Women who go through natural menopause - as opposed to surgical or medical menopause - typically enter into postmenopause in their early fifties. This is because the average age of menopause in the U.S. is 51, and after a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without a period, she has completed the menopause transition and is considered postmenopausal from this point onwards.
While many of the telltale perimenopause symptoms - like hot flashes and mood swings - tend to subside a year or two at most after a woman as entered postmenopause, this is not always the case. Around 7% of women in their early and mid-sixties still have moderate or severe symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. However, this is much lower than the prevalence of these symptoms during perimenopause, which can reach up to 80%.
This is because hot flashes are thought to stem from fluctuations in hormone levels. However, after the menopause transition, estrogen and progesterone remain at consistently low levels. Therefore, the most common symptoms of postmenopause are connected to low estrogen levels. These include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of libido
- Urinary incontinence
- Memory lapses
- Joint pain
Low estrogen levels also increase the risk of developing serious health conditions during postmenopause. These are:
- Cardiovascular disease
Tips for Managing Postmenopausal Symptoms and Health Concerns
Healthy lifestyle adjustments are the first step in addressing postmenopause symptoms and preventing the conditions that women are at a high risk for during this time. These changes also promote overall health and wellness. A woman can focus on making those changes that apply to her and best relieve her symptoms.
Eating healthy during postmenopause
Many aspects make up a healthy diet that is ideal during postmenopause. These aspects can be tailored to fit a woman's individual needs.
- High fiber. Dietary fiber is important in regulating digestion and preventing cardiovascular disease. This is in part because it can help lower cholesterol levels. High-fiber foods include whole grains, nuts, beans, lentils, and fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber is the type that is particularly helpful in regulating cholesterol.
- Low in saturated fat, high in unsaturated fat. Saturated fat intake increases the risk of heart disease. Therefore, it is recommended to limit consumption of fried foods and red meats. However, not all fat is bad for health. Unsaturated fat - such as omega-3 fatty acids - lowers heart disease risk. Omega-3's are found in soy, nuts, and flaxseed. They are also anti-inflammatory and may help with memory lapses.
- Calcium and vitamin D. Women over 50 generally need 1,200 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D a day to help maintain strong bones. Women over 71 need 800 IU of vitamin D. The body makes this vitamin itself when the skin is exposed to sunlight, but it can also be found in certain fortified products. Calcium is abundant in dairy products, tofu, and spinach.
- Phytoestrogenic foods. Some foods contain natural compounds that act like a weaker form of estrogen in the body. These include soy products like tofu and soymilk, as well as nuts, flaxseed, apples, chickpeas, and beans, among others.
In addition to the foods and nutrients consumed, it's important to look at how much. Moderating portion size is significant in maintaining a healthy weight. This is important because excess weight can worsen joint pain, as well as further increase the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
The ideal postmenopause exercise regimen is comprised of three different types of physical activity:
- Weight-bearing exercises. Exercises that make the muscles support weight are an essential part of maintaining healthy bones. Though the name can be intimidating, this doesn't mean a woman is becoming a bodybuilder in her golden years. Even lifting cans of soup or walking helps build muscle.
- Kegel exercises. This simple exercise builds the pelvic floor muscles, which helps relieve urinary incontinence and vaginal dryness. Kegels are done by contracting the muscles that stop urine flow. Contract these muscles for eight seconds and then release. Do 10 repetitions, and try to do three sets of 10 over the course of the day.
- Aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is important for preventing cardiovascular disease and maintaining a healthy weight.
Although quitting may prove difficult, it's one of the best things that smokers can do for their health at this stage. The chemicals in cigarettes reduce estrogen levels, worsening postmenopause symptoms. Smoking also further increases the risk of osteoporosis, in part because of its effects on estrogen levels. In addition, smoking raises the risk of cardiovascular disease because it reduces lung function, meaning the heart has to work harder to pump blood.
These alternative methods help address the symptoms of postmenopause.
- Therapeutic massage. Because it is inherently relaxing, massage can help reduce insomnia. A massage combined with aromatherapeutic essential oils can help decrease anxiety and hot flashes.
- Mind-body therapies. Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are thought to help relieve memory lapses. In addition, they are calming and can decrease anxiety.
- Ginkgo. This Chinese herb may help improve cognition, and it has even helped some women with their hot flashes.
- Vitamin D. Suppositories of this vitamin can be used in the relief of vaginal dryness.
The following supplements get to the root cause of postmenopausal troubles by balancing hormone levels.
- Phytoestrogenic supplements. These products contain herbal extracts like black cohosh, soy, red clover, hops, and dong quai, or sometimes a combination. These herbs are rich in phytoestrogens, which are botanical compounds that act like a weaker form of estrogen in the body. In this way, they raise low estrogen levels during postmenopause.
- Hormone-regulating supplements. These products - such as Macafem - do not contain any hormone-like compounds. Rather, they have nutrients that support the hormonal glands. This helps the glands produce hormones at the levels the body needs, not just estrogen.
Many women employ a combination of lifestyle adjustments and alternative treatments to relieve their symptoms and improve their overall health. With holistic habits and balanced hormone levels, women can find relief from postmenopause symptoms and live active lives.
- Aidelsburger, P. et al. (2012). Alternative methods for the treatment of post-menopausal troubles. GMS Health Technology Assessment, 8, Doc03. doi: 10.3205/hta000101
- Bacciottini, L. et al. (2007). Phytoestrogens: food or drug? Clinical Cases in Mineral and Bone Metabolism, 4(2), 123-130. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781234/
- Dalal, P.K. & Agarwal, M. (2015). Postmenopausal syndrome. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(Suppl 2), S222-S232. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.161483
- Harvard Health Publications. (2015). Menopause symptoms can last longer than you expect. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/menopause-symptoms-can-last-longer-than-you-expect
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2015). Butter is not back: Limiting saturated fat still best for heart health. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/butter-is-not-back-limiting-saturated-fat-still-best-for-heart-health/
- Huang, C. et al. (1997). Factors associated with joint pain among postmenopausal women. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 21(5), 349-354. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9152735
- Kulzow, N. et al. (2016). Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on Memory Functions in Healthy Older Adults. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 51(3), 713-725. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150886.
- National Health Service. (2014). Sex after the menopause. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/women4060/Pages/sex-after-the-menopause.aspx
- National Institutes of Health. (2014). Fiber. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002470.htm
- National Institutes of Health. (2015). Kegel exercises - self-care. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000141.htm
- National Institute on Aging. (2016). Postmenopausal Health Concerns. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/menopause-time-change/postmenopausal-health-concerns
- Oliveira, D. et al. (2011). Effect of massage in postmenopausal women with insomnia - A pilot study. Clinics, 66(2), 343-346. doi: 10.1590/S1807-59322011000200026
- Rad, P. et al. (2015). The effect of vitamin D on vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 20(2), 211-215. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387645/
- Sliwinski, J.R. , Johnson, A.K. & Elkins, G.R. (2014). Memory Decline in Peri- and Post-menopausal Women: The Potential of Mind-Body Medicine to Improve Cognitive Performance. Integrative Medicine Insights, 9, 17-23. doi: 10.4137/IMI.S15682
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2015). Menopause. Retrieved November 8, 2016, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/menopause