The menopause can be an extremely difficult time for many women, taking both a physical and emotional toll. How it affects each individual woman varies greatly, with some women experiencing only a few symptoms and in a mild form, and others finding them detrimental to their daily life. Symptoms range from brittle nails, digestive problems and breast pain to loss of libido, dizziness and depression. Many women feel that as inevitable stage in the ageing process they must simply ‘get on with it’ and are therefore reluctant to seek medical help. However, while there is no ‘cure’ for the menopause, there are ways of managing the symptoms – and a trip to see your GP would be a good first step. Perhaps the most commonly described symptoms are those of hot flushes, joint pains and hair loss – so what is going on in your body and what can you do about it?
What is causing the hair loss?
Thinning hair, which can be part of pattern baldness, affects an estimated 40% of menopausal women, often inducing a degree of emotional trauma. Some women first notice hairs in the plughole after a shower, others become aware of a widening parting. The levels of the female hormone oestrogen – essential to hair growth – dip during the menopause, and levels of testosterone rise, inhibiting the hair follicles and making the hair that does grow, grow thinner. An iron deficiency can also trigger hair loss so ask your GP to check your ferritin levels. Adopting a diet rich in iron and protein, both of which promote healthy hair, can help counter peri-menopausal hair loss and your GP may suggest an iron supplement. Others ways of looking after your hair at this time include: using a gentle shampoo; avoiding over-styling and excessive brushing; and regular scalp massages and exercise – both of which boost circulation to the scalp, encouraging follicle regeneration.
Joints and body temperature are affected by oestrogen, too
Just as with hair loss, changes in oestrogen levels have a role in ‘menopausal arthritis’ and hot flushes. It is believed that one function of oestrogen is to minimise swelling around joints, maintaining the health of the bones and their joints. When levels are low, joints that experience high impact (hips, knees, etc.) may become swollen and painful. Regulating oestrogen through HRT can therefore not only tackle the cause of joint pain but normalise the way the hypothalamus senses body temperature, reducing the occurrence of those debilitating hot flushes.