Menopause, often referred to as “the change of life,” is something that all women will go through at some point. It’s the winding down of a woman’s fertile years and has no clear start or end point for most women. In perimenopause – the years leading up to actual menopause (which is 12 consecutive months without a period) – many women will begin to experience a host of symptoms as their hormone levels begin to fluctuate and eventually drop.
While mood swings and hot flashes are hallmarks of menopause, there are actually many signs and symptoms that women (and the men who care about them) need to be aware of. These can be both emotional and physical, and range from mild to severe.
Read on for 16 of the most common signs and symptoms of menopause and helpful tips for dealing with them. By the way, a “symptom” is something that you feel or experience. A “sign” is something someone else can detect in you. When it comes to hot flashes and mood swings, they are often both signs and symptoms!
16 Common Signs & Symptoms of Menopause
#1. Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Hot flashes are a sudden sensation of warmth spreading through the body, particularly on the face and neck. They are typically brought on by declining estrogen levels. Night sweats are also caused by hormonal imbalance and can disrupt sleep.
Many women find that raising progesterone levels can alleviate these problems. Magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B6, C, and E support the production of progesterone. Ashwagandha, a powerful adaptogen, maca, licorice root, and other herbs are also known to boost low progesterone levels. You may also want to dress in layers during the day and sleep in a cold room with plenty of blankets you can kick off when needed.
#2. Mood Swings
Mood swings are due to hormonal changes as low levels of estrogen can cause irregularities in the brain. Estrogen increases serotonin, a chemical in the brain that boosts mood. As estrogen levels decline (and subsequently serotonin) one may feel less happy. Relief can often be as easy as engaging in moderate exercise, spending time in nature, and engaging in deep breathing exercises – all of which promote a sense of calm and improve mood.
#3. Sugar Cravings
When hormones are out of balance cortisol levels to rise, which increases sugar cravings. High cortisol contributes to adrenal fatigue, which actually predisposes you to those cravings. Ashwagandha supports adrenal function by reducing stress and lowering cortisol levels. Maca root also supports the adrenals. Holy Basil has been found to help balance cortisol, reduce cravings, and manage weight. Sleep deprivation will exacerbate cravings, so don’t skimp on the hours of rest you’re getting.
The inability to sleep or stay asleep is one of the most annoying symptoms of menopause. Once again, hormonal imbalance is often to blame. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can help. Meditation and relaxing yoga can aid in clearing the mind for more restful sleep.
#5. Brain Fog, Memory Lapses, and Difficulty Concentrating
Feeling confused, forgetful, and/or finding yourself with a lack of focus and mental clarity? Once again, declining estrogen is to blame. Drink more water and be sure your body is well-nourished. Concentrate on healthy sources of fats such as avocados, olive oil, oily fish, and seeds, which are needed for healthy hormone production.
#6. Anxiety &Depression
Depression and anxiety and can be due to unresolved childhood trauma. Consider working with a therapist to get to the source of the problem. Before you resort to drug therapy, know that hormone imbalance can also be involved. When hormones shift and become out of balance, the result can be increased depression and anxiety.
#7. Weight Gain and Redistribution
The hormonal changes of menopause may make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen than around your hips and thighs. Menopause weight gain isn’t inevitable, however. You can reverse course by paying attention to healthy-eating habits and leading an active lifestyle, which can help revitalize the body’s metabolic rate.
Endocrine disruptors such as plastics and other chemicals mimic natural hormones and significantly contribute to weight gain. Ditch the plastic in your kitchen and use utensils and storage containers made from wood, glass, stainless steel, and natural materials.
A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables can help the body detoxify and flush out harmful chemicals. Milk thistle promotes liver health and regeneration which in turn helps the body to break down excess hormones, metabolize fat, and expel toxins from the body.
Fatigue can be the result of hormone fluctuation, particularly declining estrogen. Supportive nutrition and restful sleep can help. Compounds in reishi mushroom may help decrease fatigue and help resolve the overall hormonal imbalance.
#9. Water Retention and Puffiness
Puffy feet, hands, and belly are often the results of the natural decline of estrogen and progesterone. Lemon water and roasted dandelion tea are natural diuretics. As counterintuitive as it might sound, drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help reduce bloat.
#10. Low Libido and Vaginal Dryness
Loss of libido can be caused by hormonal imbalance or by other symptoms of menopause such as vaginal dryness or depression. Vaginal dryness occurs when the moistness in the lining of the vagina disappears. When estrogen levels drop during menopause it causes a lack of lubrication. The adaptogenic herb ashwagandha improves vaginal lubrication and encourages a calm and relaxed feeling. Non-toxic products such as coconut oil or over-the-counter non-toxic lubricants can also make sex more comfortable and enjoyable.
#11. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
UTIs can often result from declining estrogen levels and changes in the urinary tract that make you more sensitive to infection. Immune-boosting foods, herbs, and supplements such as medicinal mushrooms, zinc, and vitamin D can be helpful. Be sure to drink plenty of pure water to help flush out bacteria.
#12. Hair Loss or Thinning Hair
Thinning hair is often caused by estrogen deficiency because hair follicles need estrogen to grow and stay healthy. Hair is also made from protein, which is why increasing your intake of collagen can be beneficial in maintaining thick, healthy hair.
Headaches during menopause are also linked to hormonal imbalance. As estrogen drops, headaches can become more frequent and may worsen. Turn to natural solutions when possible such as specific essential oils which can help with headache pain relief.
#14. Itchy Skin
Itchy skin is one of the first symptoms of menopause because collagen loss is most rapid at the beginning of menopause. As estrogen levels drop, collagen production slows down. Supporting your body with collagen through consuming adequate protein and/or supplementation may be helpful. Amla berry is also known to promote healthy skin and to support the hormonal system.
#15. Osteoporosis and Bone Loss
Osteporosis and bone loss result from declining estrogen. Support bone density with low impact exercise (including strength training) and eating more green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale. Vitamin K2 will help direct calcium out of joints and arteries and into the bones where it belongs.
#16. Irregular Heartbeat
An irregular heartbeat can be triggered by a decline in estrogen as this will over-stimulate the nervous and circulatory systems. This can cause irregular heartbeat, palpitations, and arrhythmias and can increase the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle (including diet, exercise, and minimizing stress) that supports good heart health is your best bet.
Eating Well Matters Even More in Menopause
As you’ve seen repeatedly in the tips above, proper nutrition is one of the best strategies to minimize the symptoms of menopause and any negative impact they can have on the body.
A healthy diet will help balance your hormones, which in turn will support the adrenal glands which are responsible for producing your hormones once your ovaries stop.
Maintain a proper balance of protein, fat, and healthy carbohydrates. Eating 10-15 servings of vegetables daily (especially cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and cauliflower) will help detoxify harmful chemical estrogens that can exacerbate menopause symptoms. It’s also highly beneficial to engage in moderate exercise and activities that help reduce stress, such as yoga, walking in nature, and meditation.