Six Sensible Steps in Planning for your Menopause

Written by Anita Dyrbye, CEO of From The Earth Naturally Ltd.

Women plan for life’s milestones, such as the coming of age, weddings and births. I believe that every woman should also plan for her menopause. Becoming proactive in planning for your menopause not only allows for greater ease when it’s your time to make this natural transition, but also empowers you to stay in control of your emotional and physical wellbeing throughout the transition.

Every woman will go through menopause; there are no exceptions to this rule. You can’t hide from it; trust me I tried with 18 years of being on hormone replacement therapy. Today large numbers of baby-boomers are entering menopause. These are really big numbers! According to Maturatis (Medical Journal) 47 million North American women are in menopause today, and an additional 45 million enter into menopause annually globally. So if you are 50+ you’re in good company!

As a woman, you have the most intimate relationship with your body, therefore it’s very important to understand what messages your body is sending you when something is amiss. For example, ever experienced ongoing severe headaches, mood swings, or forgetfulness? These are signs that something is imbalanced in your body. Being proactive in finding the root causes and initiating solutions could mean something as simple as changing or adjusting your diet, adding specific supplements or it could mean managing your stress levels or knowing when it’s time to go see your health care practitioner. This allows you to address these symptoms before they manifest into something more serious. Becoming harmonious with your body will ensure that your transition through perimenopause, menopause, and finally into post menopause will be significantly improved.

As a menopausal woman myself, I had been on hormone replacement therapy for over 18 years when I felt it was time to get off hormone supplementation and allow my body to transition into full menopause. It wasn’t easy but it certainly was doable. I firmly believed that by first accepting and embracing that it was time for my body to enter menopause I could make it to the other side without a hiccup! So I partnered with a naturopath doctor and started my journey, which of course was not as simple as I’d hoped it to be but, because I was proactive, it was manageable.

I spent over eight years researching and obtaining information about menopause from many sources, such as medical doctors, naturopaths, herbalists, aroma therapists, research scientists and psychologists. I studied meditation and yoga, ate healthy food, and even signed up for a full medical assessment at a menopause clinic. What did I get from all that? Well, I made my transition into full menopause in record time and learned from all these experts that the following steps are the most effect way to take control of our health and well being for entering menopause. I now recommend these steps to other women. I’m also encouraging my daughter and three daughters-in-law to actively follow these steps.

  1. When should a woman begin planning for her menopause? Ideally these six steps can and should be used in all the phases of a woman’s life from the early teens onward.
  2. Empower yourself get informed
  3. Partner with a Health Care practitioner
  4. Adjust your diet to reflect your age and body’s hormonal changes
  5. Exercise
  6. Manage stress
  7. Keep a health diary

1. Empower yourself by becoming informed about menopause. It’s important to understand that menopause is NOT an illness or a disorder (it used to be listed as such with Health Canada); it’s a natural transition. This doesn’t mean it’s easy and it certainly comes with a variety of symptoms. Some women have few or no physical or emotional adjustments; for many others, however, it can be much harder.

Learn how to recognize signs of perimenopause. Entering perimenopause can be tricky to detect until, of course, there are obvious signs that cannot be ignored. Knowing what signs to look for will really help.

There are many resources available today such as NAMS (North American Menopause Society) as well as plenty of other website resources such as our Menomission, a community based women’s website. Learn through professional blog posts by experts on menopause such as Dr. Lara Armstrong, ND. At the Menomission, you can connect with other women and share your experiences with Dr. Armstrong. Understanding the changes to expect in your body takes away the fear and confusion when odd things occur like night sweats, or when the wild tigress comes out of you for no apparent reason.

2. Partner with a health care practitioner. Together you and your practitioner can plan how best to monitor and manage your health as your body continues to mature, and as you enter into the first of the three stages of menopause. More information on the 3 stages of menopause.

Sometimes it can be difficult to choose the right health practitioner for managing your menopause. It largely depends on your general health, emotional needs, as well as personal values and expectations.

TIP: I learned that Canadian medical doctors are limited in the ability to prescribe non-hormonal natural health product options for managing menopausal symptoms. This is largely because of the restrictions under College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, which restricts the use of natural health products due to its stance on the lack of clinical evidence and safety issues of natural health products. Read more here. Thus if you’re going to see your medical doctor for non-hormonal natural health product suggestions as a way to manage your symptoms, you may be disappointed.

I’m not suggesting that Canadian medical doctors are not a good choice, because certainly they are. My point is that they are often limited in their options of recommendations if you choose a natural non-hormonal route. Hormone replacement therapy is considered the most effective therapy for menopause-related symptoms, but according to the many current studies there are potential health risks from its long-term use. Albeit the risk may be low, still this concern has women looking for alternatives. If non-hormonal supplements are your preferred choice in managing symptoms of menopause, the best-qualified practitioner in Canada would be a Naturopathic Doctor (ND). You can learn more about ND’s here. Note that ND’s are very qualified and knowledgeable regarding the use and application of Bio-Identical Hormone therapy. They have an intimate understanding of these types of options, as well as access to quality natural health products.

There are other choices for credible healthcare practitioners such as herbalists, aroma therapists, acupuncturists, dieticians and chiropractors. There are several online resource listing of credible health care practitioners such as The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors. It’s also helpful to get recommendations from family and friends on which healthcare practitioner would best meet your needs. Sometimes more than one practitioner will be utilized throughout a woman’s life.

3. Adjust your diet to reflect your age and body’s hormonal changes. As we age our bodies require more or less specific nutrients such as an increase in calcium and vitamin D. Dr. Lara Armstrong, ND strongly recommends adjusting your diet as the most important first line of defense in mitigating menopausal symptoms. Honestly, supplements alone cannot mitigate your menopausal symptoms if you have a poor diet, don’t exercise regularly and live with high level of constant stress.

A cool example of adding something natural to your diet is provided by Constadina Zarokostas-Vasiliades, who suggests adding dandelion to your diet to help balance and detoxify your body. Read more here.

4. Exercise. I know you’ve heard this many times before but really it makes a huge difference in your overall health and wellbeing. By simply adding 20 minutes each day of exercise, you’ll find improved sleep and better energy levels. It’s never too late to start but I highly suggest starting with something that is simple and easy to accommodate in your daily living. Adjust or begin your exercise program according to your body’s changes and needs. Personally I like rigorous belly dancing and swimming to stay fit. If you don’t normally exercise, learn what type of exercise interests you and best suits your lifestyle. It’s much easier to keep up and maintain. Constadina Zarokostas-Vasliades gives some simple easy steps to get you started. Dr. Lara Armstrong discusses the importance of exercise for menopausal health

5. Manage Stress: Discover your stressors and how to mitigate them. Learn what works best for you such as yoga or meditation, or sometimes it helps to have professional counseling to work through difficult stressful situations: Dr. Lara Armstrong, ND, talks about how important it is to alleviate stress, particularly to decrease menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.

6. Keep a health diary. Health diaries have been used for three purposes:

  1. A health diary offers improved levels of reporting compared to retrospective interviews with your health care practitioner.
  2. A health diary will minimize recall error; we all have experienced times where we cannot recall accurate details.
  3. And finally, a health diary will help you correlate evidence related to symptoms. Overall, health diaries have well-documented advantages with respect to content – the rich information they provide about your health. Click Here to see a sample of a menopausal health diary. There is even a phone application called Mypause that can be downloaded through iTunes. This program offers a simple template to record your symptoms as they occur and store that data to review later on.