My menopause symptoms appeared suddenly—hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, and irritability.
It was the summer of 2014 and I was working a seasonal fact-checking gig in New York City. The office AC was cranked up high, so imagine my surprise when, instead of putting on a sweater, I broke into a sweat. The sweating was accompanied by embarrassing underarm odor, which isn’t great for interacting with coworkers and commuting on crowded trains.
In the U.S., the average age for menopause is 51. But I started going through “the change” at age 44. A little on the early side but not unexpected since I’ve been plagued with reproductive health issues, including endometriosis and fibroids, for most of my adult life. It didn’t help matters that, when I was in my thirties, during what should have been a simple cyst removal, a gynecologist carelessly removed one of my ovaries.
During perimenopause, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels increase. Menopause occurs when a woman’s FSH blood level is consistently elevated to 30 mIU/mL or higher, and she has not had a menstrual period for a year. I visited my gynecologist and he confirmed with a blood test that I was in perimenopause.
By 45, I was fully menopausal and the symptoms intensified. I was too self-conscious and anxious to work another office job and too depressed to do much freelancing, so I barely earned an income.
Menopause tried to ruin my life, but here’s how I turned it around.
Medical options and natural remedies for menopause symptoms
According to the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective way to treat menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness. I did my own research; however, and was concerned about the increased risk of blood clots, stroke, and breast cancer associated with traditional HRT.
Instead, I opted for bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). My doctor’s prescription wasn’t covered by my health insurance and it took painstaking efforts to find a compound pharmacist to concoct the bio-identical estrogen and progesterone creams. I used them for a few weeks, but I stopped after I experienced leg pain and heart palpitations.
These days, to reduce my hot flashes, I keep it simple. I carry a hand fan and water bottle with me wherever I go. And, in addition to watching what I eat, I drink iced sage tea on days I have flare-ups and take a magnesium supplement before bed. Black cohosh, dong quai, and evening primrose oil are other supplements commonly used to treat hot flashes, mood swings, and other symptoms associated with menopause.
Change your diet
As your metabolism slows down, you might experience weight gain—another unwelcome side effect of menopause. In 2016, I went for an annual check-up and was shocked by the number on the scale. I had never weighed that much before.
Inspired by a segment on Dr. Oz, I eliminated dairy and processed sugar products and dialed way back on wine and carbs. Every morning, I blended a modified version of his flat-tummy fruit smoothie (½ banana, ½ cup berries, one cup of soy milk instead of almond milk). I followed a strict dietary regimen that consisted mainly of a cup of Greek yogurt with a handful of raw almonds for breakfast; decaf green tea with soy milk, more almonds and a few blue chips for a snack; a tuna or salmon burger on a 100-calorie multi-grain bun with pickles and hummus for lunch; and a big salad with romaine, spinach or butter lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, red cabbage, and more pickles and hummus for dinner. I also fill my 20 ounce water bottle at least six times throughout the day (about 15 glasses of water).
In less than a year, I lost 20 pounds. My hot flashes and night sweats also decreased and my spirits lifted.
Researchers from the University of Queensland wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that it’s possible low-fat, high-fiber diets may help stabilize estrogen levels and ease hot flashes and night sweats. They also speculate that eating a Mediterranean-style diet might keep blood sugar within the optimum range, which could also lower a woman’s chance of bothersome symptoms.
Freshen from the inside out
Dr. Verna Brooks McKenzie, a woman’s health specialist and certified menopause clinician, recommends eating a balanced diet rich in magnesium and zinc, including lots of greens like spinach and watercress, which contain chlorophyll, a natural deodorizer.
She adds that processed foods high in refined sugars contribute to body odor. Also on the list? Stress, synthetic fibers like polyester, and other non-breathable materials that collect sweat.
In addition to cleaning up my diet, to get my pits in check, I stocked up on white cotton tees, rinsed with apple cider vinegar (which regulates the skin’s pH balance), tried baking soda as a natural deodorant, and tested several Secret Clinical Strength scents. I also discovered that paraben-free body washes with aloe, mint, charcoal, and black soap are cooling and deep cleansing.
Walk it off
Before menopause, estrogen helps limit bone loss. After menopause, you start losing more bone mass than your body can replace. The Cleveland Clinic reports that weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, dancing and playing tennis, done three to four times a week, are best for preventing osteoporosis. Exercise also releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters.
Lately, I’ve noticed my joints are stiff when I wake up and when I sit for long periods of time. So I’ve resumed my meditative walks across the Brooklyn Bridge and weekly Zumba classes. Soon, I will add yoga, stretching, and weight training to my fitness routine.
Be kind to yourself
It’s been three years since my journey into menopause began, and thanks to these dietary and lifestyle changes, I look more vibrant and feel healthier. I still have days where hot flashes limit my social interaction. Fortunately, I currently work from home with my trusty mini desk fan by my side. The biggest difference is that I now have a better understanding of what triggers my symptoms—stress, sugar, caffeine, dehydration. I also have a lot more patience with and compassion for myself.