The onset of the menopause brings with it a multitude of changes. Women experience hot flushes, tiredness, and stress, and all at a time when their life is in a state of flux: often the kids have left home, and life is entering a new phase. A loss of libido at this time of life isn't necessarily down to menopause. It's quite normal for our libido to reduce as we get older, but a specific loss of desire at the onset of menopause can be due to a hormone imbalance, stress, or due to a lack of sleep if you're suffering from night sweats. When 'the change' happens, some women find sex uncomfortable, or even painful, and that can have a negative impact on their desire and their relationship with their partner. Fortunately, many of these challenges can be alleviated with attention to diet, and the right supplementation.
Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plant foods that help to rebalance your hormones naturally, by mimicking oestrogen. They're thought to reduce the symptoms of the menopause by blocking the body's oestrogen receptors when levels are too high, and providing a healthy oestrogen replacement, when the levels are too low.
Phytoestrogens are found in abundance in soya products, legumes, and in brassica vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage. They are also found in walnuts, berries, whole-grains, lentils, linseed, sesame seeds, yams, beans, rice, alfalfa, and fruits.
Patrick Holford and Kate Neil, in their book, Balancing Hormones Naturally, say "Soya products and tofu are both excellent sources of isoflavones, which are powerful phytoestrogens". They suggest consuming 5mg a day, which is "equivalent to 350ml of soya milk or a 350g serving of tofu".
Herbs and supplements
Beneficial herbs that may help to balance hormones include agnus castus, ginseng, black cohosh, wild yam, dong quai, and liquorice root.
Agnus Castus has a reputation for boosting your libido. It contains phytoestrogens that correct hormone imbalances, and it stimulates your brain's pleasure centres by increasing dopamine levels, so you may feel aroused.
Ginseng contains phytoestrogens to balance your hormones and ginsenosides, which may increase your stamina and boost your energy. Sometimes ginkgo is added for extra potency.
Black cohosh increases the balance of progesterone in your body, relative to oestrogen. It does not increase oestrogen levels. The herb has a good reputation for reducing the regularity and severity of hot flushes, as well as reducing moodiness and helping you relax.
Other supplements that may be beneficial during the menopause include vitamin C for its role in skin elasticity; vitamin E to reduce vaginal dryness; the B vitamins to reduce stress; and magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D for healthy bones.
A healthy diet, abundant with fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole-grains, will keep you topped up with phytoestrogens. It will also help to keep your blood sugar levels steady - avoiding highs and lows - so you have sustained energy, for exhilarating exercise and romance.
In her book, Natural Alternatives to HRT, Dr Glenville suggests cutting down on red meat and dairy products because, she says, "Red meat worsens oestrogen deficiency". She also recommends avoiding dairy because some people have difficulty digesting it, and it takes a lot of energy to digest, which can make you tired. Stimulants such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine and smoking should be kept to a minimum (or eliminated entirely) because they cause surges in blood sugar levels, which fall off rapidly, placing unnecessary strain on your body.
Dietary fats and oils have been given a bad name by the weight loss industry for decades, but fortunately things are changing and the important messages about essential oils are filtering through.
Omega 3 can improve your mood, alleviate depression, and make you feel more like cuddling up between the sheets. Conversely, fat-free diets can lead to vaginal dryness, skin problems and stiffness.
Many people still don't get enough omega 3 in their diet - this essential fatty acid is found in oily fish, flaxseed, soya and walnuts. Fish oil is more efficient than plant sources of omega 3, because it's available to the body in its most usable form, EPA, while plant sources require conversion to EPA by your body.
Focus on healthy eating, take regular exercise and herbs if you need them, then with a bit of luck, you'll sail through menopause, relatively problem-free!
Do check with your health practitioner before taking supplements, as some may interact with medication or be unsuitable for people with specific health complaints.