Whose Body Is This?
Understanding the Changes Associated with Menopause
What Is Menopause?
A woman’s body has three distinct phases over her lifetime:
- pre-reproductive (childhood)
- post-reproductive (aka “menopause”)
The transition between the pre- and post-reproductive states can be uncomfortable, because your hormonal secretions are changing dramatically. Once you fully enter menopause, you feel like you are in a “new” body that is capable of reactions it wasn’t capable of before, and incapable of doing things it used to do easily.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Menopause
Once in the post-reproductive stage of your life, your luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)—hormones that helped you to ovulate—are always high. Your estrogen level is much lower than before, and your progesterone level is likely also much lower than before.
In the reproductive state, you have higher levels of estrogen that are responsible for the thickening of the lining of the uterus, the elasticity of your skin, and your sexual sensitivity and responsiveness. Estrogen also plays a key role in maintaining your digestive-tract function, and it gives indirect signals to your thyroid so that it will function correctly. As your estrogen level drops during menopause, the body needs to adjust and relearn how to complete its functions in a new way.
You may notice that your skin is not as flexible as it used to be. You may gain weight and become much flabbier. You may have less interest in and pleasure from sexual activities, and your digestion might seem to be “on the fritz.”
There is good reason for all of this, which you can read more about in the resources I recommend in the “For More Information” section below. I am going to skip the explanation here and go directly to solutions.
Solving the Menopause Puzzle
Not all of the suggestions I make will work for you. In general, though, following these guidelines will make the third phase of your life more pleasant, and you will feel much more productive.
For lots of reasons, your body no longer processes starches as well as it used to. (That’s true unless you are one of the naturally lean folks who comprise 25% of the U.S. female population. If so, don’t worry about the starches too much.) So, foods like bread, potatoes, rice, beer, alcohol, cereal, and fruit get stored as fat. Darn!
What to do? You can still eat and drink your favorites (unless you really can’t shake the weight), but decrease the amount of the problematic foods to about one cup a day, spread between all three meals. Add a variety of brightly colored vegetables to your diet, and make sure you eat protein at every meal. For example, eat a hard-boiled egg with breakfast or preservative-free lunchmeat with an apple at lunch.
There are numerous organic and natural products available online or at the market that will increase the moisture level of your skin. Be advised that if they contain chemicals (phthalates, parabens, etc.), they can still be called “natural.” The problem with those chemicals is that they are estrogen-mimicking, but they don’t mimic estrogen perfectly. They confuse the hormonal function of the body and may lead to more serious problems in the long run.
Instead, choose organic creams and lotions, or simply use organic olive oil, sesame oil, or coconut oil. Any of those products will go a long way toward helping your skin stay supple. And, surprisingly, putting a filter on your shower to clear chemicals from treated water can make a tremendous difference in your skin’s moisture.
Sexual Interest and Pleasure (aka Sex Drive)
For some women, loss of sex drive is not an issue in menopause. But many women notice a decreased interest in contact, and once they are engaging sexually with a partner, they notice their sensation has completely changed (or seems to be changing).
It is possible to use creams (estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone) that are prescribed by your doctor. The creams often will help to treat dryness and lack of sex drive. If you don’t want to go that route, you and your partner can take time to form a new kind of connection and explore new pleasurable activities.
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs help to optimize body function, and in doing so relieve many of the symptoms associated with menopause. Read more about that in my “How to Tame Hot Flashes” blog post here.
Contact me with your questions or to schedule an appointment today at my Lakewood, CO or Centennial, CO office. Get yourself back on the road to balance!
More Information on Menopausal Changes and Symptom Mitigation
The Wisdom of Menopause (Revised Edition): Creating Physical and Emotional Health During the Change, a book by Christiane Northrup, M.D.
The Menopause Diet, a book by Larrian Gillespie
Non-Hormonal Ways to Cope with Hot Flashes & Menopause, an online article by The Cleveland Clinic Foundation