Menopause in the Workplace

by Pat Duckworth

Practical measures

There are some simple measures that can help to reduce menopausal symptoms.

Diet

Weight gain is a common issue for women (and men) once they pass their fortieth birthday. This is partly due to being less active and losing muscle tone, but it is also due to changes in the levels of hormones. During this phase, as the ovaries produce less oestrogen, the body tries to compensate by manufacturing oestrogen elsewhere to protect the body against osteoporosis. The fat around the waist is one of the sites where oestrogen is produced.

A small amount of weight gain is normal, but excessive weight gain can lead to health issues and aggravate the experience of hot flushes, as the fat insulates the body and retains heat. A healthy, balanced diet of unprocessed food with plenty of vegetables, fruit and lean protein is recommended by many experts.

Some foods also help to reduce the experience of hot flushes. These are foods that contain phytoestrogens and include

  • Isoflavines – soya, chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans
  • Lignans – flaxseeds (linseeds), sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, brown rice, oats, broccoli and carrots
  • Coumestans – found in sprouted mung beans and alfalfa beans.

These foods are not recommended for women who have been treated for breast cancer.

Women are also recommended to eat more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in sardines, salmon, mackerel and flaxseeds (linseeds).

Exercise

A recent worldwide study concluded that lack of exercise is more harmful than smoking in terms of your risk of developing chronic diseases (The Lancet, 2012). Exercise is anything that causes you to breathe more deeply than you normally would or causes your heart rate to speed up. Fitness is the ability to perform physical activity.

Research carried out in Australia found that women in the age range 45 to 60 who exercised two or more times a week reported fewer headaches, felt less tense, tired and fatigued and had lower rates of mental symptoms of depression than non-exercisers (Ratey and Hagerman, 2009).

The effect of exercise on hot flushes and night sweats is less clear. Women are recommended to experiment with different types of exercise at different times of the day and see what works best for them.

Lifestyle changes

  • Stop smoking

For women and men of any age, smoking is bad for your health and speeds up ageing of the skin. Women smokers reach menopause up to five years before non-smokers. Hot flushes tend to be more troublesome for smokers and they are more likely to get osteoporosis and have heart problems.

  • Limit alcohol intake

Although small amounts of alcohol can have a relaxing effect, it can also trigger hot flushes. A woman’s body contains five to ten per cent less water than a man’s, so the same amount of alcohol will be more concentrated in her system and have a greater toxic effect. It takes less alcohol consumed over fewer years to cause liver damage in women than men.

For women going through the menopause there are a number of adverse effects from alcohol:

  • It leads to weight gain, particularly around the waist
  • It depletes the body of vitamins and minerals
  • It acts as a diuretic and raises levels of cortisol – ‘the stress’ hormone
  • It interferes with the metabolism of EFAs needed to control inflammation.

Additional measures

Other actions to mitigate menopause symptoms:

  • Wear layers of clothes made from natural fibres
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Use a ‘cooling stick’ or wipes on pulse points.