Menopause is the last stage of a gradual natural process that leads to menstruation stopping permanently and signals the end of a woman’s reproductive period. The transition period before menopause is called perimenopause, when the body starts producing less oestrogen. During this period, women may experience some emotional and physical changes. Some women experience great discomfort while others hardly notice any difference in their bodies or moods.
Some symptoms of menopause include irregular menses, weight gain, loss of muscle strength, tiredness, body aches, thinning hair, drier and more wrinkled skin, and mood swings. Some may experience headaches and palpitations. There is also a rapid loss of bone mass in the first three to five years after menopause starts, which may lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures. A decline in oestrogen levels in older women after menopause leads to higher low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which contributes to higher risk of heart disease.
To effectively cope with menopause:
- Have a healthy, well-balanced diet to combat weight gain. One should reduce sugar and fat intake and increase intake of whole grains/ brown rice. Fermented beans and soy products such as beancurd are high in phytoestrogens and may reduce menopausal symptoms.
- Ensure adequate calcium and vitamin D intake to prevent osteoporosis. An adult 50 years and above needs about 1000mg of elemental calcium daily and 400–1000 IU of vitamin D daily. Most women do not get enough vitamin D as it is derived from exposure to sunlight, hence it is good to do a blood test to check for levels of vitamin D.
- Lead an active lifestyle with regular exercise, including cardio, weight bearing and balance exercises. Post menopausal women who exercise regularly are about half as likely to develop diabetes compared to their sedentary counterparts. Gentle exercises that promote mobility, flexibility and relaxation also decrease stiffness and soreness of muscles.
- Get enough rest and sleep. If you have hot flushes that disturb your sleep, wear cool clothing and reduce your intake of alcohol, coffee and spicy food.
You can also do a health check to exclude hypothyroidism – also known as underactive thyroid – if you complain of weight gain and tiredness. All perimenopausal and menopausal women should have health check-ups, which include a breast screening, Pap smear, as well as screening for risk of heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol, hypertension and bone density changes. Early detection and treatment of these illnesses will improve quality of life in later years.
In cases where symptoms of menopause are bothersome and severe, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be prescribed. However, most of the time, lifestyle changes and understanding the process of menopause will help one manage the symptoms well. Most women do not need treatment for menopause and continue to live active and interesting lives after menopause.