’s different for all of us, and the one sure thing is that is is a transformative journey!

  7. I have to say I’m not happy about this… and am really looking for ways to embrace it. It just seems like something isn’t right that we hit waht should be the best time ever and WHAM perimenapause hits full on.

    I’d just moved to Hawaii and was feeling like life could not be better when (and yes I am 48) I started getting hot flashes, mood swings, anxiety, couldn’t sleep, no libido, heart palpitations, and here’s the one that really has me in a tizz…. my naturopath suggested I go off birth control pills that I had been on for 27 years…. and my HAIR STARTED FALLING OUT. WTF?????

    I’m one to stay away from Western medicine…so my best friend these days are thing like maca for certain. That and the B vitamins have helped. I’m also using licorice root, vitamin D, coconut oil, rosemary, drinking a tea my naturo concocted. Amazingly enough I have pretty much stopped drinking alcohol (used to have a couple of glasses of wine most nights), exercise has been what I’ve done all of my life but I’ve added yoga which has been quite beneficial. I’m sure there is more but I need not write the book here!

    On any account I found your blog through Paige (again we have something in common Paige!)… and like one client friend told me not long ago who had lived this one already. Find your women friends now. You will grow through the experience but don’t try to go it alone and don’t expect you husband to understand!

    I will certainly look forward to your updates!

    • Hey, Jt, so glad you made your way here through our mutual buddy, Paige!

      I’m with you, not too happy about this whole thing either – but ready to be proactive and handle it by natural means if at all possible (and it is!) Sounds like you’ve got a great ally in your naturopath and that he or she has steered you toward a lot of the right stuff already. (I’m getting on the maca right away! It’s so great to be reminded by my readers!)

      Your client friend is wise: we need our Circle of women as we go through this transition. Together we can turn this transition into an amazing opportunity to access new gifts and powers!

  8. Sara,

    I’ll be 56 soon, and I’m AT LEAST 12 months from claiming that Crone title. Sheesh.

    But I have noticed differences in the last couple years. One that I really like is my gregariousness and shrinking fear of confrontation. It’s a flowering release from painful shyness. Now I get right in the middle of the current opinionated discussion.

    The parts I don’t like are the webbing of fine wrinkles and hot flashes. About a week ago, I started drinking shakes with maca powder, and I’ve already experienced relief. Not that the flashes were debilitating, just uncomfortable, but now I don’t think they’re happening at all.

    debi

    • I love this testimonial about the positive differences you’re experiencing, Debi! That flowering and new ability to embrace parts of yourself that you didn’t even know were there is one of the gifts of transitioning into our Wise Years!

      And yes, it’s a bummer to check out the mirror nowadays – especially first thing in the morning! But when we take care of ourselves we can cultivate our radiance and still feel good about ourselves. This is NOT our grandmothers’ menopause!

  9. And here i was eagerly awaiting menopause so i could say goodbye to her monthly visits. Now i find out all these side effects.

    Sarah, i think this should be a book a whole book. Mini book but it seems like you’ve hit a hot topic here.

    • Ha ha, just wait Annie! You will see that your ‘little friend’ really was a friend compared to her absence. (Or maybe not – perhaps you’ll sail right through the transition!)

      And thanks for the encouragement about making it all into a boo. I just might do that someday soon. Meanwhile, more posts to come on coping with the transition.

  10. This is GREAT, Sarah! I could not be happier to see a post like this addressing menopause so frankly, openly, intelligently and flexibly, along with your expertise and commitment to study it and keep addressing it in future posts. The honesty of the commenters is much appreciated. ALL GREAT!

    I relate intimately with the women who speak here. I could have used a forum like this, sharing experiences and possible solutions to the symptoms I found so challenging and overwhelming….for over 10, probably 15 years!

    I’m 54 nearly 55. I am through the worst of it. I found I had to increase dosages of supplements that worked for me at times and I had to switch supplements too. It was like my symptoms periodically “broke-through” remedies that once worked just fine.

    When nothing seem to work anymore and symptoms were raging, with much reluctance, I finally went to a gyn and got on HRT for a year or so. Went off, managed on supplements OK for a while then back HRT on for another 6 months or so.

    I tried a lot of supplements that didn’t work and some that did. My favorites for mood problems, overwhelm and insomnia to some extent is Wild Yam (tried herbal and cream) only it makes me eat like crazy! Not sure it would have that effect on everyone. I could never find anything to counter the eating thing so I would stop taking it. I am getting ready to try it again. I LOVE Wild Yam! It addresses many problems I have, very calming to my nervous system and much more.

    Used Black Cohosh combo with soy isoflavinoids/GLA, homeopathics were very helpful with hot flashes.

    The only thing I’ve found to help with maddening insomnia which I still have is hypnosis cds listened to as I fall asleep. There are supplements which help me with insomnia, but they worked too well! I couldn’t hear the alarm in the morning and was groggy all day when I took most of those. I tried many. So the cds are working wonderfully and naturally which thrills me! Oh and a cup of Rooibus tea at bedtime works well for me and wears off by morning.

    I discovered Maca a year ago and take it off and on. It seems to have resolved most the tail end symptoms of the worst of it. I am taking it now.

    • Thanks for your comment Teri – and for providing all this valuable info! I’ve never heard of wild yam causing one to feel like eating so much! That must have been frustrating. My sister (a holistic nurse practitioner) was just swearing by how great black cohosh is for hot flashes, so that will probably be my next addition. Although I am noticing some relief after a couple of weeks of taking Maca.

      It’s a great idea to use the hypnosis audios for the insomnia. Way better than anything that might leave you groggy in the morning.

      You’re so lucky you feel like you’re almost through it. I feel like I”m just getting started. Glad you’re taking the maca since it’s so good during any stage of life.

  11. Great information Sarah. My contribution is I coasted through menopause since I was 51 with little issues like hot flashes sometimes but nothing major then sometime around when I turned 56, I am 57 now, I was slammed with everything horrible ever heard about menopause. I have been an organic eater, workout daily very healthy woman for about 15 years so all this chaos has been really hard. I have tried everything including herbs and acupuncture and really only had luck with the progesterone cream. I have noticed, and I know this is going to sound really strange, that symptoms are worse during full moon and really extreme during seasonal equinox. Have you ever heard of this anywhere else or am I truly crazy???

  12. Hello,
    I happened upon this website the other night and really appreciate your blog and the posts from women going through peri-menopause. I am 51, work full time and have been dealing with night sweats, anxiety and heart palpitations for about 5 years. I find that I stress more easily over things. For the most part, these symptoms are manageable but I no longer do some of the things I used to enjoy doing such as traveling by plane, or public speaking. I get uncomfortable in large crowds and am claustrophobic. When necessary, I take Ativan- tranquillizer, for those stressful occasions. It is the only thing that really helps, but I miss my ole self who enjoyed flying, was not nervous driving through a tunnel and liked going out. I take Omega 3, a multi vitamin, calcium with vit D, evening primrose (great for night sweats) and OTC progesterone cream. I think these things have helped but I am looking for something to help with the ocassional anxiety and worrisome thoughts. My doctors all tell me that these symptoms have nothing to do with menopause, but I disagree! And I have seen many doctors over the past five years. None of them think I am dealing with peri-menopause symptoms? (except for the night sweats). One gyn. told me topical progesterone cream doesn’t do any good because it cannot be absorbed through the skin and must be taken orally(?). These drs want me to take an anti-anxiety med. instead but I tried zoloft years ago for a year and didn’t like the side effects and still had to take Ativan for those intense moments. Any thoughts? Any advice for my phobias and anxiety will be greatly appreciated. Thanks

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