The changes that a woman goes through as a result of menopause can be difficult to discuss.
But you aren’t alone; menopause is a condition that women rarely like to talk about, and due to the lack of awareness, many suffer in silence before discovering that they are actually going through this natural biological process.
It is a period in a woman’s life when we stop getting periods and hormone levels change.
The consequence for many includes sagging skin, wrinkles and other signs of ageing, so it’s no wonder we don’t like to talk about it as no one wants to admit that they are showing signs of age.
The basics like symptoms and what to expect have been covered in the previous column, so let’s talk about what you can do to mitigate these symptoms.
You cannot stop menopause from happening, but fortunately, many of these symptoms are temporary.
There are also many things that can help relieve them, including changes in lifestyle, certain food and supplements, home remedies, alternative medicine and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Let’s take a look at helpful lifestyle changes and at-home remedies first:
Add a morning (or evening) walk or run to your daily routine to ensure that you are getting at least 20 minutes of physical activity a day.
It will not only help with menopausal symptoms, but also help prevent other conditions related to ageing, such as decrease in muscle mass, osteoporosis and cardiovascular (heart) issues.
As menopause can cause urinary incontinence, learn some pelvic floor exercises – also known as Kegel exercises.
They help strengthen your pelvic floor and help with incontinence.
Meditation, breathing techniques practised in yoga and pilates, progressive muscle relaxation and massages may help relieve menopause symptoms.
Try online courses, videos or classes of different breathing or meditation techniques until you find the ones that suit you best.
Don’t neglect the quality of your sleep during menopause.
Exercise, reduce your caffeine intake late in the day, and sleep early, to maximise the regenerative benefits of your sleep cycle.
Smoking may encourage hot flashes, which disrupt your sleep and cause discomfort throughout the day.
This is in addition to increasing the risk of cancer, lung disease, heart disease and other health problems.
Saturated fats, processed foods and sugar will make you feel worse when dealing with menopause symptoms.
If you don’t already have lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains and healthy fats in your diet, it’s time to make a change.
Also consider adding supplements like calcium and vitamin D to fortify your nutritional needs.
Water-based, over-the-counter lubricants can help with extreme vaginal dryness.
If you don’t like the idea of using these, ask your doctor for a suitable fragrance-free cream moisturiser to use.
This is one of the most common symptoms of menopause.
Many women tend to have triggers for this symptom, which can range from stress, warm temperatures and hot beverages, to alcohol, caffeine and spicy food.
To help reduce the effects of hot flashes, keep a bottle of cold water or a portable fan with you at all times.
Layer your clothing, so that if you feel hot, you can remove a layer to help cool yourself down.
From the doctor
There are also a number of medical treatments available to help with menopause symptoms.
Oestrogen therapy is the most effective treatment option for relieving menopausal hot flashes.
Your doctor may recommend this treatment, depending on your personal and family medical history.
Oestrogen also helps prevent bone loss.
Long-term use of HRT may have some cardiovascular and breast cancer risks, but starting on this treatment around the time of menopause has shown benefits for some women.
This drug is helpful for women who cannot use oestrogen therapy and those who experience nighttime hot flashes.
Although it is actually approved to treat seizures, it has been shown to also help reduce hot flashes.
Antidepressants that are classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may help to decrease hot flashes.
A low dose of these drugs may help women who cannot use oestrogen therapy.
Clonidine is a pill or patch used to treat high blood pressure, but may also provide some relief from hot flashes.
Oestrogen can be applied directly to the vagina using a vaginal cream, tablet or ring.
This treatment relieves vaginal dryness by releasing a small amount of oestrogen, which is absorbed by the vaginal tissues.
It can also help relieve discomfort with sexual intercourse and some urinary symptoms.
Your doctor may recommend medication to prevent or treat osteoporosis.
Several are available to help reduce bone loss and risk of fractures.
There are many types of alternative treatments used or currently being studied for their usefulness in managing menopause.
Here are some of the most common ones we know of:
Derived from plant sources, these hormones are chemically identical to those produced in your body.
They have some distinctly different and potentially opposite physiological effects, compared to their synthetic counterparts, which have different chemical structures.
Studies by the US National Institutes of Health confirmed that bioidentical hormones are safer than synthetic hormones, including being less likely to cause serious illnesses like breast cancer.
However, more scientific evidence is required to verify whether they are any less risky than traditional HRT.
There are some commercially-available bioidentical hormones approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
There may be some temporary help from acupuncture in reducing hot flashes.
Do note that so far, research has not shown that acupuncture can produce consistent improvement with this symptom.
Aside from the breathing and relaxation techniques learnt in yoga, this ancient practice also improves strength and coordination, which may help prevent falls that could lead to broken bones.
Do consider taking a class from a qualified instructor to learn the proper techniques and poses.
These plant oestrogens occur naturally in certain foods, the main ones being isoflavones and lignans.
Soybeans, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes contain isoflavones.
Flaxseed, whole grains, and some other fruits and vegetables, contain lignans.
Although these substances do bear similarities to human oestrogen, it isn’t really certain whether they can help relieve menopausal symptoms.
Do note that isoflavones have some mild oestrogen-like effects, so if you’ve had breast cancer, talk to your doctor before supplementing your diet with isoflavone pills.
Hypnotherapy may reduce the occurrence of hot flashes for some menopausal women, according to research from the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
It may also help improve sleep and decrease the interference of menopausal symptoms in daily life.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email email@example.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.