On her annual visit, I chatted with a lady in her 50’s about concerns that many women have in their own lives. Over the last year, she has had more fatigue, weight gain, and trouble sleeping. She finds herself more irritable and quick to react. Her periods ended two years ago and she was happy when the night sweats and hot flashes subsided. Her desire for intimacy has steadily declined over some time.
So I would like to share our discussion as there may be other women who are also looking for answers to these symptoms.
Let’s start with a story about our Three Sisters : Ovaries, Thyroid and Adrenals.
Sister #1: The Ovary. She is passionate and unpredictable in her 40’s and 50’s. She is beautiful, free of her reproductive ties, and is looking forward to this new phase of her life. So what is the secret to experience the best of life?
- Exercise (weight lifting and cardiovascular) can help restore bones and muscles, while releasing natural endorphins to counter the mood effects of menopause. Exercise can reduce the body fat % and decrease estrogens made in fat (estrones) which are linked to developing breast, colon and endometrial cancer. Exercise increases adinopectin and decreases leptin resistance, hormones that can help with weight loss. Make it fun by mixing it up with aerobic, weights, stretching, balance for minimum of 150 minutes a week.
- Diet rich in fruits and vegetables, including natural phyto-estrogens like yams, flax seed and fermented organic soy can help one through hot flashes and night sweats. Some studies show Asian women who eat a more plant-based, high fiber, low animal fat diet fare better than American women who may consume less fiber, more dairy and animal fats. Chinese and Japanese women, who traditionally consume a fermented organic soy-rich diet (miso, tempeh, natto), have a lower risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and experience less vasomotor symptoms than American women. Adopt a plant-based diet and cut out sugar, refined flour, pesticides, preservatives, high salt foods. Eliminate animal products as much as possible to help optimize your health. Always asking the question, “Does this food serve me?”.
- Proper sleep habits can also add another layer of health optimization. Studies show that poor sleep can decrease growth hormone levels which is a fat-burning hormone and increase cortisol that can lead to weight gain. Poor sleep leads to fatigue, irritability, difficulty with focus and memory, so make it a priority to work on your sleep!
- Mind-body exercises like yoga and meditation can calm the stress centers minimizing the agitation and reactivity. Simple breath work can down regulate the fight or flight triggers that create anxiety, stress and depression.
Sister #2: The Thyroid. She is the sensitive sister. When excited, she is full of energy, vibrant and a go-getter. In times of stress, she slows down, stays quiet, sluggish and is easily affected by chemicals, pesticides, radiation, mental stress and environmental triggers. She can be the cause of weight gain, fatigue, depressed mood, hair loss, constipation and sleep disturbances. So, since she is sensitive in her 50’s, let’s see how she can be optimized.
- Avoid Endocrine Disruptors (reduce chemicals that mess with our hormones)
- Parabens in cosmetic and personal hygiene products – check out skindeep.org!
- Perchlorate competes with iodine found in drinking water, produce and milk.
- BPA and Phalates in plastic products
- Dioxins in animal products, (meat, dairy, fish)
- Pesticides and herbicides like Atrazine and organophosphates
- Heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic
- Perfluorochemicals in non-stick pans, water resistant furniture and clothing
- Glycol Esters in paints, cleaning supplies and Flame Retardants in furniture
- Answers to Food choices
- Non-fermented Soy products may interfere with thyroid medications
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale would need to be consumed in very large amounts to interfere with your thyroid. These affects are reduced by cooking them and I still recommend them as their health benefits far outweigh risks.
- Minimize gluten, processed, and fatty foods
- Alcohol, caffeine and sugars
- Stimulate an under active Thyroid
- Yoga poses like ‘Shoulder Stand’ increase blood flow to the thyroid
Sister #3: The Adrenals. She is the easily-triggered sister. Always ready to fight or flight. At the first sign of confrontation, fear or worry, she gears up and releases hormones that drive up adrenaline and puts her on defense. She can be on edge, exhausted, stressed and agitated at times. She is an over-achiever and works hard during times of stress, sometimes to a point of exhaustion. So how do we reduce her stress and keep her calm?
- Breathwork- my favorite exercise is 4-7-8. Breath in for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7 and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Another easy way to breath is to imagine smelling roses through your nose and blowing out candles through your mouth. Connecting to your breath reduces vagal tone, shutting down the fight or flight reaction. Free tool and use anytime!
- Meditation- a few minutes of quiet reflection and spending time on our inner work can make us resilient to stress. Just like you wouldn’t wait to fall into a pool before you learn to swim, you don’t want to force meditation when you are in the throws of a stressful time. Take 5-10 minutes each morning or evening to quietly meditate. There are several free apps that can guide you through it. (Insight timer, Calm, Headspace, Take a Break).
- Moving Meditation like Yoga and Tai Chi- for those who cannot sit still, moving meditation like yoga, tai chi, dance, body tapping, toe tapping can help expend that nervous energy and calm the mind and body. Join a class or download a video to get started today.
- Guided Imagery- Kaiser Permanente has a free website called Health Journeys that provides free guided imagery tracks to help with visual relaxation. People who are very artistic and imaginative enjoy this type of guidance.
- Spirituality & Gratitude- spirituality is believing in something bigger than ourselves and living in gratitude. It dissipates anger, resentment and pain. Spending time in nature, pet therapy, music, art, dance or any activity that serves a positive purpose has healing powers.
Through life’s journey, let us learn from the women ahead of us and guide the ones behind us, so we all may benefit from the knowledge we have gathered along the way. The road to a happy and healthy journey is found through nutrition, exercise, sleep, and spirituality. Every phase of life as a woman should be celebrated as it opens doors to a better self.
References: www.mayoclinic.org, www.ewg.org, http://www.drweil.com, http://www.healthjourneys.com, The Role of Soy Foods in the Treatment of Menopausal Symptoms J Nutr. 2010 Dec; 140(12): 2318S–2321S