Hot flashes. Night sweats. Weight gain. A waning sex drive. Tell us something we don't already know about "the change." Well, it turns out there are plenty of side effects—and even some upsides—of menopause that few people talk about. Most women just think of a few symptoms like hot flashes and the end of your period when you hear the word menopause. But we like to think of it as a time to rediscover yourself. A time we can empower ourselves with the right knowledge, tools and tidbits that make this time in our life a bit easier.
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And not necessarily in that fun, excited-about-a-new-love-interest kind of way. In the time leading up to menopause called perimenopause, many women can experience heart palpitations. In some women, these palpitations could indicate a heart problem, but in others it's due to hormonal fluxes. WebMD says the way to differentiate: if your heart palpitations last more than a few minutes, make you feel short of breath or cause you to faint (or nearly faint), it could be a sign of something serious. You should always get checked out by a doctor if you’re ever concerned about any symptom.
Turns out estrogen does a lot more than help regulate our periods: It keeps LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) low and HDL cholesterol (the good kind) high. So, as estrogen decreases during menopause, LDL tends to rise and HDL stays the same. The good news is that if you lead a healthy lifestyle as you approach menopause you can prevent these fluctuations. The American Heart Association says there are two lifestyle changes that can go a long way toward countering these cholesterol changes, making sure you get plenty of exercise and that you're eating a heart-healthy diet.
If you've always been an extrovert, you may be surprised when you suddenly feel like spending more time alone. "Menopause is an introspective period, which means you might experience an emotional shift that could affect your social life," says Holly Lucille, ND, a naturopathic doctor in Los Angeles. "Don't just jump to the assumption that you're depressed. This newfound introspection should be honored." At long last, this is often a time in a woman's life when she starts to put herself first. Prior to menopause, women are more likely to make sure that their kids, partner, parents, co-workers and even their spiritual community above her own needs. This lack of taking care of herself changes during menopause and women start prioritizing themselves and start thinking about what they want to do.
Recent research shows that certain chemicals in the pesticides on the food we eat and in the household products so many of us use contain hormone-disrupting compounds—not exactly what you want during a time in your life when your hormones are already transitioning to a new normal. Dr Pei encourages his patients to detox from sugar and alcohol as much as possible when they're in menopause. "It's already a disruptive time for your hormones. Why risk making things worse?" Also, steer clear of cleaning products that contain parabens, phthalates, and BPAs.
As estrogen levels drop, so does oil production in your skin, causing excess dryness that can lead to a flaky complexion. The solution: Use a heavier-duty moisturizer more hydrating facial cream or oil and most importantly stay hydrated from the inside out. Drinking lots of water really does add moisture to parched skin.
In fact, they tend to gang up at night, says many of our patients making it tough to get a good night's sleep. Lowering the thermostat and using sheets made of breathable, cooling materials can help. So can deep, breathing from the belly. Simply breathing more slowly—aim for a total of six breaths per minute—can actually decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes.
It’s true. Weight gain and menopause is a given. Without sufficient estrogen, the body tries to maintain some body fat—especially around the belly and hips. Even women who exercise regularly and eat well can experience weight gain. But you must continue sticking to your workouts or even starting a new regimen can go a long way toward keeping the pounds from really piling on—and also toward improving your mood and helping you sleep well. Start anything thing power walking, swimming, strength training moves that use your own body weight is all great. The key is exercising consistently and making it a lifestyle choice.
As if the hot flashes weren't vanity-wrecking enough, thinning hair (or even hair loss) is one symptom of menopause. Hair texture can change as well. Cindy Crawford came out with a hair care line to deal with her hair becoming dry and brittle due to those fluctuating hormones causing overall dryness in the body. So use mild shampoos and conditioners formulated to treat dry hair and avoid chemical treatments that can further weaken strands.
Remember a time when you weren't on hormonal birth control, and your fluctuating hormones made you frisky at certain times of the month? Well, you're on a similar hormonal roller coaster now, which means your sex drive won't just dive deep into the depths of despair—it's likely to go up, too. Before menopause, hormonal shifts can lead to dramatic surges in estrogen, which means you may feel a lot more in the mood.
If you're not feeling turned on, it may be due to vaginal dryness, which, unlike those hot flashes and night sweats, doesn't tend to improve with time. Our vaginas have many estrogen receptors, and as estrogen levels decline, not only does the vagina get drier but it also gets less able to expand. The fix? Lube, and lots of it. Just because you're going through menopause doesn't mean you should stop having sex. Using a quality silicone lubricant can really alleviate painful sex caused by vaginal dryness.
Even if you used to sleep like a champ, menopause can do a number on your shut-eye—which can take a toll on your body, impacting energy levels, your emotions, your weight, and even our libido. So take that power nap every day if you need to because the more rested you are, the easier it can be to manage your symptoms.