Healthy notes

Menopause exposed (all you need to know about it)

To be or not to be in menopause

People often say, “I’m in menopause”. But menopause is exactly 1 year after your final period. After that day it is called post-menopause. Before that day you are in pre-menopause. The transition time between fertile and non-fertile (so after menopause) is called peri-menopause. 

It concerns everybody, even men.

Women represent almost half of the world’s population, 49.585 % in 2018 to be exact. Every woman, at some point in her life, will have to deal with menopause. Therefore, it is important that we are well informed about what will happen and how we can maintain good health and well being after menopause. For men it is also interesting to understand what their partner is going through. She can probably use your support.

Some facts and figures

Menopause is a natural process that happens to every woman at the average age of 51, when the ovaries stop producing estrogen. Removed ovaries, irradiation, chemotherapy and certain diseases also cause a lack of estrogen.


There is a transition period, which can last 20 years, in which 80 % of the women experience some complaints, caused by fluctuations in hormones. The best known are hot flushes. But there are also sleep- and mood disorders, changes in the menstrual cycle, worsening of PMS, vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse, urinary complaints, concentration disorders and anxiety, depression, joint- and muscle pain, headaches, weight gain, brittle hair and nails and impaired libido. A whole list and all that while we can still get pregnant. No need to say that this has a huge impact on the quality of life. But it doesn’t stop there.

“The menopause is a conceptual error that only manifests itself because we live that long” 

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Herman Depypere


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Disadvantaged by nature

Even if you have a smooth transition, it doesn’t mean you can sleep on both ears. Here’s why: women are severely disadvantaged by nature compared to men. The production of hormones in the testes continues until death, keeping men healthy, while the hormone production in ovaries stops at menopause.

Get ready for a fact that a lot of women are not aware of. After menopause, every woman has an increased risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and dementia. 
With the main cause: a lack of estrogen. Knowing that women these days live over 1/3 of their life in menopause, this poses a major problem. A relative new problem when you look at the history of mankind.

We become about 35 years older than our ancestors in 1900. In fact, nature didn’t intend for us to live this much longer in such a short period of time… Therefore, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important to prevent a whole range of diseases. This means healthy food and lifestyle, enough body exercise, stress management and in some cases replace the female hormones.

Women don’t always get the right diagnose

When women go to their physician with menopause related complaints, they get often the wrong diagnose. Insomnia, nervous breakdown, depression, high cholesterol, cardiac arrhythmia's… Instead of getting the right treatment, they receive sleeping pills, tranquilizers, antidepressants, statins or fibrates, anti-arrhythmic medication, painkillers and NSAIDs… While the real cause is a lack of estrogen.
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The power of estrogen

There are 4 types of estrogen in women, who each play a different role in various stages in life. Estradiol is the most powerful and abundant one. 

Estrogen is mainly produced in the ovaries and a small amount is also made in the liver, heart, skin, and brain. Estrogen is created from cholesterol. They can act locally where they are produced, or they can be transported through the blood and act in other parts of the body.

Estrogens can also suppress oxidative stress which occurs when there are more free radicals in the body than anti-oxidants. Normally the body keeps the balance between those two. Too much free radicals can lead to cell damage, chronic inflammation, aging and certain diseases. Estrogens can suppress this by regulating enzymatic activities in cells for instance.

Different ways to deal with it

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is considered the golden standard. If you start early (between 50 and 60 years old) and use low dose natural hormones for a short period of time, studies have shown that the benefits outweigh the risks. They can also be applied locally.

HRT is not suitable for every woman, such as those who have excess risk of breast cancer, deep-vein thrombosis, stroke or heart attack. Some women prefer non-hormonal approaches or more natural therapies. Nutraceuticals like dietary supplements, herbal medicines, functional foods and medicinal foods are often used.

Phytoestrogens are the most popular alternative treatments. Those are compounds found in over 300 plants and their structure is very similar to estradiol.

Most used plants are soy (Glycine max), black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemose), dong quai – also called ‘female ginseng’ - (Angelica sinensis), chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus), red clover (Trifolium pratense) and ginseng (Panax ginseng). 
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Maybe ginseng can help you

What is ginseng?

Several plants are called ‘ginseng’ but the real one is Panax ginseng, which is a high-grade herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been used for thousands of years to strengthen life force. It is praised as nootropic, anti-aging, tonic, restorative, balancing and as a powerful anti-oxidant.

This perennial hardy plant belongs to the Araliaceae family and grows wildly in Asian mountain forests at an altitude of approximately 1000 metres. It needs a shady to semi-shady, warm moist environment and a humus rich soil.

The root is mostly used because it is most potent. It has the shape of a human which gave it the name ‘manroot’.
What can ginseng do for you?

Ginseng is not yet very well known in Western society to battle menopausal problems, but it has been used for ages in Traditional Eastern Medicine, often together with other medicinal plants.

It has been used for a lack of sexual desire, in male and female, hot flashes, stress and anxiety, fatigue, depression, maintaining bone health, maintaining focus and memory, improvement of blood circulation, metabolic imbalance and immunity improvement.
How do you take ginseng?

If you feel like trying it, then the easiest way is to take Panax ginseng root powder in a capsule. To make sure you have the best quality, choose a supplement that is:
  • rich in rare, active ginsenosides: the main active components in ginseng
  • a totum, because then you can benefit from all the other active and non-active components in the ginseng root, like polysaccharides which have a beneficial effect on gut microbiota 
  • pure: no residues of solvents or pesticides, adulteration or contamination

Alternative natural remedies

Some women don’t feel like taking anything, hormones or supplements. There is a solution for them as well:

Nutrition

A balanced diet will help you stay healthy before, during, and after menopause. Make sure that there is enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. You can find calcium in diary but also in cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, hazelnut, almonds and sardines Limit your alcohol, processed food and salt consumption and avoid trans fats, sugar and smoking. Eat less than you are used to. The basal metabolism, which is responsible for the biggest part of our energy consumption, decreases during menopause.
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Exercise

Regular exercise will slow down bone loss, prevent falling (and breaking bones) and improve your health on every level. Create a mix of:
  • weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or running because they keep bones strong. Walking 1 hour 3 times a week is more effective than taking hormones or extra calcium.
  • strength training strengthens your muscles and bones by resisting against weight, try handling weights or squatting for example. This is important because as we age, our muscle tissue decreases, while our fat tissue increases.
  • cardio or aerobic training: will keep your heart and blood vessels in good shape. Aim for at least 150 minutes total of moderate-intensity exercise per week, like speed walking, bicycling or cross training.
  • balance training, such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong helps to avoid falling, maintains flexibility and reduce stress and chronic pain. Yoga even has a positive effect on hot flashes and palpitations.
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Meditation training

Chronic stress will make us crave for high-fat and sugar-rich food, due to the elevated cortisol levels in our blood and dopamine release, the reward hormone. For that and for the prevention of many diseases that are triggered by chronic stress, it is key to learn how to deal with it. Meditation is one of the most effective techniques to manage stress. And what’s even better: it trains your brain, improving focus and memory. Next week I will write an article that dives deeper into meditation techniques and their benefits.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This showed a positive influence hot flushes and night sweats.