If you’re in your 20s or 30s, menopause might be the last thing on your mind. After all, it seems like there’ll be many years until we transition into this different stage of life, and what we do now surely can’t have that much of an impact on how we feel in later life, can it? Well actually, it can.
Menopause is one of the biggest changes a woman moves through in her life, but along with menstruation and what to expect in childbirth, this aspect of women’s health is another part of being a woman that isn’t discussed nearly enough. Until relatively recently in the medical world, women weren’t even included in trials for most pharmaceuticals either, because the varying hormone fluctuations throughout the month meant the results would be unpredictable. According to Lisa Mosconi – director of the Women’s Brain Initiative and author of The XX Brain, women’s health has largely been reduced to ‘bikini medicine’, a term referring to treating women’s bodies exactly the same as men’s, other than the parts that fit underneath a bikini. As more and more women are speaking out and standing up however, and more and more research is being done into women’s health, we’re discovering that there are in fact huge differences in how men and women age, what happens to our hormones and brain health, how we deal with stress, and what advice we actually need to be listening to.
If menopause is something you’ve never thought about, or you’re wondering how to stay well as you age, read on for a few things you need to know about menopause in your 20s and 30s.
The Importance of Brain Health
Women are more likely than men to experience cognitive decline and issues like Alzheimer’s Dementia, stroke, depression, and migraines, especially at the onset of menopause. 2 in every 3 Alzheimer’s patients are women, and research from the Women‘s Brain Initiative shows that women develop brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s earlier than men. The thing to note about Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as other brain-related diseases, is that it doesn’t just happen overnight. We don’t wake up suddenly with Alzheimer’s like we would with a cold or flu – this is something that begins accumulating decades before symptoms occur, so we benefit from working on prevention when we’re younger. To care for brain health, it’s important to keep the brain active with regular journaling, learning, reading (books like The Woman’s Yoga Book), and socialising. This decline in cognitive function has much to do with the changes in hormone levels, and it is specifically the reduction of oestrogen that correlates to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, so maintaining balanced oestrogen levels throughout our lives is important.
What is oestrogen and why does it matter?
Whilst we’re in our 20s and 30s, most of us have enough oestrogen, and too much can cause issues, so we want to look at how we can maintain a balanced amount without draining ourselves of this valuable hormone. Oestrogen is a category of sex hormones that help women develop a female reproductive system and feminine features, and whilst excess oestrogen is often blamed for acne and digestive problems, it’s actually the hormone that keeps us feeling youthful and vibrant. Oestrogen is a nourishing, building hormone that helps us maintain healthy bones, a sharp mind, strong muscles, good fertility, and a balanced mood. Oestrogen matters because when it declines, we can experience a simultaneous decline in bone density, cognitive function, strength, and overall resilience.
How can I keep oestrogen levels balanced?
So, whilst we don’t necessarily want to make huge increases in oestrogen in our 20s and 30s, we do want to make sure we’re not depleting our hormones, because they are the chemical messengers that tell the body how to function. Oestrogen levels are negatively affected when we experience chronic stress, when we over-exercise, don’t eat enough, and when we eat non-nutritious foods. To maintain healthy oestrogen levels then, focus on the following:
- Practice regular stress-reduction techniques: Settle in for a deeply relaxing yoga nidra session from Nirupta Tuli & Uma Dinsmore-Tuli. In the state of yoga nidra, the physical body rests, restores and revitalises, whilst the mind is guided into a deeply relaxed state. You can also end your day with a bath ritual to further support relaxation – read Moon Bath Rituals for inspiration on divine bathing recipes.
- Rest more: Include at least one restorative practice throughout the week, to bring your body out of the ‘fight or flight’ state of stress many of us spend time in, and towards the ‘rest and digest’ side of the nervous system, known as the parasympathetic nervous system. Use the Yogamatters organic relaxation kit to provide yourself with everything you need to start practicing more restorative yoga.
- Nourish yourself: Choose recipes from The Self-Care Cookbook by Gemma Ogston, in which each recipe has been created to nurture your body and mind, or opt for the Kripalu Kitchen recipe book, with 125 recipes to nourish the body and soul.
Choose The Right Foods
There’s a lot of evidence to show that women who are fully nourished and who aren’t underweight experience menopause much later in life than women who are perhaps lighter and thinner than their natural body weight. It’s important to think about the optimal foods to support women’s health in our 20s and 30s, because when we do reach menopause, we’ll need a good stock of vitamins and minerals to support us. Research shows that just 3 servings of dark berries like blueberries and black berries can help prevent age-related cognitive decline, and that antioxidants (most of which are found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables) are key when it comes to maintaining vitality.
Other vitamins and minerals women especially benefit from including in their diet are magnesium, adaptogens like Pukka’s Shatavari, Ashwagandha, and high quality supplements like Forage Botanicals’ Rested Resilience powder, and their Pre-Menstrual Peace Drops too. Whilst you’re adding these nutritious minerals to your diet, ensure you’re not negating the positive effects by consuming sugar and junk foods. Highly processed foods deplete the body of nutrients, which means we can become deficient in vitamins like B and C, that we really need for energy, mood and immune health. Women with a healthier diet also tend to have a smoother ride when approaching menopause, so whenever possible, choose organic, whole, and nutrient-dense foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, seasonal fruits and vegetables, eggs, organic fish and meat, and legumes.
Befriend Your Body
The final part of key things you need to know about menopause in your 20s and 30s, is that our bodies are our friends, not our enemies! Despite PMS symptoms, inconvenient menstrual timings, and the ever fluctuating levels of hormones that makes being a woman such an emotional rollercoaster at times, it is vital to honour ourselves and our cycle. Especially if you experience mood swings, anxiety, extreme stress and excessive pain just before menstruation, much of this can be influenced by the amount of stress we’ve been dealing with in the weeks leading up to menstruation. Although changes in hormone levels can mean we feel low, irritable and in need of extra mugs of Forage Botanicals Aunt Flo’s Raw Drinking Chocolate, much of what we’re feeling is actually down to our bodies being in a state of stress, and therefore much more sensitive to any hormonal changes. It’s a little like the body is on high alert, and so when hormones change just before menstruation, the alarm bells start ringing, triggering anxiety and stress. To navigate your way more smoothly throughout the month, keep track in your journal of how you’ve been feeling throughout the month, and how that could have impacted your PMS. Read books like Wild Power: Discover The Magic of Your Menstrual Cycle & Awaken The Feminine Path To Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, and Period Power by Maisie Hill, to understand your body better. The key to befriending our bodies and keeping track of changing moods, is that we can start to deepen the relationship we have with ourselves. We can move from fighting against our hormones, to loving and listening to them. If we start now in our 20s and 30s too, we’ll be able to move into menopause with a stronger sense of self-love, self-compassion and awareness of the changes taking place.
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