Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week Dr Zac delves into menopause.
Question: Recently I watched a powerful story about menopause on 60 Minutes. It was a real eye opener as it rarely gets talked about in the media, and yet every woman will go through it eventually.
The story by Liz Hayes did wonders to break down stigma. I’m only 32 so I hope I have some years ahead before menopause will pop up in my life, but I’m curious to know if there’s certain things I can do now so it happens as late as possible? Or even lessen the impact when
it finally comes my turn? – Wendy, 32, Qld
Answer: Hi Wendy, menopause has always been a secret women’s business so I’m really glad you’ve asked this question. Tackling topics by talking and discussing them makes them less of a taboo and means more people can think and help to improve their symptoms.
I’m sure you aren’t surprised by this Wendy, but most men don’t have a clue what menopause actually is. Men need to educate themselves, or ask their partners, mums or sisters to let them know. This will eradicate the stigma, and women will be able to freely ask questions whenever they want!
What is menopause?
For the uninformed in the room, menopause is the medical term for when a woman hasn’t had their period for at least twelve months in a row. The transition is rarely instant, and often women will undergo irregular periods until it stops. This can occur for longer than a year, and for some it can last eight years.
No doubt this time of life can be very stressful, which is why women should be allowed to be more free to talk about it.
How to ease symptoms of menopause
I’ve had this discussion time and time again with my patients, and I break it down to basics.
The basics are eating healthy, exercising regularly to maintain bone strength and sleeping regularly. Surprise, surprise, who would’ve guessed these things lead to health and vitality!
A well-balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight, is key to lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.
As you get older, your oestrogen levels will drop significantly, which makes you vulnerable to weight gain, especially in your midsection. This belly fat is associated with increased risks of chronic disease.
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This weight gain can seriously stress your body out, which may even further drop your oestrogen levels at an accelerated rate, leading you to menopause sooner. You should opt for a diet with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole-grains and lean sources of protein.
Exercising regularly is key to maintaining bone strength. Strength training exercises, such as lifting weights or yoga, can help increase your bone strength. This can help prevent the loss of bone density that often accompanies menopause. I recommend you get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.
To keep an eye on your bone strength, consider getting a bone density test done. This test is an X-ray that measures your bone thickness and strength.
A common symptom of menopause is altered sleeping patterns, which is due to the changes in hormone levels. That’s why it’s so important to practice good sleep habits so you can get enough high-quality sleep at night.
Long shots to help menopause
Now that we’ve been back to basics, we can enter the X-Files. I’m only joking, but I recommend you take this as an interesting conversation and not gospel truth. If it intrigues you, do some more research to make up your mind.
– Breastfeeding babies for seven to 12 months has been shown to lower the chances of menopause starting before the age of forty-five. Researchers have found breastfeeding and pregnancy lowered the risk of early menopause by up to 22 per cent.
– Oral contraceptives have been associated with later onset of menopause. More research needs to be done to understand why birth control pills delay menopause. Some researchers theorise that by preventing the release of eggs, birth control pills extend reproductive life because menopause starts once the egg supply is depleted.
Wendy, I hope I have steered you in the right direction.
I recommend you stick to the basics, and read up on menopause now. There’s an abundance of brilliant books written by female health practitioners who will inspire you to focus on the future of your health.
Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors and is also a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist, past Registered Nurse and currently a PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering. | @drzacturner