Sex doesn't have to hurt… 9 tips to ease the pain of menopause

GOING through the menopause can be traumatic for many women.

In fact, recent research has revealed that a quarter of women aged over 50 find their menopausal symptoms so debilitating that they've had to consider reducing their office hours.

And for one in four women, those pesky side-effects can last up to 15 years.

But there are things you can do to make "the change" less challenging.

Medical nutritionist and GP Dr Sarah Brewer told the Mail that there are nine things every woman needs to know about managing the menopause.

1. Sex doesn't have to hurt

The menopause can cause vaginal dryness, due to hormonal changes and skin becoming thinner.

And that can make sex painful and less enjoyable.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Dr Brewer says that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help restore vaginal health, while vaginal estrogen pills or cream can help restore some of the moisture.

"Natural moisturizers are also available," says Dr Brewer.

"The most effective vaginal moisturizers are those that contain an ingredient called hyaluronate, such as Healthspan Silk Intimate Gel, which also includes aloe vera."

She also recommends a supplement called sea buckthorn oil which is rich in omega 7 – a mineral that builds healthy skin and mucous membranes.

It can also help relieve dry eyes and hair, as well as vaginal dryness.

2. Yoga and cannabis oil can help anxiety

The menopause can result in anxiety, which can be managed via cannabis oil (CBD) and yoga.

CBD might not suit everyone (you can get it in Holland & Barrett) but yoga is great for relieving anxiety and bloating.

Five studies looking at 582 menopausal women who did yoga and other forms of exercise found that yoga improved their mental health considerably.

Simon Avis, yoga teacher at Virgin Active previously told The Sun that yoga isn't just about getting physical – although exercise does help us to release feel-good endorphins.

"What a lot of people don't realise is that yoga is meditation. The two are intrinsically linked," Simon explained.

"We are so obsessed with the physical practice that it's important to realised that the yogis of 5,000 years ago used the physical poses simply to bring the mind to stillness and would then spend several hours a day meditating."

And he also said that practicing yoga has inadvertently encouraged his students to lead healthier lifestyles – which again, can help ease symptoms.

"Most of my students who practise yoga on a regular basis often tell me that they have a greater self-respect towards their own bodies which in turn encourages them to lead a more healthy lifestyle."

3. Eat more sweet potato fries

Apparently, Japanese women report having fewer troublesome menopausal symptoms, and that's all down to their diet.

In fact, when they switch from a traditional diet to a more Western one, their hot flushes increase.

And that's thanks, Dr Brewer claims, to their high intake of plant hormones found in soy products, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli and sweet potatoes.

"Not only can these plant estrogens significantly reduce menopausal symptoms, many are a source of filling fiber, meaning you are less likely to feel hungry," she said.

"They also have beneficial effects against coronary heart disease and osteoporosis (fragile bones)."

4. Fill up on berries every day

Vitamin C is crucial for managing fatigue and tiredness, as well as physical signs of aging like wrinkles and lines.

"To make sure you are getting enough, eat more fruit and veg – those providing the most vitamin C include berries, guava, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, mango, capsicum peppers and green leaves.

"As well as providing vitamin C, fruit and veg are packed full of what's known as antioxidant polyphenols; these have protective effects against high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer."

5. Cut down on the coffee and wine

This might be a hard one for many but caffeine and alcohol can have a "huge impact" on someone's symptoms, Dr Brewer said.

She advised cutting right back on both – reducing them as much as possible and going for herbal teas like mint or chamomile over an Americano.

6. Look after your gut

Gut health is massively important at any time of life, but it plays a massive role in hormonal health.

Making sure that you have a health balance of bacteria can help to minimise the severity of hot flushes and night sweats.

It can also improve mood by helping us produce the "happy hormone", serotonin.

Dr Brewer's tips for a healthy gut

  • Eat a Mediterranean-style diet providing plenty of fruit, veg, pulses and some fish (especially oily fish)
  • Increase your intake of soy-based foods, plus foods such as flaxseed and sweet potatoes
  • Aim to eat fermented foods such as live bio yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh or kefir on most days – or take a probiotic supplement
  • Limit your intake of foods containing added sugar and salt
  • Avoid convenience and processed foods containing artificial additives

7. Take magnesium baths

There's nothing like a good, hot bath to ease away both mental and physical stress.

To make the most of that, however, you might want to start adding magnesium salts to the water.

"Magnesium is vital for long-term good health – it helps to overcome tiredness and fatigue, reduce muscle cramps and restless legs, and promotes normal bowel function – especially if menopause leaves you prone to constipation, insomnia or anxiety," said Dr Brewer.

Although you can get it in food, you can also absorb the mineral through the skin.

"A great way to get a good night's sleep is to put a handful of magnesium salts in a warm bath in which to lie back and relax for half an hour before bed."

8. Treat yourself

Understandably, confidence can take a sharp nose dive when you're going through something like the menopause, and Dr Brewer cites a study which found that women who feel better about their appearance tend to report fewer symptoms.

So the emphasis should really be on doing things to make you feel good about yourself.

Self-care is hugely important at a time like this so make sure that you make time to do little things like having your hair done or investing in nice smellies.

Anything to add a little spring in your step.

9. Try HRT

Dr Brewer says that HRT can quickly resolve symptoms.

While many women are nervous about the risks associated with taking hormone replacement therapy (such as breast cancer), Dr Brewer says there may be much less to worry about.

"Guidance from the UK drug watchdog NICE states that for every 1,000 women taking combined HRT (estrogen and progesterone) for 7.5 years after the age of 50, there may be around five extra cases of breast cancer.

"Overall, taking HRT does not appear to increase the risk of dying from breast cancer due to the availability of screening and early treatment with effective therapies."

So if you are struggling with symptoms and you want them to be quickly resolved, don't rule HRT out.

Chat to your doctor about your concerns and they'll be able to help you work out a coping strategy that's right for you.

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