The Functional Medicine approach to Menopause
The Functional Medicine approach to Menopause
- Why does menopause happen?
- Menopause symptoms
- How to support your health during menopause
- How can Advanced Functional Medicine help
Menopause is recognized as an important reproductive health issue for women and a significant stage within a woman’s life cycle. By the year 2030, the global population will include approximately 1.2 billion women who have entered menopause, with millions of Australian women included in this number.
By definition, menopause is the absence of periods for 12 months. It occurs, on average, at the age of 51. The menopausal transition, or perimenopause, begins on average four years before the final menstrual period, and can last up to 10 years.
Menopause is associated with problematic symptoms, including hot flashes, sleep problems, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and declines in cognitive functioning.
Functional Medicine can help alleviate some of these symptoms naturally, without the use of HRT, and support you to have an easier, and happier, menopause.
Why does Menopause happen?
As child-bearing years come to an end, your ovaries stop producing estrogen, and as a result, there are a number of physiological changes that may negatively impact a woman’s quality of life. Virtually all women experience hormonal fluctuations prior to menopause. As hormone levels decrease, a number of symptoms of menopause can start to present themselves.
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings, depression, or anxiety. Some women find that hormone fluctuations in menopause create a feeling of being out of control. Reports of increased irritability, anxiety, fatigue, and blue moods are not uncommon.
- Vaginal dryness or atrophy. Menopause contributes to sexual function changes through the decreases in ovarian hormone production and may lead to vaginal dryness and a decline in sexual function.
- Insomnia or poor sleep
- Irregular periods. As perimenopause begins, periods can come and go, and get heavier or lighter at times. This can sometimes continue for several years during menopause
- Night sweats
- Loss of sex drive
- Dry skin and hair
- Joint pain
- Brain fog or trouble with memory and concentration
- Bloating or weight gain around the abdomen or inability to lose weight
- Facial hair growth
- Changes in the uterus, ovaries, and cervix
- Urinary incontinence or going to the bathroom more often
How to support your health during menopause
The hormonal changes associated with menopause can lead to mood imbalances and chronic illness. The good news is that you can support your mood and mental, emotional and physical health with food and lifestyle strategies.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help reduce menopausal symptoms, build strong bones, prevent bone loss and help you maintain a healthy weight. It can also prevent heart disease, which is much more common among women after menopause than before due to reduced estrogen, weight gain, and age.
A nutrient-dense diet includes:
- Vitamin D: fatty fish, grass-fed or pasture-raised meat, organ meats, spirulina, wild mushrooms and bee pollen
- Omega-3s: grass-fed meats, wild-caught salmon, flax and chia oil
- B vitamins: leafy greens, root veggies, fresh and dried fruits, seafood and avocados
- Magnesium: dark leafy greens, seaweed, figs, fish, avocado and bananas
- Amino Acids: collagen
- Zinc: oysters, seafood, lamb and grass-fed beef
- Iron: red meat, shellfish, organ meat and dark leafy greens
- Selenium: garlic, turkey, liver, red meat, spinach and bananas
In addition to nutrients in food, there are a number of supplements that contain nutrients to help support your mood and mental health.
- Eat a variety of hormone-supporting foods
During menopause, your body is going through some serious hormonal changes that can lead to hot flashes and other uncomfortable symptoms.
Many women also experience estrogen dominance during the years leading up to menopause. This is when your progesterone levels have dropped significantly and your estrogen levels have not yet decreased, causing an imbalance of these key reproductive hormones.
During menopause, maintaining hormonal balance is crucial and eating hormone-balancing foods and supplementing with essential nutrients and herbs can help relieve symptoms. These include:
- Healthy fats such as avocados, coconut oil, coconut butter and olive oil
- High-quality protein such as grass-fed, pastured meat and wild-caught fish
- Fibre-rich vegetables
- Leafy greens, such as kale
- Macca root
- Black cohosh
- Repair your gut
An imbalance of gut flora, known as dysbiosis, along with gut infections such as SIBO and candida overgrowth can lead to a leaky gut, increasing inflammation and compromising your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and reducing the body’s ability to clear and balance hormones. This can lead to hormonal imbalance, exacerbating the hormonal changes you are already experiencing due to menopause. All this imbalance leads to increased menopausal symptoms.
Repairing your gut will reduce inflammation and improve your ability to absorb nutrients properly, and as a result, reduce your menopausal symptoms and support your overall health. Find our more here.
2. Remove toxic and trigger foods
Limit, or eliminate, refined sugar and processed foods from your diet.
These can have many negative effects, including drastic changes in blood sugar levels, increase depression, lead to poor bone quality, and generally exacerbate your menopausal symptoms.
Certain foods, including sugary and spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine can also trigger hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. If you react to a particular food, identify it and remove it from your diet. An elimination diet can help you discover underlying food sensitivities.
3. Don’t skip meals
Don’t skip meals as irregular eating can hinder weight loss and make other symptoms worse. Try to eat protein at each meal to keep you feeling full and prevent you from overeating.
4. Vitamin D, Magnesium and Calcium supplements
Hormonal changes due to menopause can weaken your bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis.
Vitamin D, magnesium and calcium are both essential for bone health. Research has shown that having an adequate level of vitamin D is associated with lower risk of weak bones and hip fractures in postmenopausal women. Assessment of Magnesium needs to be considered during menopause.
5. Optimise the methylation process and COMT genetic pathways
The methylation process in the body needs to be optimised as it affects the downstream processing of estrogens and other hormones. Without adequate methylation, the inability to clear and recycle hormones becomes apparent.
Methylation is particularly involved in assisting estrogen to be cleared down the 2 hydroxy pathway (2OHE1) rather than down the 4OHE1 or the 16aOHE1 pathways where symptoms are exacerbated as well as increases in breast cancer risks.
6. Address your mood changes
Relaxation and stress-reduction techniques, including deep-breathing exercises and massage, as well as enjoying self-nurturing activities may all be helpful.
St. John’s Wort, 5htp and/or vitamin B6 may also be helpful in improving mood.
Discussing your mood issues with your functional healthcare provider can help you identify the cause, assess for severe depression, and decide on the most appropriate intervention. This may include nutrient therapy, counselling or psychotherapy.
At Advanced Functional Medicine, we specialise in naturally balancing brain chemistry and resolving mood disorders and have assisted many patients to become drug free and permanently resolving their anxiety, depression and other mood issues.
7. Drink plenty of water and do your pelvic floor exercises
To reduce incontinence episodes, drink eight to twelve glasses of filtered water a day to keep your urine diluted (clear and pale yellow) and avoid foods or beverages with a high acid or caffeine content, which may irritate the bladder lining. These include grapefruit, oranges, tomatoes, coffee, and caffeine-containing soft drinks.
Drinking plenty of water can also speed up your metabolism, increase the feeling of fullness, reduce overeating, and consequently help you maintain a healthy weight. Also, try Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
8. Stay cool at night
To get relief from night sweats (hot flashes that occur during sleep), try different strategies to stay cool while you sleep:
- Dress in light nightclothes.
- Use layered bedding that can easily be removed during the night.
- Cool down with an electric fan.
- Sip cool water throughout the night.
- Keep a frozen cold pack under your pillow and turn over the pillow often so that your head is always resting on a cool surface or put a cold pack on your feet.
There are many natural remedies that work to combat hot flashes although they must be used with caution and with the advice of your functional medicine practitioner.
Natural remedies for hot flashes include black cohosh, shatavari, red clover, dong quai, ginseng, kava and evening primrose oil.
9. Establish a regular sleep schedule and routine
Sleep is very important for lowering your stress levels, supporting your mood, and maintaining a healthy weight. Getting regular sleep of seven to eight hours a night is important to support your health through menopause and to reduce your menopausal symptoms.
Try the following to get you into better sleeping habits:
- Wake up and go to bed at consistent times, even on weekends.
- Relax and wind down before sleep by reading a book, listening to music, or taking a leisurely bath.
- A cup of chamomile tea may also do the trick.
- Try aromatherapy – lavender oil is especially beneficial
- Keep bedroom light, noise, and temperature at a comfortable level — dark, quiet, and cool are conditions that support sleep.
- Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day.
- Avoid sugar and processed foods.
10. Alleviate sexual discomfort
To counteract these changes, try vaginal lubricants and moisturizers, as well as regular sexual stimulation to maintain vaginal health and promote blood flow to the genital area.
11. Exercise regularly
Research has found that exercising only three hours a week for one year improved the physical and mental health, as well as the overall quality of life, of menopausal women. Further research has found that yoga is particularly beneficial for reducing menopausal symptoms.
Staying active can provide you with many health benefits, including:
- reduced stress
- better sleep
- healthier bones and joints
- lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer.
How can Advanced Functional Medicine help
Menopause is a natural part of a women’s life that comes with many hormonal changes and plenty of challenges.
By following these hormone-supporting dietary and lifestyle strategies, you can reduce or even eliminate your menopausal symptoms in a natural way, without the use of synthetic treatments such as HRT.
Sometimes following basic guidelines isn’t always enough, at Advanced Functional Medicine we fully assess your biochemistry, taking into account many underlying factors that may be contributing to menopausal or hormonal symptoms including gut dysbiosis, SIBO, intestinal permeability, methylation, nutrient imbalances and diet and lifestyle measures.
Call us or complete the online form to find out how we can support you to achieve optimal health during both perimenopause and menopause, and for many years to come.