Stay Healthy Before, During and After Menopause
June 26, 2023
Menopause and Living Well
Approaching menopause is an important transition in a woman’s life. It often comes with other life changes, like children growing up. Some women may have more free time to themselves to work on advancing careers or trying new hobbies. Others are just happy to say goodbye to the nuisance of monthly periods and menstrual cramps. Fluctuations in the reproductive hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone, during this time, however, can cause a myriad of challenging physiological symptoms, causing many women to be apprehensive about the onset of menopause.
“The good news is that working with a healthcare provider on healthy diet and exercise habits and other treatments, if necessary, can go a long way in helping women feel their best,” says Angie Scarpa, CNM, ARNP, nurse practitioner and midwife with Lakewood Ranch Medical Group.
Perimenopause and Menopause
Perimenopause, the bridge between the reproductive years and menopause, typically begins when a woman is in her 40s and can last for several years. The severity of symptoms during perimenopause varies, but often includes hot flashes, weight gain, changing menstrual cycles, bladder problems, vaginal dryness, brain fog and insomnia or sleep disturbances, anxiety or depression.*
Menopause is typically confirmed after 12 consecutive months of no periods. It occurs when a woman’s ovaries have stopped making estrogen, marking a permanent end to fertility. Symptoms may become milder or go away completely, although some women may experience symptoms for a decade or longer. The average age for menopause is 51.*
“Once a woman reaches menopause, the risk for developing osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other conditions increases,” says Scarpa. “Developing or keeping up with healthy habits during the perimenopausal phase, not only helps to relieve distressful symptoms, but can also help women throughout the rest of their lives. Getting or staying active, losing weight, if needed, and eating a healthy, low-fat diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables is recommended.”
Healthy Eating and Exercise
- Lean proteins, including chicken, turkey, fish, beans and legumes, are heart healthy.
- Soybeans, edamame, unsweetened soy milk, tofu, tempeh and flax may help with hormonal balance.
- Foods rich in vitamin E (avocado, almonds, broccoli, kale, spinach, papaya, kiwi, peanuts, red bell pepper and sunflower seeds) may help to reduce hot flashes.
- Try iron-rich foods that can help to combat fatigue, including broccoli, eggs, apricots and spinach.
- Foods with Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, flax, chia, walnuts and edamame, may help with fatigue or low mood.
- Vitamin D is important for bone health. Ask your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.
- Drink plenty of water.
A regular program of high- and low-impact, weight-bearing and strength exercises can help to regulate metabolism, increase bone mass to protect against osteoporosis, relieve stress, anxiety and depression, and reduce the risks of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Examples include lifting weights, dancing, jogging, stair climbing, yoga and use of resistance bands, walking and low-impact aerobics and gardening.**
As always, seek the advice of your healthcare provider on diet and exercise.
Hot flashes, also known as vasomotor symptoms or VMS, can be particularly troubling. About 75 percent of women in perimenopause experience hot flashes.* When they happen at night, they are called night sweats. Characterized by a sudden sense of heat and flushing of the face, sometimes with sweating, dizziness, heart palpitations and feelings of anxiety, hot flashes can have an impact on many aspects of a woman’s life.
“Tips to help reduce hot flashes include avoiding caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods,” says Scarpa. “Also, try dressing in layers so that you can take clothing off as you feel hot, sip cool water, and use a portable fan. If you smoke, quit. Hypnotherapy and mindfulness meditation may also help.”
About 15 to 20 percent of the approximately 1.3 million women in the U.S. currently in menopause will experience severe symptoms.*** When healthy lifestyle habits are not enough to bring relief, prescription medications may be helpful, including prescription hormone therapy (HT), which has been found to steady the levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body. Prescription drugs for depression, such as Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI), have also been found to bring relief for hot flashes.
Talk to your healthcare provider about treatments that are right for you.
*North American Menopause Society **https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296386/#:~:text=Weight%20bearing%2C%20high%20impact%20exercises,mass%2C%20and%20are%20not%20frail.
***National Institutes of Health
About Angie Scarpa, CNM, ARNP
Angie Scarpa, CNM, ARNP, earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of South Florida in Tampa. Her Master’s in Nursing was obtained from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, where she also became certified as a nurse midwife and an advanced registered nurse practitioner. In addition to caring for women going through menopausal transition, she also treats teens and young women from puberty onward. She has 13 years of experience as a labor and delivery nurse and has been a nurse practitioner and midwife for seven years. She truly loves delivering babies and providing women with care, from prenatal and postpartum to menopause and beyond.