Q. I am 54 and suspect that I may be undergoing menopause.
For the past two months, I have had difficulty sleeping, experienced hot flushes and gained weight although I did not alter my diet.
I also feel more tired than usual. My periods have always been irregular, so I am uncertain if I am indeed going through menopause.
I have always maintained an active lifestyle, but I do not have a regular exercise routine.
I know menopause is inevitable, but is there anything I can do to better prepare myself for it?
A. Menopause is, by definition, the cessation of menstruation for one calendar year.
What you are experiencing is peri-menopause - which is a period of time in your life when hormone levels are decreasing, causing all the symptoms you have mentioned.
The first thing you will need to do is to see a doctor for a simple blood test of your female hormones.
Should they be at a very low level, you may need some hormonal manipulation on top of lifestyle changes.
For a start, you could increase or start a soya-based diet as soya is an inexpensive phyto-oestrogen. This may help to reduce the hot flushes.
There are also plant-based supplements available that will help with peri-menopausal symptoms. For example, black cohosh - a herb and member of the buttercup family - is sold over the counter as a dietary supplement for menopausal symptoms and can be taken daily.
Poor sleep is caused by a drop in your progesterone level.
Unfortunately, there is no dietary substitute for that.
But magnesium, which reduces anxiety, has been known to have a calming influence.
If it is taken at bedtime, it may help to induce sleep.
Going through menopause is also about managing your androgenic hormones, such as testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which will likely have fallen as well.
This will cause a drop in your metabolism and, hence, an increase in your weight.
DHEA is a hormone that comes from the adrenal gland. It is also made in the brain. DHEA leads to the production of male and female sex hormones.
My advice is to do more resistance exercises - this will increase the production of your androgenic hormones. Resistance exercise, which includes lifting weights or using an exercise band, is also good for bone health.
Ultimately, menopause will ensue. But if you have an understanding of your symptoms and what is causing them, making lifestyle changes and consuming the appropriate supplements will help to minimise these symptoms.
It will make your transition into the next phase of life easier.
There is also hormonal therapy, depending on which hormone level is low. A combination of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone may be needed, based on your blood test results.
Alternative therapies, which may include phyto-oestrogens such as black cohosh and minerals like magnesium and zinc, have been known to work, too.
Going on a low-sugar diet and exercise can also help to minimise the symptoms of menopause.
Discuss with your doctor the benefits and side effects of hormonal or alternative therapies, before embarking on a treatment course.
DR CAROLINE LOW
Visiting consultant at the Thomson Well Women Clinic