Everything thing you need to know: Vegan Menopause
Menopause refers to the complete and permanent cessation of menstruation and an interval of 6-12 months is usually needed to establish the diagnosis.
This transition is a period of declining ovarian function which typppically spans 2-5 years around the menopause and it usually occurs between the ages of 48 and 55.
If you are approaching 48, or currently undergoing menopause and pondering whether or not to take estrogen pills/cream, this is the article for you.
Conventional Approach to Menopause
At around age 50, the ovaries stop producing estrogens. The adrenal glands (small organs on top of each kidney) and fat tissue continues to make estrogen at a smaller amount compared to the ovaries. Therefore when ovaries quit, estrogen levels drop dramatically.
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- mood swings
- lack of focus
- vaginal dryness
- trouble sleeping
Many women go through this stage feeling fine, both physically and psychologically. However there are some who are bothered by depression, irritability, anxiety and hot flashes.
Usually, estrogen pills or patches are prescribed to treat hot flashes, bone loss and reduce the risk of a heart attack. However, there is also an increased risk of uterine and breast cancer, albeit if prescribed with progesterone will reduce the risk of uterine cancer but not breast cancer. There is also a risk of stroke for some. It is ultimately of whether did the benefits outweigh the cons and patients have to decide.
Menopause - what you should be concerned with
As vegan and vegetarian diets have certain dietary limitations, it is important that we are mindful of what we eat and what is lacking from our diet that may cause the following complications. They usually occur due to us forgoing certain vital food sources such as soy and failure to replace them with equally nutritious sources.
The decline of estrogen after menopause increases the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the result of long-term altered bone metabolism, and it is affected by nutrient and food intake, where intakes of calcium, protein, vitamin D, phosphorous, magnesium, sodium, and phytoestrogens, among others, are reported to affect risk.
2. Heart problems
When there is a drop of estrogen levels, risk of cardiovascular disease increases. Therefore it is imperative that one has to get regular exercise, healthy diet and maintain acceptable weight.
3. Urinary Incontinence (UI)
As the tissues of vagina and urethra lose elasticity, frequent and strong urges to urinate may occur, followed by an involuntary loss of urine. Doing pelvic floor exercises such as Kegel exercises can help to lessen symptoms of UI.
Vegan foods that are beneficial during menopause
Soy contains isoflavones, which is a group of plant-based chemicals known as phytoestrogens. They act like a weaker form of estrogen in the body.
The main isoflavones in soy are genistein and daidzein. WHen they are ingested, it is broken down into more active form sin the intestines.
Inside our body, isoflavones bind to the same receptors as estrogen, mimicking the effects of estrogen, thereby reducing hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.
However, studies on soy have had mixed results, and that results may vary from woman to woman.
You would also have to eat a huge quantity of soy to have a measurable effect on menopause symptoms, therefore a soy supplement might be more feasible if you don’t cook on your own.
2. Chinese Yam (huai shan)
Chinese yam (the tuber of Dioscorea opposita Thunb.) is an edible and medicinal herb that is well-known for nourishing Yin and invigorating spleen/lung/kidney, and commonly used for regulating menstruation and vaginal discharge in Chinese medicine. It has been reported in scientific literature that Chinese yam extract improves the status of sex hormones, lipids, and antioxidants in menopausal women. However, the estrogen-stimulating effect of proteins in Chinese yam had not yet been reported.
A bioactive protein, designated DOI, that increases estrogen and progesterone biosynthesis, has been isolated from Chinese Yam and research findings have shown that the DOI protein is effective in treating conditions resulting from low serum estrogen and progesterone levels including osteoporosis, menopausal syndrome and the accompanying cognitive function deterioration.
Ginkgo contains phytoestrogen and it has been found to improve estrogen levels in menopausal women. A 2009 study suggested that ginkgo biloba can improve PMS symptoms and the mood fluctuation that can occur before and during menopause. It also help to facilitate blood flow and help to prevent early occurence of cognitive issues such as dementia and depression.
Another source of phytoestrogen, they help to regulate hormonal balance in menopausal women and help to reduce hot flashes and other symptoms. It also help to reduce vaginal dryness. Some early research also show that it can help to prevent uterine and cervical cancer to certain extent.
Licorice tea can help to reduce the occurrence of hot flashes — and how long they last — in women entering menopause. It can also have estrogen-like effects, and it may be effective in improving respiratory health and reducing overall stress.
Licorice can have adverse effects if mixed with certain prescription drugs, so consult with a doctor before consuming.
How to improve menopausal symptoms naturally
Midlife women need a range of different types of exercise. For example, while there is strong evidence for the benefit of aerobic exercise in supporting fat loss, reducing the risk of heart disease, and enhancing mental health, resistance exercise also helps fat loss and strengthens muscle and bone.
Balance and coordination activities help prevent falls, and pelvic floor strength requires specific use of the pelvic floor muscles. Flexibility exercises improve and maintain mobility, and in forms such as yoga can contribute to mental wellbeing.
Muscle strengthening activities are recommended on at least 2 days each week, and it is important to minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting.
As sunlight touches the skin, it turns on the natural production of vitamin D, which helps your digestive tract absorb calcium from foods and makes your kidneys hold onto it as well. For those who get infrequent sun exposure, any common multivitamin containing 5 micrograms (200 IU), taken daily, provides adequate vitamin D. For people who never go outdoors due to chronic illness, 10 micrograms (400 IU) is recommended. Higher doses of vitamin D can be toxic and should be avoided.
3. Take note of your blood pressure
As estrogen levels decline, risk of cardiovascular diseases may increase therefore being mindful of blood pressure can help lessen the risk of cardiovascular disorders from occuring.
4. Positive mindset
Due to fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone, one may experience anxiety or depression issues. Keeping a positive attitude to life can help to ensure menopause is a smooth sailing experience.
5. Maintain weight
As mentioned, risk of getting cardiovascular diseases increase during menopause therefore not overeating is strongly recommended for slight overweight menopausal women.
However, if the above lifestyle tips could not help much with your menopausal symptoms, you can consider seeking professional Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM) help.
How TCM views menopause
In the case of menopausal symptoms, biomedical science has viewed menopause as the presence of organic conditions (the deficiency of ovaries due to ageing process or various medical interventions), with illness manifesting as changes in structure (e.g. dryness and thinning of skin and vaginal wall, and osteoporosis) and function of the body (such as hot flushes, poor memory, mood swings), observed at the anatomical and physiological levels, and increasingly reliant on laboratory findings for detection (i.e. increased follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, decreased oestrogen and progestogen levels).
In comparison, TCM regards illness as a syndrome or pattern (Zheng), manifesting as a disparate but mutually related set of signs and symptoms occurring throughout the whole body, and may arise from disharmony of the body. The syndromes or diagnostic categories of TCM describe clinical patterns of both objective signs and subjective symptoms. Although the term ‘menopause’ does not appear in historical TCM literature, the clinical manifestations were recognised and considered to be related to hypo-functions of the kidney. Contemporary Chinese medicine gynaecological textbooks also continue to attribute menopause to kidney function: that is, around the cessation of menstruation, the Kidney Qi gradually declines. The fundamental theories and approaches of TCM, reflecting upon the practice of CHM, determine contemporary scientific research and clinical practice in managing menopausal symptoms.
Recently, researchers carried out a review and meta-analysis of studies testing Chinese herbal treatments against hot flashes. They published their findings in PLOS ONE. They concluded with “this review indicated that [Chinese herbal medicine] formulae were safe to be applied in [females with menopausal hot flashes] and able to improve [menopausal hot flash]-related symptom scores as well as the peripheral blood flow.”
How TCM can help
In short, acupuncture and herbal medications can help to reduce hot flashes, treat depression and anxiety issues and prevent bone loss.
What many women may also not realise: if they are experiencing a difficult menopause, they most likely have been getting signs of imbalance from the body for a while, especially in the form of PMS symptoms such as cramps, etc. The good news is that if these early signs are recognized in advance and treated appropriately through Chinese medicine – acupuncture, dietary and herbal therapy, and Qigong – one may be able to avoid a difficult menopausal experience altogether!
Even for those who are already experiencing an uncomfortable menopause or post-menopausal symptoms, one can still naturally address imbalances with Chinese medicine to alleviate symptoms – for immediate and long-term relief. An experienced Chinese medicine practitioner will be able to diagnose and treat these imbalances, paving the way for a woman to really heal herself and set the stage for a healthy, long life. You can book an appointment with a TCM physician to know more how TCM can help with your menopausal symptoms.