Menopause may be a natural part of every woman’s life, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. There are the relatively minor annoyances that start to occur as you approach the “change of life”—thinning hair and dry skin, to name a couple—as well as issues that can be much more difficult to deal with: irregular, sometimes heavy periods; hot flashes and night sweats; sleep problems; and mood swings.1 And once you are in full-fledged menopause, you are at increased risk of certain health conditions.
But before we look at the issues you need to be aware of — along with steps you can take to help prevent or treat them — let’s examine some facts about menopause:
- The road to menopause typically begins in your late 30s. This is often when your ovaries begin to produce less estrogen and progesterone, the hormones that are responsible for regulating your periods. At this point, you likely won’t have signs of menopause, although your fertility can start to decline.1
- Before you enter menopause, you will experience perimenopause. The declining levels of your hormones will eventually alter the length of time between your periods, marking the beginning of perimenopause, or the “menopausal transition.” Perimenopause often begins in the 40s and can last for months or years. You may have the classic signs of menopause but are not considered to be in menopause yet since you are still having periods.1,2
- If you’re still menstruating, you’re still in perimenopause. You are considered to be in perimenopause until you haven’t had a period for 12 months. At that point, you have entered menopause.1
- The average age of menopause in the United States is 51.2 However, there is a wide range, with most women entering menopause between the age of 40 and 58.2
Health Concerns of Menopause
In addition to the sometimes-uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, you are also at an increased risk of certain health problems, including the following:
Many women complain of hair loss after menopause. While experts aren’t sure of the cause, they suspect that hormonal changes may play a part.3
What you can do: The North American Menopause Society recommends the following:3
- Eat a healthy diet. This includes limiting your consumption of red meat.3
- Choose foods that are rich in biotin, iron, vitamin D and zinc. Broccoli, cheese, eggs, lean meat, legumes, nuts, poultry, seeds, spinach and sweet potatoes are good sources.4
- Check with your doctor to rule out underlying problems. Hair loss can also be caused by thyroid disease or other medical conditions.
This condition, which causes your bones to become brittle and weak and to break easily, is more common during menopause. That’s because the loss of estrogen that occurs with menopause causes you to lose bone mass, which increases your risk.5
What you can do: The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends you:6
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables and getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D. Good food sources include milk and other dairy products, tuna and dark-green leafy vegetables.
- Get regular exercise. It’s important to do both weight-bearing exercise (dancing, hiking, tennis or fast walking, for example) and muscle-strengthening (such as lifting weights or using your own body weight, or working out with elastic bands).
- Avoid secondhand smoke. Also watch your alcohol consumption.
Heart disease and stroke
Estrogen helps relax the blood vessels and keep them open; it also helps maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. Since estrogen decreases with menopause, there’s an increased risk of cholesterol building up in the arteries leading to the heart and brain, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.7
What you can do: The American Heart Association recommends the following:9
- Quit smoking if you smoke. Also try to avoid secondhand smoke.
- Eat a healthy diet. Focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts.
- Limit red meat. Also avoid sugary foods and drinks.
- Aim to get approximately 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Exercises that use larger muscles at low resistance—such as walking, cycling, dancing or swimming—are good choices.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, many women gain an average of five pounds after menopause. While experts aren’t sure of the exact cause, they say lower estrogen levels may play a role.5
The reduced estrogen of menopause also causes an increase in abdominal fat, according to the International Menopause Society.8 This increase is a critical factor in the development of insulin resistance—which, in turn, is a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Abdominal fat is also associated with other conditions in postmenopausal women, including breast cancer.
What you can do:
- Watch what you eat. According to the Mayo Clinic, you may need to watch your portion sizes even more and focus on daily activity to maintain your current weight.1
- Protect your sleep. Research has shown a link between sleep loss and obesity. One study showed that five or fewer hours of sleep per night was associated with a more than two-fold increase in obesity among women when compared to those who slept seven to eight hours per night.9 Reduced sleep was also associated with central abdominal fat.
- Consider time-restricted feeding. Preliminary research suggests that individuals who follow a time-restricted feeding routine tend to lose more weight those who eat regardless of the time.10 By avoiding late-night meals and consuming the majority of your calories during daylight hours, you’ll be working with your metabolism when it’s most efficient. You can put this into practice by eating over a 12-hour period (for example, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.) and then letting your body rest by refraining from food—except water or herbal tea—for the other 12 hours (which includes sleep).
Menopause can be a difficult transition, both physically and emotionally. But hopefully with these tips, you’ll be empowered with knowledge to change some lifestyle habits and make the transition easier on yourself.
Do you need some strategies to help with weight loss during menopause? Jenny Craig offers delicious, balanced, healthy meals—along with your own personal weight-loss consultant. Contact us today to get started.
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus.