Menopause is a natural biological process that every woman has to face in her life. It is the time when the menstrual cycle stops, and the fertile life (childbearing capacity) for a woman comes to an end. Even though you cease to be fertile you can stay healthy, vital, and sexual.
Menopause is not a process that occurs overnight, but a gradual one. Before it sets in, there is a transition period which is called the premenopausal period, an individual experience for every woman.
During this period, you may experience irregular periods, vaginal dryness, night sweats, hot flashes, mood changes, weight gain, slowed metabolism, thinning hair, dry skin, etc.
During premenopause, the menstrual period will occur once every two to four months for a period up to one to two years and is said to have happened when you have not had a period for a year. Menopause typically occurs in your late 40s to early 50s. The average age of menopause is 51 years.
In recent years there is an increase in the incidence of women hitting menopause early in their life (premature menopause). About 4% of women are attaining premature menopause between the ages of 29 and 34 and about 8% between the ages 35 and 39. This is because of the changes in lifestyle, food habits, and stress.
Menopause is caused by a fall in the amount of the hormone estrogen produced by the ovaries. Decreased estrogen can mean changes in energy levels, memory, bone health, fat cells, hormones, and cardiovascular health.
How will menopause affect your health?
After menopause, women enter post-menopause; low levels of estrogen and other changes due to aging can increase your risk for certain health problems.
Some common health problems after menopause include:
Heart Disease: Estrogen helps the body maintain a healthy balance between good and bad cholesterol. It also keeps the blood vessels in a relaxed state. After menopause, low levels of estrogen increase your risk of heart disease.
Stroke: Age-related changes and lower levels of estrogen in your body can your risk for stroke.
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones become brittle and weak and can break easily. Low levels of estrogen after menopause causes you to lose bone mass/density rapidly. Hence, postmenopausal women are more susceptible to fractures of bones in the hip, backbone (spine), and wrist.
Urinary Incontinence: Changes in estrogen levels influence the lower urinary tract and the genital tract in women. Lower levels of estrogen may weaken the urinary tract (urethra) and cause urinary incontinence, especially when coughing, laughing, or lifting objects.
Weight Gain: Menopause and weight gain tend to go hand in hand. This is due to a combination of factors, including decreased estrogen, slower metabolism due to aging, and lifestyle factors like unhealthy diet and lack of exercise.
Oral Health Issues: Hormonal changes during menopause can cause altered taste, burning sensation in the mouth, and reduced salivary flow that can result in dry mouth, which in turn may increase your risk for gum disease and cavities. Declining estrogen levels can contribute to bone loss of the jaw, increasing the risk for loose teeth and tooth loss.
Skin and Hair Changes: Decreased estrogen can cause dryness, wrinkles in the skin, and thinning of hair.
How to Stay Healthy After Menopause
Lifestyle changes like regular physical exercise (exercising) and eating right can make a real difference in how you feel and help you stay healthy during and after menopause.
1. Nutrition After Menopause
Healthy eating habits during Menopause: A healthy, nutritious diet will support healthy menopause and general health during this time.
You must follow a healthy, balanced diet to ensure that you get all the required nutrients and calories your body needs to keep your health during menopause and beyond.
Eat a variety of foods from the five major food groups – Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein Foods, and Dairy.
Include foods that help with menopause naturally: Phytoestrogens (plant estrogen) are compounds that occur naturally in plants, they function very much like human estrogen and therefore balances the level of estrogen in the body. Phytoestrogens can help prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Estrogen-rich foods for menopause – phytoestrogens are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Phytoestrogens such as Isoflavones are found in soybean, tofu, soy milk, soy flour, and other soy-based products are associated with health benefits.
Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA) is an essential fatty acid found primarily in vegetable oils that helps regulate hormone balance and promotes menopausal health. It is also essential for maintaining skeletal health, metabolism, and for stimulating skin and hair growth.
Include foods rich in Calcium and Vitamin D: Calcium and vitamin D are essential for building and maintaining strong, healthy bones. Adequate calcium intake in the diet is essential to prevent osteoporosis and the loss of bone mass.
Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified beverages such as almond and soy milk are the best sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium include dark-green leafy vegetables, dried peas, and beans, fish with bones such as sardines and pilchards.
The recommended amount of calcium you should take every day postmenopause is 1,200 mg. This includes the total amount of calcium you get from food and supplements. Calcium supplements may be necessary only if you do not get enough calcium from foods.
Include foods rich in antioxidants: Oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen and the ability of the biological system to detoxify or repair the resulting damage early.
Antioxidants such as vitamin A, C, and E help support the body from free radicals. Papaya, tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, cantaloupe, kiwi, apricot, spinach, kale, collard greens, turnip green, raw seeds, almonds, broccoli, etc. are rich in antioxidant vitamins.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant and is also essential for the proper functioning of our bodies. Almonds, peanuts, canola oil, olive oil, sunflower seeds, meats, dairy, leafy greens, wheat germ, and fortified cereals are rich in Vitamin E.
Include foods to strengthen your immune system: A healthy immune system helps reduce infections and other diseases. Foods rich in Vitamin C, Zine, Iron, Copper, Vitamin B complex, Selenium, Vitamin E, etc., help maintain a healthy immune system in our body.
Whole grains, cheese, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, soy beans, wheat germ, fish, lentils, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, dried fruits, etc., will help maintain a strong immune system.
Include more fiber: Fiber helps maintain a healthy cholesterol balance, maintain weight, prevent constipation, etc. Whole grains, pulses, vegetables, and fruits are rich in fiber.
Drink plenty of water: Keep your body hydrated to maintain fluid balance and body temperature. Take more than 10 cups of freshwater per day. Reduce the intake of stimulants such as coffee and tea, which can hinder the absorption of nutrients.
Cut down fats and sugar: Too much-saturated fat increases the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which promotes weight gain and leads to obesity, which in turn leads to heart diseases and stroke.
Limit alcohol, avoid sugary foods and carbonated drinks. Too much sugar in your diet increases your blood sugar level may lead to diabetes.
2. The Importance Of Exercise After Menopause
Declining estrogen levels combined with reduced metabolism and lifestyle factors like unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity can result in gain weight and obesity after menopause.
Obesity increases the risk of other diseases and health problems, such as high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Regular exercise can reduce the risks associated with declining estrogen. Exercise increases good cholesterol (HDL), reduces bad cholesterol (LDL), and can help create a calorie deficit, preventing weight gain.
Exercise increases cardiorespiratory function and reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and various types of cancer, including breast, colon, and endometrial cancer.
It improves muscle mass and strengthens your bones. Strength training and impact activities like walking, jogging, swimming, biking, tennis, and dancing, help increase bone mass and prevent osteoporosis.
Exercise also helps improve mood by releasing hormones, called endorphins, in the brain. Exercises like stretching, yoga, and deep breathing can help you manage the stress of life and menopause-related symptoms.
Exercises that strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor (Kegel exercises) can help improve bladder control (urinary incontinence).
Before starting an exercise program, check with your healthcare provider, especially if you have been sedentary. Your healthcare provider can recommend the best exercise program for you.
3. Maintain Oral Hygiene
Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent the development of many oral health problems such as gum diseases and tooth decay. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with toothpaste containing fluoride and reducing the amount of sugary foods and drinks.
In case of dry mouth, keep yourself hydrated; drink plenty of water. You can talk to your dentist about treatments for dry mouth. Your dentist may recommend using a mouth rinse or saliva substitutes if needed. Visit your dentist twice a year for a professional oral examination and cleaning.
Keep In Mind
Good nutrition and regular physical exercise are the keys to maintaining a healthy and beautiful life after menopause. Avoid caffeine, smoking, alcohol, processed foods containing a high amount of saturated fat, excess salt, and sugar. Eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamins, including foods that help maintain hormone levels. Regular exercise like walking, jogging, yoga, etc., help keep your mind and body healthy and fit.