As our bodies change through life, we can experience different health challenges along the way. Most noticeable is Menopause, the natural stage when a woman’s periods cease; the ovaries stop releasing eggs and hormone levels drop. Often in our early 50’s, around 80% of women experience hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, loss of libido and vaginal dryness. These symptoms are generally mild-moderate and last for a couple of years.
Lower estrogen levels can cause the walls of the vagina and urethra to become dry, fragile and irritated. If you are affected by urinary tract infections and/or vaginal dryness, use non-fragranced washes instead of soap; choose natural underwear and try a lubricant or moisturiser if vaginal dryness is bothering you. Your doctor may prescribe an estrogen cream.
Through this phase, the ability of our digestive system to absorb nutrients decreases while our need for some vitamins and minerals increases. Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D and regular weight bearing exercise are essential for bone health. Maintaining iron and other nutrient levels can be achieved with a healthy, balanced diet and supplements when necessary.
Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) is available in creams, pessaries, patches and tablets. While evidence around MHT has varied over years, internationally it is now believed that benefits are likely to outweigh the risks for most women under 60 years within 10 years of menopause, for relief from bothersome symptoms. Your doctor and pharmacist can help you weigh up the risks and benefits.
As an alternative, antidepressants that act on serotonin levels may improve mood swings and hot flushes. Some women will get short-term relief from black cohosh or phytoestrogens (red clover, soy). Making lifestyle changes may also help, start with reducing stress and practicing relaxation. Eat a healthy diet, low in saturated fat and high in calcium and fibre. Quit smoking and limit tea, coffee and alcohol. And please, ask for help and support from friends, family and professionals when you need it.