Let’s talk menopause!
You will lose interest in sex—you have probably heard that one—or you’ll have to take hormone replacement therapy to protect your heart health, or menopause is a sickness. With so many conflicting beliefs and misgivings doing the rounds on the Internet about this important phase in a woman’s life, this is probably a good time to try and separate facts from fiction.
As a woman gracefully ages, she undergoes many physiological changes that also have a bearing on her mental health—one such biological event is menopause. It marks the end of her periods, and as such her reproductive cycle. Perimenopause is the transitory phase right before a woman enters menopause. Though menopause is a naturally occurring phenomenon in a woman’s body, it can also sometimes be medically induced as a result of surgeries or medication. The average age for the onset of menopause is 51, but many women also embark on their menopausal journeys before that age. We wanted to take this space to discuss some of the oft cited myths about menopause.
It does not require medical treatment. This is too generalized a statement to be true. While some women who meet menopause naturally may not require medications to manage menopausal symptoms, many who may get menopause prematurely may resort to taking medications. Today, there are a slew of treatments including safe, complementary, and alternative therapies, herbal medications, phytoestrogens, and hormone replacement therapies available to help women deal with the often annoying symptoms of menopause.
Women lose interest in sex after hitting menopause. No two women are the same when it comes to their libidos. While there may be reasons why many may find their libido weakens post menopause, others may notice no difference in their interest in sex. Some of these reasons for disinterest could be vaginal dryness, reduced estrogen levels, or other hormonal changes.
It is an illness. Experts do not concur on addressing menopause as an illness. It is a natural progression in the biological life of a woman; a phase she is likely to spend a quarter of her life in, assuming a woman lives to at least 80 years and enters menopause at 50.
A woman does not require contraception after reaching menopause. Experts recommend use of contraception for as long as a year after periods have completely stopped for women who are over 50 years of age. Also, women may still want to require their partners to use protection to avoid contracting sexually transmitted disorders.
Hot flushes are the main symptom of menopause. While hot flushes and night sweats are the most obvious signs, menopause causes a series of hormonal changes that may lead to physiological and mental discomfort that needs to be paid attention to, including
- Sex drive may be affected
- Low prana or energy levels
- Mood swings
- Low self-esteem and confidence
- Vaginal dryness
- Thwarted sleep cycles.
If you are undergoing these symptoms, it is always a good idea to reach out for help.
The symptoms of menopause typically last 3–4 years, but it is difficult to put an exact number on it. Usually, symptoms disappear within four years after the last period, but that may not be the case with everyone. Some women may continue to experience the symptoms for longer.
Menopause increases cardiovascular risks in women. There is some truth to this. Studies have shown menopause increases some of the risk factors for heart diseases in women in their post-menopausal phase. This could be attributed to reduced estrogen levels in post-menopausal women. Estrogen supports the flexibility of the inner layers of arterial walls. Once women reach menopause, it becomes important for them to examine their health status and embrace a low-carb diet, eating more fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, legumes, grains. Working out daily and adopting a low-stress lifestyle also helps.
Hormone replacement therapy is needed to manage cardiovascular risks. This myth has been wholly debunked. In fact, studies have shown that hormone replacement therapies do not reduce heart risks. For this reason, the American Heart Association recommends against using postmenopausal hormone therapy to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.
There is no alternative to hormone therapies for managing menopausal symptoms. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Today, there are tenuous numbers of ways to manage the symptoms without having to go through the effects of artificial hormone replacement therapy. Natural systems of healing including Ayurveda and Siddha, acupressure, lifestyle transitions, herbal formulations, and getting into spiritual practices like yoga, breathwork, and meditation—all in all, adopting a holistic lifestyle can go a long way in helping women manage the symptoms.
Menopausal symptoms cannot be handled through natural systems. If you take a good look at the science of Ayurveda, you will find it offers ways to balance one’s body and mind by aligning oneself to the rhythm of life. There is rhythm in nature-there are seasons outside, and similarly our bodies go through natural phases of childhood, puberty, and menopause. Ayurveda offers an entire body of holistic wisdom that includes the study of herbs, dietary changes, Ayurvedic therapies, cleanses, and lifestyle changes that balance the doshas, imbalance of which may have caused premature menopause or perimenopausal symptoms. Ayurveda also offers an understanding of how the tridoshas affect each phase or season of our life and this helps us manage those particular imbalances better.
Today more women encounter premature perimenopausal symptoms due to misaligned lifestyle habits, introduction of chemicals, artificial colors, genetically modified and processed foods in our diets that do not go with our prakruti, chronic stress, and anxiety that is causing doshas to get aggravated. Vitiated doshas can make existing symptoms more painful and intense, if not managed in time.
- A daily routine for managing vata dosha
- A diet that rebalances the doshas and suits an individual’s prakruti preferably seasonal goodies that are naturally grown and fresh
- Abhyanga or self-massage to calm the vata and pitta, provide relaxation and mental comfort, and improve circulation and functioning of the lymphatic system
- Specific herbs and herbal decoctions to draw from the healing properties of dosha-balancing herbs
- Specific lifestyle habits—such as a set routine for waking up and going to sleep, inner cleanses (neti and tongue cleaning), meditation, spending time in nature, among others.
- Panchakarma: Ayurvedic physicians may also recommend specific Panchakarma retreats for total detoxification of ama that has built up in the system over the years, affecting one’s metabolism, digestion and vitality. Panchakarma treatments will also rekindle the digestive fire that is believed to be the basis of health and vitality.
- There are herbs, fruits and vegetables that are rich sources of phytoestrogens and these find mention in ancient classical Ayurvedic texts. Herbs like shatavari, licorice, ashwagandha, rose, gudichi, gotu kola, bala are used in making ayurvedic preparations that help reduce menopausal symptoms.