What is menopause?

When a woman's reproductive life comes to a close and her ovaries begin to reduce their output of female hormones, she enters a phase of life called the climacteric. Menstrual cycles begin to change, becoming heavier in some women, lighter in others, more frequent for some, widely spaced for others, but steadily more infrequent until they finally stop altogether. At the point that menstrual cycling ceases, you reach the menopause. But the waning of estrogen production may bring on more than erratic menstrual periods for some women. Emotional swings, moodiness, hot flashes, depression, weight gain, and fluid retention can all accompany the close of your reproductive years.

Menopause is when a woman's menstrual periods stop altogether and a woman is said to have gone through menopause when her menstrual periods have stopped for an entire year. This usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, although it can happen as early as 35 or as late as 65 years of age. It can also result from the surgical removal of both ovaries.

The physical and emotional signs and symptoms that go with menopause usually last around one to two years or more, and vary from woman to woman. The changes are a result of hormonal changes such as estrogen decline, the aging process itself, and stress.

Menopause diet, symptoms of menopauseThe physical signs and symptoms associated with menopause may include hot flushes, heart palpitations, irregular periods, vaginal dryness, loss of bladder tone, headaches, dizziness, skin and hair changes, loss of muscle strength and tone, and decreased bone mineral density. Emotional changes associated with menopause may include irritability, mood changes, lack of concentration, difficulty with memory, tension, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is often used to reduce many of the symptoms of menopause. It also offers significant protection against osteoporosis and heart disease. However, it may increase the risk of certain types of cancer and some women are unable or unwilling to use HRT.

Menopause diet, regular exercise and stress reduction techniques can be helpful in reducing the symptoms of menopause. Dietary measures that may be beneficial include limiting or avoiding drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol, spicy foods, and heavy meals. Soy foods such as tofu, which contain compounds known as phytoestrogens, have been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms in many women. A woman's risk of disorders such as heart disease and osteoporosis increases after menopause, a menopause diet and supplements outlined above can be used to prevent these.

What makes menopause worse?

• Dairy products and meat promote hot flashes and contribute to a loss of calcium from the bones. Limit your intake of them. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar, spicy foods, and hot soups and drinks. These substances can trigger hot flashes and make mood swings worse. They also make the blood more acidic, which causes bones to release precious calcium.

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