The Functional Medicine Approach to Menopause
Throughout life, we all go through various transitions as we get older. Some of these changes are small, others are major and can have a huge impact.
For women, entering menopause is perhaps one of the most striking of these – it can affect individuals in different ways, some barely noticing the transition, others finding it a lot more difficult.
Here we look at why menopause occurs and how taking a functional medicine approach to its management can be so beneficial.
What Is Menopause and Why Does it Happen?
Menopause is the moment in every woman’s life when they stop menstruating. It’s a perfectly natural biological process and the transition usually begins a few years before they have their final period. The average age of a female entering menopause is 51 and it most often occurs between the ages of 45 and 55.
During this time, the estrogen a woman normally produces begins to decline and it marks the closing of the reproductive life of the individual. Before their final period, a woman may experience a variety of symptoms including an irregular menstrual cycle, changes to skin elasticity and discomforts such as night sweats and hot flashes.
In some cases, menopause can happen earlier. This might be brought on naturally because the ovaries stop making certain levels of reproductive hormones. It can also be a result of chronic illness and medication, for example, if someone is undergoing cancer treatment.
The risk of certain medical conditions increases following menopause. These include a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and urinary incontinence.
Symptoms of Menopause
Some women feel little effect when approaching menopause, others can suffer from a wide variety of symptoms that can have a significant impact on their daily life. These most commonly include hot flashes, mood swings and even depression, dryness in the vagina, headaches, poor sleep, loss of sex drive, bloating and facial hair growth.
Some of these symptoms can be quite mild, others can be more severe and reaction to menopause varies from person to person. They can persist for a few years after the individual’s last period.
Conventional Medical Approaches to Menopause Management
The conventional medical approach to the management of menopause is to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying problem.
For example, if an individual is suffering from headaches then pain killers may be prescribed. Estrogen therapy could be advised to help relieve symptoms such as hot flashes and low dose antidepressants might be used to control depression.
These help to combat the immediate issue but they do not look at the patient as an individual who may require a more tailored and less medically invasive treatment – that’s where a functional medicine approach comes in.
The Functional Medicine Approach to Menopause
Functional medicine takes a patient-centered approach and looks to address the underlying causes of a condition.
For example, while a doctor may prescribe painkillers for headaches during menopause, functional medicine will look at what is causing the symptoms to manifest in the first place (rather than masking the pain with drugs).
It may be that an individual is lacking in certain nutritional elements in their diet and that remedying this will give them permanent relief.
Functional medicine takes time to understand the patient, taking their full medical history into account and understanding what triggers are present that may be causing the symptoms of menopause. In many cases, simple lifestyle changes make a significant difference to how a woman goes through menopause and can alleviate many of the common symptoms.
There is growing evidence that planning for menopause by enhancing lifestyle changes such as making better nutritional choices and exercising regularly can also make a big difference.
Switching to a nutrient-dense diet has several benefits including improving bone health and maintaining hormonal balance. This can include eating more fruits and vegetables which are high in vitamin D, omega-3s, magnesium and B vitamins.
Individuals can also consume hormone supporting foods such as avocados and coconut oil that contain healthy fats, quality grass-fed protein and fiber-rich vegetables.
Many women suffer from an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone production in the lead up to menopause which can cause many of the most commonly experienced symptoms. Eating these hormone supporting foods can help mitigate this problem and again, alleviate symptoms associated with menopause.
It’s just as important in a functional medicine approach, however, to remove toxic foods such as too much sugar from the diet and limiting things such as caffeine which can trigger hot flashes.
Apart from dietary changes, individuals can also benefit from exercise as well as using meditation to reduce stress levels.