While a few women will sail through the menopause, most of us experience symptoms that can be quite severe and have a significant impact on everyday life.
These can begin months or even years before your periods stop and last around four years after your last period, although some women suffer them for much longer.
Hot flushes and night sweats are high profile, but other common problems include reduced libido, vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex, low mood or anxiety, as well as weight gain, sluggishness and problems with concentration.
The drop in oestrogen that occurs during the menopause can cause you to age more rapidly. "While men tend to age at a steady rate from their thirties, women often age 50% faster for five years after the menopause," says Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London.
But the good news is that having a healthy and happy - at least for the most part - menopause is possible with a few dietary tweaks and and some helpful vitamins and supplements.
Eating the right foods could help you manage the life stage better, and give your body the best tools to deal with what can be some testing symptoms.
However, it's important to note that the above may not be enough to support your menopause journey in isolation, and you may need to speak to your GP about treatments such Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) or HRT alternatives, including Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT).
Foods for menopause:
The following foods are healthy and beneficial for all stages of your life, but could be particularly helpful with tackling some of the symptoms of the menopause - especially following the news that oestrogen could affect coronavirus symptoms.
Radishes have a high silica content, required for collagen production, and essential for maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails during the menopause - a great bonus, given that women can often suffer with menopausal acne or lacklustre skin during this life stage.
Edamame beans, linseeds, sesame seeds, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage
These foods are all naturally high in phytoestrogens, which mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body. Women experience low oestrogen during the menopause, and it is this which can trigger menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness (which in turn can make sex painful), hot flushes and mood swings.
Berries are packed with antioxidants, which help to fight cell-damaging free radicals in the body. One study also found that middle-aged participants who consumed wild blueberries had less cognitive fatigue when completing demanding tasks. For some women the menopause can come with accompanying moments of 'brain fog', so brain healthy food is always welcome.
Complex carbohydrates like wholegrains and green veg can help to support healthy hair. This is key, as hormonal changes mean some women may experience hair loss or thinning during the menopause. Avoid extreme low-carb diets, says trichologist Anabel Kingsley, "An energy deficit affects the production of hair cells before it affects any other cells in the body."
"Essential fats are needed to synthesise hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as protect the heart, support joints and plump up skin," says Laura Southern, a Nutritional Therapist, at London Gynaecology. "We get essential fats from oily fish (“smasht”- sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring, trout) and from some plants (olives, olive oils, avocado, nuts and seeds)."
A rainbow of vegetables
The more colourful the better. These foods support growth and repair, reduce sugar cravings, keep you full and support your skin healthy with a cocktail of anti-ageing nutrients. Always good - whether you're going through the menopause or not!
And foods for menopause to avoid:
Often full of added salts and sugars, these zap our energy levels, add to weight gain, and contribute to feeling sluggish tired. And so, just like at any other stage of your life, these are best avoided.
Also, you'll benefit from cutting back on the sugar, particularly in processed forms. It leads to glycation, which is damaging to the skin, and can increase weight gain. Eat lots of sugar and refined carbs and blood sugar soars. Glycation is where sugar molecules bond to proteins (that includes collagen in the skin) making it stiff and inflexible. Hello premature ageing and wrinkles!
Menopause supplements and vitamins for menopause:
Vitamins for menopause can vary depending on where you are in the entire process.
"You need to focus on strengthening the adrenals - the glands that will continue to make progesterone and oestrogen after the ovaries have retired," says nutritionist Sarah Bowles-Flannery. Get started with vitamins C, B5 and B complex - try Life Extension Fast-C, £25 for 60 tablets; and Viridian High Five, £15.90 for 60 capsules.
Try a multivitamin with a high level of Bs and vitamin C, like Nutri Advanced AdrenoMax, £29 for 90 capsules. Vitamin D3 with added K2 encourages calcium uptake in the bone; try Nutri Advanced D3 Drops with K2, £18.70 for 30ml.
Sleep disturbances can also be a feature of the menopause. “During the menopause, levels of oestrogen and progesterone, a sleep-promoting hormone, begin to decline," says Kathy Abernethy, Menopause Specialist Nurse and Immediate Past Chair of the British Menopause Society. "This shift in hormones can trigger a number of changes, including sleep onset insomnia (trouble getting to sleep) and maintenance insomnia (trouble staying asleep). As a result, some women describe an exhaustion that seems unrelenting.”
If you're suffering from a lack of sleep, boost your magnesium (a natural muscle relaxer) levels with Nutri Advanced MegaMag Calmeze, £32.95 for 262g or try products containing valerian, a herb traditionally used to help promote sleep, such as Kalms Night One-A-Night, £11.93 for a pack of three (21 tablets in each pack).
GP and Medical Broadcaster, Dr Sarah Jarvis, also emphasises the importance of women supporting their joints during the menopause.
"After the menopause, levels of collagen drop rapidly. Women may lose as much as 30% of their skin collagen in the first 5 years after the menopause. This contributes to development of skin wrinkles but can also affect your joints," she explains. "Collagen is a key component of the cartilage which lines your joint. Many women describe joint pains around the menopause. While some are in the joints most often affected by osteoarthritis – hips, knees, spine and hands – the neck, shoulders, wrists and elbows are also commonly affected." Try LQ Collagen Joint Care MAX, £27.99 for 50ml.
Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist specialising in women's health, suggests a good maintenance programme, including a multivitamin and mineral with antioxidants for a healthy heart, B vitamins for energy plus calcium and vitamin D for bone health. Try Healthy Woman Support by NHP, £17.49 for 60 tablets.
Omega 3 fish oils "have an anti-inflammatory effect. Control inflammation and you also control the ageing process from the inside out," says Dr. Glenville. Try Viridian 100% Organic Scandinavian Rainbow Trout Oil, £25.45 for 200ml.
Herbal remedies for menopause:
Before going on, it is important to note that the effects of herbal remedies for menopause symptoms are largely unknown. Not enough research has been done into each specific remedy, meaning there could be repercussions that we don't yet know about.
If you want to take herbal remedies for menopause, it is advised that you proceed with extreme caution and get information from your doctor as a first port of call.
Black cohosh, a perennial plant native to North America, is thought to have been traditionally used for medicinal purposes.
However, studies testing it have reported varying degrees of effectiveness for women during the menopause. But three scientific trials found it to be beneficial to women and their menopause symptoms - although three others found that it provided no significant positives alongside the placebo. Holland & Barrett currently sell Black Cohosh tablets, £10.99 for 30 tablets.
But it's important to be aware that taking it does carry risks of certain ailments, including headaches, dizziness, liver toxicity and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil has long been taken for the relief of menopausal symptoms and PMT (pre-menstrual tension).
But the NHS is keen to state that its effects are as yet unknown, and it's impact on menopause symptoms proving underwhelming in recent studies.
One placebo-controlled randomised trial, surveying 56 women, actually found that the capsules did not have any more of an impact on the physical symptoms of menopause than a placebo.
They also noted that if taken with phenothiazines (antipsychotics) they could increase symptoms such as hot flushes.
Like all other herbal remedies for menopause, the positive effects of red clover are highly debatable. The NHS states, 'A systematic review of products containing phytoestrogen has previously been carried out, involving 30 randomised trials and 2,730 subjects.
'This included seven trials of red clover extract, five of which had their results combined in meta-analysis.
'This showed no benefit of red clover over placebo in reducing symptoms of hot flush. However, many of the trials were said to be underpowered, and some trials had high numbers of participants who dropped out.'
To find out more about the safety of herbal remedies, visit the NHS page here.
"Some women find concentrating and coping with stressful situations particularly difficult during the menopause," says Dr David Edward, a GP and specialist in male and female sexual dysfunction. "Rhodiola rosea, a flowering herb that grows in both Europe and Asia, has been shown to help relieve symptoms of stress without causing sedation or a foggy brain. Make sure you choose a supplement which carries the THR kite mark as this guarantees quality, safety and includes approved dosage information in-pack." Try Vitano Rhodiola Tablets, £9.90 for 30 tablets.
"Maca [an Andean root which is sometimes referred to as a herb] is super for helping balance hormones, particularly during the menopause," says herbalist Tipper Lewis. "It also helps to build vitality and energy, contains calcium and even has aphrodisiac properties." Use it straight - up to one teaspoon a day - in smoothies or drinks. Try Naturya Organic Maca Powder, £7.49 for 300g.
So how have you taken steps to relieve the symptoms of the menopause?