Dr. Jaime Seeman
When hot flashes turn your life into a “heat wave” of adventure, chances are you are part of the group going through menopause. Over two million U.S. women enter menopause annually, and more than six million women worldwide, according to the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health. But what are the signs of this aging process that women experience and how can we navigate menopause without losing our identity?
Yes, menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman's reproductive years and starting menopause is part of every woman’s aging journey. It’s true it can come with shifts in mood, nighttime sweating, anxiety, memory lapses, digestive challenges, and bladder issues. Some women can also undergo more subtle bodily changes, like reduced bone density which can increase other chronic diseases in the future. Unfortunately, not every female experiences the same symptoms, which can lead to confusion and angst. Sounds fun, right?
However, before women approach the life-stage event, they enter a transitional phase known as perimenopause, which can begin up to several years before menopause actually occurs. Perimenopause often shows up with a few trademark signs, like those signs of menopause. While for some, these changes may be brief, they can extend for as long as four to eight years.
There are also a handful of signs that are less obvious but still point to perimenopause and here are a few tips on how women can cope: 1. Sleep disturbances: Due to falling progesterone levels, many women experience trouble sleeping during perimenopause. This can manifest as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless nights. If you notice sleep disturbances, try to incorporate some breathwork and relaxation leading up to bedtime. Stay off electronic devices and listen to soothing music or a mindfulness podcast if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night. Keep a consistent bedtime and wake up time. Avoid caffeine, stimulants, and alcohol late in the day. It’s also important to get early and mid-day sunlight to support our natural circadian rhythm. 2. Changes to your gut microbiome: Digestive issues may arise as women experience shifting hormones. To keep the gut microbiome healthy, I like incorporating Bifidobacterium animalis (BB-12 ®), a clinically researched probiotic strain, into the diet. This helps not only support optimal digestion, but this probiotic strain has also been shown to help with immune health—a win-win!
3. Vaginal dryness: Declining estrogen levels can cause changes in the vaginal tissues, leading to dryness, discomfort during intercourse, or an increased susceptibility to urinary tract infections. Talk with your doctor about using low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy. It’s very safe and very effective. As we lose estrogen in the vagina, we lose the predominant bacteria lactobacillus. This causes the pH of the vagina starts to rise and makes us susceptible to infections and dryness, which truly affects a woman’s quality of life. If you want to proactively maintain your female health, probiotics can help maintain the vagina’s good bacteria, while keeping the pH and yeast in balance, by incorporating Lactobacillus reuteri (RC-14®) and Lactobacillus rhamnosus (GR-1®), two of the most heavily researched probiotic strains for female health. 4. Changes in libido: Some women may experience a decrease in their sex drive during perimenopause due to hormonal changes and other factors like fatigue or mood swings. Sexual desire in women can be affected biologically, socially, and psychologically. Medical hormone therapy is certainly something to consider but beyond that, our lifestyle, how much sleep we get, our stress levels, and nutrition, for example, still have an incredible impact on our sexual health and mood. If you need a jumpstart in the bedroom, consider introducing sex toys. Don’t be shy about expressing your needs and desires as you navigate this new phase of life with your partner (or yourself!) There are many choices when it comes to sex toys, so be sure you stick to waterproof medical-grade silicone and I suggest one that is rechargeable. You don’t want to be dealing with dead batteries when you find your groove!
Despite all the changes happening within us during this natural transition, there truly is a lot we as women can control and do proactively.
Eating a whole food, nutrient-dense diet and lifting weights can make an incredible impact. Loss of muscle or lean body mass must be combated by consuming adequate dietary protein and lifting heavy things. The loss of muscle associated with menopause creates a poor metabolic state and this increases our risk of all chronic diseases like diabetes, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease. Not only that but keeping our body strong and stable reduces the risks of falls and injury. Aim for 30 grams of protein per meal, balanced with a healthy fat source, to achieve satiety throughout the day. Resistance training 3-4 times per week and increasing your daily step count (8,000-10,000 steps per day) can drastically improve your metabolic health.
It's important to remember that every woman's experience with perimenopause is unique, and not everyone will have the same symptoms or severity. If you suspect you might be in perimenopause or experiencing early signs of menopause, it's always a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider. They can provide personalized guidance and advice based on your specific situation.
Dr. Jaime Seeman, is a board-certified Obstetrician-Gynecologist with a background in Nutrition, Exercise and Health Science. She is also a current Fellow in Integrative Medicine and a Board Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist. For more, visit: www.doctorfitandfabulous.com.