One of the myths about menopause is that symptoms are related to a deficiency of hormones, either estrogen or progesterone. Yet if that was the case why wouldn’t all women get these symptoms ? My favourite assessment of menopause is that its a “report card” on the last 10 years. That’s great if you have been doing all the right things but it can be problematic if you live in a big city, work full time with kids or have dealt with a lot of stress.
Generally in practice the consistent triggers for menopausal havoc are adrenal fatigue, toxicity, dysbiosis (gut dysfunction), hormonal imbalance, excess weight and inflammation. In the more difficult cases it can be a combination of these factors and that’s why its important to ensure you review all these areas in your initial case taking and think about which areas you need to prioritise.
So how do you decide what’s contributing to your symptoms ?
Adrenal Fatigue – also known as I am a full time carer, full time worker and full time nanny/housekeeper (also known as Mum) or combination of some or all of the above. Stress initially raises adrenaline to prepare us for fight or flight. Longer term it results in elevated cortisol which may result in fluid retention and weight gain.
Dysbiosis or gut dysfunction – if your gut isn’t working properly its hard to digest the nutrients you need and also support your liver to detoxify effectively. This will result in hormone imbalance particularly through peri-menopause when the liver is already working harder to detoxify hormones. Signs of gut dysfunction could include flatulence, bloating or reflux. Treatment will often involve identifying and removing food intolerances whilst supporting digestive function to reduce reactivity.
Toxicity – two big areas areas are Heavy Metals or Endocrine Disruptors which can be a little tricky to determine but think lots of plastics or old fillings (usually amalgams contain mercury and silver). Switch over to glass or BPA free plastic as much as possible to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors. Also look at your cosmetics and skin care products to ensure you are minimising your exposure to chemicals and reducing the burden on the liver. One problem with toxicity is that it makes it harder to lose weight as the body will push these toxins into fat and will resist releasing it to protect you.
Inflammation can be due to carrying excess body fat but can also be due to chronic injuries which trigger constant inflammation in the body. Anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil and tumeric can be helpful but exercise has an important role to play here in reducing inflammation as well. Just make sure its not aggravating an existing injury and consider whether you may need more support such as in acqua aerobics in the pool for example which can take pressure off joints.
Hormonal Imbalance for some women hormones will be imbalanced because of some of the reasons listed above however there are some good herbal and homeopathic options available which can help. The most widely used herbal medicine is probably Vitex or Agnes Castus which can assist women with menopausal symptoms. Usually with herbal medicine and certainly with homeopathic medicines it is preferable to prescribe based on the client’s specific symptoms. In the last few months I have found clients have had relief from symptoms with Glonoine, Sepia and Sulphur homeopathically, its never one size fits all . A 2008 study of 438 women with hot flushes showed a significant improvement in symptoms for 90% of women in the trial (1).
Christine Pope is a Naturopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the website
Taking a week out in the sun in Winter is an ideal way to recharge the batteries. Last year I went to Fiji for a week with the family and it made such a difference to have a mid year break. The question is how do you keep the batteries charged when you get back?
Think about incorporating some of the relaxing rituals from your holiday into your life on your return or use it as a chance to start eating better. Some useful options to consider could be:
Daily walks – one thing you tend to do as a tourist is walk, often quite a lot more than you would normally. So once you have started why not keep it up. Walking along the beach is always relaxing and incorporating a weekly beach or bayside walk is ideal. The great thing about walking is you don’t need a lot of equipment and you can always walk to a coffee bar for a convenient top up.
Being in nature – barefoot on the beach or on your back lawn. Walking the Corso in Manly is a great way to pick up your mood. Spending some time in nature each day really helps us stay grounded.
Massage or other bodywork – incorporate this into your weekly or monthly schedule to help maintain your self and calm your cortisol. The village adjoining the resort in Fiji offered a one hour massage for about $30 Australian. Easier to afford at this price but with health funds rebating up to $30 for a treatment it could be a good way to add some self care on a regular basis. My clinic at St Ives has three excellent massage therapists offering lymphatic, craniosacral or remedial massage.
Add greens to your diet. Again something simple and relatively easy to incorporate that will give you long term benefits. My breakfast in Fiji included sautéed okra and spinach, both locally grown so they were really tasty. Try adding spinach to your breakfast omelette or a salad at lunch.
Eat seasonally it’s often cheaper and the food is usually in peak condition. The imperfect pick section in Harris Farm is usually a good indicator of what’s fresh , seasonal and well priced. At the moment lots of root vegetables and cauliflower as well as citrus and apples and pears.
Hydrate ! If you can’t find someone to open a coconut for you at least drain the water bottle by lunch. We loved being able to enjoy the coconut water from a freshly opened coconut and then ate the young flesh from inside. Good hydration and good fats!
Christine Pope is an experienced naturopath based at Elemental Health St Ives. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the Elemental website .
Its the time of year when gyms get very busy as people try to live up to their New Year’s resolutions. Instead of being active for a couple of weeks and forgetting it until next year I have developed a list of 12 changes so that at the end of the year you have made significant improvements in your health. Usually maintaining change requires at least a month so try to really adopt this change for at least a month until it becomes part of the routine.
First up see how many you are doing and then figure out how much you have left and then project out the number of months it will take you. Post that commitment on your facebook page or somewhere will you will be reminded regularly.
Drink enough water – writing this today its 38C and hydration just seems the most important thing to focus on. How much is enough water? Well it depends on your size and activity levels but generally 1.5 to 2 litres a day plus 1 litre for every hour of exercise. So for a small woman it may be more like 1.5 litres plus whatever you need for the exercise you are doing.
Find an activity you enjoy and commit time to it 4-5 times a week. It could be walking the dog, cycling, yoga classes, tennis or spin or a combination of all of the above. Block it out in your diary. Just remember if you are starting an activity start at a beginners level and build up slowly.
Add one cup of leafy green vegetables to your diet daily. It could be spinach with your poached eggs or a salad instead of a sandwhich at lunch or add chopped kale to a curry at dinner. Greens are a great source of essential minerals that many people lack. If you struggle with the taste try looking at the website Simple Green Smoothies for some great recipes.
Declutter – spend a week focussing on each major room and start with three boxes. One box is for garbage, one for recycling and one for stuff which lives somewhere else. Its critical to ensure you fill the third box before putting things back where they belong or you get distracted. Spend 1-2 hours a week on each room and then at the end of the month notice how different it is to be in a clear and productive space. Decluttering can really reduce stress levels.
Manage your stress – By this stage if you are hydrated, exercising regularly and improving your diet you may already have noticed that your stress levels are better. If not its probably time to start identifying what causes stress and whether it is still serving you. It could be a job you no longer enjoy, an employee who is driving you nuts or a friendship which leaves you feeling exhausted. Time for some change. Figure out where the issue is and make a plan to deal with it. If its really overwhelming find someone to talk to – a coach or a counsellor could really help you break those stressful patterns.
Get rid of your allergens – environmental ones may be challenging. If you suffer from reflux, bloating and flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea, chances are something in your diet needs to be removed for a while. The most common suspects are wheat and dairy with up to 70% of adults unable to tolerate lactose (milk sugar) as they age.
Laugh – go to the park and watch how children are constantly chuckling or giggling. When was the last time you enjoyed a good belly laugh? A few years ago I did a laughter yoga class and we laughed for 22 straight minutes – you feel amazing afterwards except the aching stomach muscles.
Health Checks – see your GP for those tests, get your teeth checked and get your moles mapped. Spend a month making sure you are dealing with problems before they become serious.
Swap your snacks for healthier choices. Switch the milk chocolate to good quality dark chocolate, replace the potato chips with activated nuts, the coffee for a herbal tea and the soda for a vegetable juice (perfect for an afternoon boost too).
Train your brain – read a different book every week or try crosswords or sudoku as a way to improve your brain’s health and stay mentally healthy.
Catch up with friends – having a social support network can make all the difference to our health. If you find it difficult to catch up for a meal just try scheduling in a coffee on a weekly basis or a play date with your children.
Time out – plan and take at least two weeks vacation doing something you enjoy. It could be 2 weeks by the beach or 2 weeks hiking in the mountains. It doesn’t have to be expensive and is you can travel out of peak season there are often some great deals available. Most importantly try and disconnect from your work as much as possible to really maximize your down time.
Keep me posted on how you go and let me know what makes a difference for you.
If you are interested in looking at your health holistically I have a range of tools in my clinic which can assess nutrient levels, such as minerals, as well as looking at body parameters such as fat mass, muscle mass and energy quality. I am in practice at St Ives and appointments can be made on 02 8084 0081.
Currently I am listening to a series of Environmental Health master classes with the first one on Electromagnetic radiation. I have always had an interest in this topic as many years ago I remember being told that engineers on the Centrepoint tower near the transmitters would be infertile within fifteen minutes if they weren’t wearing shielding. That highlighted to me how dangerous even invisible sources of radiation can be to the human body.
Now for most people this isn’t a risk as they would rarely be in this situation. However over the last twenty years with the increasing use of a wide range of devices and Wi-Fi our exposures have increased dramatically and some people are really starting to be affected badly often with one of the first signs being insomnia, difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. Another major symptom is usually headaches particularly at the front of the head.
Generally I would be concerned about the insomnia and headaches being associated with EMF if it started after you moved house or if you sleep well when travelling but not at home. Australian levels of acceptable radiation are much higher than Europe (often as much as ten times higher) as they have largely been set by industry, rather than being based on research.
The first thing I would recommend is to remove devices from the bedroom, even a digital clock radio which emits low levels of radiation should be at least two metres from your head. Secondly do a quick audit of where you are sleeping relative to strong energy currents from your meter box, fridge or microwave oven. Ideally the further away the better but at least a metre away even through the wall where the device is located. Turning off Wi-Fi in the home at night can be beneficial. There have been reports where severe insomnia sufferers started sleeping when towns lost power for a few days at a time.
The other area to look at is your phone. Have you noticed how much it heats up when you hold it close to your head for a ten or fifteen minute conversation. Do you really want to have that heating other parts of your body on a regular basis?? And you know where most men put their phones, at least women largely stick it in a handbag! Reduce your exposure by using your phone like a teenager and mainly texting or get a pair of headphones for calls if you need to talk to people. At home think about switching to a corded phone as even the cordless phones put out a reasonable amount of radiation.
If you are interested in more information on this topic I can recommend Nicole Bijlisma’s book Healthy Home, Healthy Living as its well researched and is focussed on solutions. Nicole is a naturopath and building biologist. She also has quite a lot of information on her blog.
Have you made changes to reduce your exposures to EMF? Let me know how it affected you.
Christine Pope is a practicing Homeopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health, St Ives (8084 0081). She is also Head of Nutrition at Nature Care College at St Leonards.
Stress often adds a range of physical symptoms to its load, as it if wasn’t bad enough that you were on a tight deadline now its adding its own load of odd stomach problems, headaches, muscle aches and pains and insomnia! Or you get to sleep and you can’t stay asleep waking up at 2am thinking about everything you need to do tomorrow.
Where do all these physical symptoms come from? First up think about your breathing. Typically when you are stressed you breathe from the top of your chest and you really don’t get enough oxygen where it’s needed. Blood flow to some areas is reduced by up to 75%. Muscles and joints tighten up and you start feeling cramps, plus aches and pains. Notice how when you are stressed your shoulders start to head up towards your ears. Sit up, let your shoulders soften and take a few deep breaths with your hand on your belly. Notice the difference. If you are feeling really overwhelmed try doing the breathing with one hand on your forehead it may help calm the brain as well.
Then there are all the stomach problems, you are either going to the bathroom too often or not at all. The same neurotransmitters that are in our head are also well represented in our stomachs (approx 70%). Not surprisingly when we are running on adrenaline or cortisol is staying high our stomachs start to act out.
If stomach problems are your dominant symptom and you weren’t feeling stressed before they started then there may well be other causes. Often Irritable Bowel type symptoms can be related to an earlier infection with a parasite, anything from giardia to blastocyst hominis. If you had a bad gastro type infection and have never really been the same since, its well worth getting a 3 day parasitology done to check what it really happening. Try and do it during a period when symptoms are bad as frequently these bugs are cyclical.
Managing stressors will help you with all the physical symptoms as well. Make sure your diet is well balanced, favouring small amounts of good quality protein and lots of vegetables. In addition think about adding a good quality magnesium with between 400-800mg a day, particularly if you are getting cramps and having trouble sleeping or staying asleep. Consider getting some supportive physical therapy such as massage or osteopathy to help keep your shoulders where they belong.
What does it really mean when someone says I’m fine through gritted teeth – well usually the complete opposite. My acronmyn for F I N E is F—–ed up Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. So how do we end up getting ourselves into that state?
Well if you are female you often blame your hormones and sometimes they can be the culprit, particularly when you are pre menstrual. Other times though its not so easy to find something external to blame so we need to think about how we keep ending up feeling like this.
One of the most common causes of feeling ‘FINE’ is forgetting to say No. Maybe its because we don’t want to say no – after all nice girls don’t do that. So if it is hard for you to say no try this ” I’d really love to (help you move house, mind your three horrible children, etc..) but that weekend is really busy and I just need to check my diary and get back to you”. Then give yourself a chance to decide honestly if this is something you want to do. If it is go ahead, if not text or email them that you are really sorry but you just can’t do it that weekend.
Once you get comfortable with delaying your answer then think about getting really brave and just saying NO. Start with baby steps – say no to canteen duty by email, then get brave and tell your kids to catch the bus home from school. Start carving out a little more time for you.
Once you carve out that time start spending it working on nourishing your health – regular exercise should be your first step. Even just walking 30 minutes a day can help reduce those feelings of being FINE!!
Many of us gain weight when we are stressed simply because we grab a quick fix of carbs to keep us going. Over the course of days and weeks this often adds up quickly to quite a few kilos. We know what we should be eating, but often we are just too tired or too busy to prepare healthy meals and snacks.
But for some people stress adds another nasty surprise with elevated cortisol resulting in weight gain around the stomach. If you usually put it on around the hips something else may be contributing.
Cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and fall during the day, being lowest at midnight. Typically if your cortisol is high you may also have problems sleeping as well. Cortisol has a wide range of functions but for weight gain it stimulates the release of glucose to maintain blood sugar levels. So elevated cortisol through the day can result in increased appetite – stress is making you hungrier (and fatter).
Getting control of your cortisol levels isn’t as simple as just balancing blood sugar. You need to deal with triggers which are creating the stress for you. Sometimes it isn’t the situation itself but how you respond to it that makes you stressed. Often what is stressful for one person is not a problem for someone else.
So once you identify the trigger try and think about some other ways to handle the situation. Take five deep breaths before you even think about reacting. If you still aren’t feeling calmer then a thirty minute walk (before you scream at your boss) which will reduce your cortisol levels and help you stay calmer. A regular meditative practice, such as yoga or indeed meditation can also be a good way to get your cortisol levels under control.
Christine runs regular Stress Managment Workshop with Cheryl Alderman at Be Ultimate . Alternatively make an appointment with Christine on 8084 0081 , her practice is at Elemental Health at St Ives, Sydney