At Champion Health, we are on a mission to optimise wellbeing in the workplace, from mental health to physical health and everything in between.
Whilst mental health has taken the spotlight over the last few months, it’s important we continue to open up the conversation on the less talked about aspects of our health; including the menopause.
To mark World Menopause Day 2020 on 18th October, we sat down with our very own Dr Jodie Moss to find out more about what it is, how it affects the body and what you (or your partner, mum or sister) can do to help manage the symptoms.
So, Jodie, what is the menopause?
The menopause is a completely natural process, usually occurring between the age of 45 and 55. It can even be experienced by women as young as 30, however this is rare. The medical definition of menopause is when a woman has not had a period for 12 months, although there is a transition phase experienced before this, known as the perimenopause.
I haven’t heard of the perimenopause – what is it?
This is where the body is making the natural transition into the menopause. There are a number of hormonal changes occurring in the body at this point, which can last for a number of years as your body tries to find its new balanced state. The age at which perimenopause starts tends to vary too, which makes it challenging to recognise, understand and seek support for your symptoms. However, recognising the symptoms early will allow you to prepare for the changes and how to address them.
What are the symptoms?
Just like our genetic makeup varies, so does our experience of the menopause. However, research suggests that 80% of women experience some noticeable symptoms, so – although it might seem like it – you are not going through this experience alone.
During the transition phase, the first symptom you may experience is a change to your menstrual cycle, such as your period arriving late or changing in intensity. Due to the decline of oestrogen, you may also experience symptoms such as irritability, trouble sleeping, hot flushes and night sweats – the latter which further contribute to a poor night’s sleep. Other common symptoms include a drop in your sex drive, vaginal dryness or pain and discomfort during sex. Tracking your menstrual cycle, either by writing it in a diary or using an app, can help you to log these symptoms and look out for patterns.
I’ve also heard memory problems can occur during perimenopause – is this true?
Yes, definitely. This is associated with a decline in testosterone, resulting in “brain fog” that impairs your memory and concentration. It can also influence your mood and increase levels of tiredness. Experiencing all these symptoms can make work very difficult, leading to 1 in 4 women considering resigning from their jobs due to experiencing perimenopausal symptoms (Wellbeing of Women Survey, 2016).
There’s no wonder then that worry, stigma and a negative attitude towards the menopause exists, which has only been shown to exacerbate symptoms. On the other hand, adopting a positive attitude and equipping yourself with the knowledge and skills to cope with these unpleasant symptoms has been shown to improve quality of life.
So, what can women do to make a difference?
There are many lifestyle factors that can help you manage the menopause, which include:
- Creating a comfortable workplace environment:
The temperature of your work environment is important, along with the ventilation and airflow in your workspace. Working from home means you can be more flexible with this and adjust it to what suits you. You may also find it useful to wear comfortable clothing, keep a water bottle to hand and speak to your manager about what would help you or any adjustments they could make.
- Eating regular and well-balanced meals:
Declining levels of oestrogen and progesterone can cause your blood sugars to fluctuate, which can make you feel shaky and light-headed. When we miss or delay a meal, this can make it even worse, so try to maintain your blood sugar levels by eating regularly throughout the day.
- Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D:
The decline in oestrogen experienced during the menopause can lead to low bone mineral density, increasing your risk of developing osteoporosis. To keep your bones strong and healthy include, green leafy vegetables such as; watercress, kale and broccoli. You should also include oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines), milk, yoghurt and cheese in your diet.
- Include wholegrains, fruit and vegetables everyday:
Research shows that eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates can result in the menopause starting nearly two years earlier than it otherwise would. Swap refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, rice and pasta for wholegrain alternatives, which will also provide you with more fibre and help to regulate blood sugar levels.
- Reducing your alcohol consumption:
Regular alcohol consumption can worsen menopausal symptoms, increasing your risk of hot flushes and night sweats. These in turn will have an effect on your sleep, tiredness and energy levels. If you drink regularly, try to “drop a drink size” or have a few drink free days per week to see if your symptoms improve.
- Reducing your caffeine intake:
Caffeine from tea, coffee and fizzy drinks may worsen menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flushes and poor sleep. Try to reduce your intake by having caffeine free alternatives. It is also important to stay well-hydrated, as changes in your body temperature can lead to increased water loss (e.g. through sweating). Keep a water bottle handy to keep track of how much you are drinking, which will also help you stay cool during hot flushes.
- Engaging in regular physical activity:
We recommend doing a least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. This can include going for a brisk walk, a light jog or a bike ride. Even doing the housework or gardening allows you to get your heart rate up and move your body. Exercise will not only improve your physical health but will also improve your mental health, making you feel good about yourself.
- Include strengthening exercises:
You do not need to go to the gym or lift heavy weights to strengthen your muscles; you can simply do this at home with just your body weight. There are lots of online workouts you can search for, when doing these, aim for large muscle groups including exercises such as squats or press ups. When doing these exercises work within your own comfort and ability, keep a window open and ensure to have a water bottle to hand. These exercise sessions will really help you with your confidence, support your bone health and reduce some menopausal symptoms.
- Seeking support from friends, family or health professionals:
Building a support network around you and reaching out for help can ease feelings of loneliness and help you cope better with the changes that are happening. Opening up to your family or partner and educating them on the menopause has also been shown to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, whilst strengthening the emotional connection within your relationship.
- Namazi, M., Sadeghi, R., and Moghadam, Z.B. (2019). “Social Determinants of Health in Menopause: An Integrative Review.” International Journal of Women’s Health. 11:637-647.
- Shariat, S., and Simbar, M. (2014). “Relationship of perceived social support with women’s experience in menopause.” Advances in Nursing and Midwifery. 25(90).
- Yoshamy, N., Morowatisharifabad, M.A., Mihanpour, H., Bahri, N., and Jadgal, K.M. (2017). “The Effect of Husbands’ Education Regarding Menopausal Health on Marital Satisfaction of Their Wives.” Journal of Menopausal Medicine. 23(1):15-24.
- Dunneram, Y., Greenwood, D.C., Burley, V.J., and Cade, J.E. (2017). “Dietary Intake and Age at Natural Menopause: Results from the UK Women’s Cohort Study.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 72(8): 733-740.