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5 point survival guide to getting through the menopause

As a Government report finds workplaces should be doing more to help females cope with this stage in their life, experts offer tips on dealing with the transition

By Kate Whiting

While pregnant women in the office are far more obvious and well-cared for, women going through the menopause in their late 40s and early 50s are not - and more should be done to help them.

So found a recent study for the Government's Equalities Office, conducted by Leicester and Bristol universities, which recommends employers provide desk fans, as well as flexible working to allow for lack of sleep, among other things.

Lead author of the study, Professor Jo Brewis from the University of Leicester, says: "The evidence indicates that many women find transition symptoms, especially hot flushes, difficult to manage and that being at work can exacerbate these symptoms.

"But women tend to feel they need to cope alone, for example, because they don't want their manager or colleagues to think their performance is being affected or because they find the prospect of disclosure embarrassing."

The average age to go through menopause - when the ovaries run out of eggs and fail to produce enough oestrogen - is 51, but symptoms usually start a few months or even years before your periods stop (perimenopause) and can last from four to 12 years.

Signs to look out for include changes to your periods, which may be lighter, heavier and more or less frequent, and common symptoms such as hot flushes, a drop in libido, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, headaches, low mood or anxiety, hair and skin changes and muscle aches.

So what can you do to ease the worst of the symptoms at work, home and play? Here's what the health and well-being experts recommend.

1. Ease the hot flushes

"Hot flushes are the most common symptom of the menopause, experienced by three out of four menopausal women," says Professor Mary Ann Lumsden, senior vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).

"The most effective treatment is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, evidence shows vitamin E supplements and some antidepressants may help ease hot flushes. Women are also recommended to cut out coffee and tea, stop smoking, keep the room cool using a fan, spray their face with cold water, wear loose clothing, and cut down on alcohol."

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Crucal time: employers are being encouraged to support women going through the menopause

2. Eat well

Eating healthily during the menopause will ease the transition and set you up for good long-term health.

"If you are suffering from increased mood swings, irritability and depression, then taking measures to balance your blood sugar is absolutely crucial," says Dr Marilyn Glenville, nutritionist and author of Natural Solutions To Menopause (www.marilynglenville.com). "This means thinking about the quality of the food you eat as well as the timing. Completely eliminate added sugar and refined carbohydrates to see a marked improvement in your moods.

"Eat little and often, which means not going more than three hours without eating. If you wait longer than this, your blood sugar will drop and the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol will be released, which give rise to many of the symptoms relating to anxiety, tension, crying spells, depression and irritability."

A good-quality multivitamin and mineral is crucial, she adds. It should contain vital nutrients for bone health; good levels of antioxidants to help slow down the ageing process; B vitamins and chromium, to help keep blood-sugar levels balanced, as well as calcium, magnesium, manganese, boron and vitamin D3 (for example, NHP's Meno Support).

"A good Omega 3 fish oil supplement will help with symptoms such as dry skin, lifeless hair, cracked nails, fatigue, depression, dry eyes, lack of motivation, aching joint, difficulty in losing weight and forgetfulness.

"Phytoestrogens, found in soya, chickpeas, lentils, flaxseeds and kidney beans, will help cushion the effects of the hormone roller coaster as you go through the menopause, while the herb sage has been shown to decrease hot flushes and helps with reducing insomnia, irritability, anxiety, physical and mental exhaustion."

3. Sleep naked

There are plenty of good reasons to banish the PJs during menopause, says Neil Robinson, an expert on sleep at bed firm Sealy.

"Sleeping naked is actually really good for your health. Not only does it ensure your body temperature remains low, it can also improve circulation and can keep your skin healthier.

"Sleeping naked also helps to decrease cortisol, increases the growth hormone and balances melatonin, all of which work to help build healthy sleeping habits, reduce stress levels and remove those late-night food cravings."

4. Make time for intimacy

Reduced sex drive and vaginal dryness are common symptoms of menopause, but they shouldn't spell the end of your sex life, says Colin Richards, relationship and sex mentor (www.intimacymatters.co.uk).

"Instead, it's more of a transitional period which allows women to rediscover their bodies and libido. In my experience, many women's libidos increase during this time with some even reporting that it happened almost overnight.

"However, this significant increase in energy and desire can have a negative impact on women's psychology and put a strain on their relationship with their (male) partner who may be dealing with their own issues which kick in at around the same time. Men often experience a decrease in desire in late middle age and may also be dealing with erectile issues, so your increased desire can make them feel inadequate.

"If you're in a relationship, deal with the issue as a couple and explore different ways you can achieve pleasure without the need for penetration. Becoming aware of how your body is changing and making the most of it is what you should focus on. This increased self-awareness will help you guide your partner in a non-invasive way that will help both of you feel fulfilled."

If vaginal dryness is a problem, a lubricant or a prescribed oestrogen cream, may help.

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Crucal time: employers are being encouraged to support women going through the menopause

5. Stay active

"We all dread the middle-age spread and it transpires weight gain post-menopause is a very real phenomenon," says Imogen Watson, dietitian and medical nutrition manager at healthcare company Abbott.

"Keeping active as you age can help maintain your weight and mood. Strength training is a great way to help control weight and build muscle mass.

"Time to dust off those dumb-bells!"

Gentle stretching exercises like yoga and Pilates will help maintain muscle mass, while weight-bearing exercise, such as jogging or dancing, also helps prevent osteoporosis.

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