Episode 118: The magic of menopause with Darcey Steinke (Re-Release)

This interview was transformational for me! I was so excited to interview Darcey Steinke, author of Flash Count Diary. I loved her book and so many of her thoughts about menopause are similar to mine. It was wonderful to find a kindred spirit whose overall impression of menopause is so positive. Darcey was the first guest to make me cry!

We talk about:

  • Darcey’s fascination with her hot flashes
  • How the book is about so many different things about midlife and menopause
  • How menopause can be a struggle but there is lots of richness to gain
  • Darcey’s startling realizations about the menopausal transition
  • How Darcey managed her own menopause symptoms and what helped most
  • How we may be more like our pre-pubescent selves post menopause
  • How we may live more of our lives being infertile than fertile
  • The tyranny of estrogen and what it’s like to finally be free of it
  • Fertility, menopause and the patriarchy
  • Appearance, visibility and the power of female friends
  • Calling out ageism especially at work
  • Anger and the lifting of the complicity veil
  • The marvels of whales and menopause
  • The evolutionary reason for menopause
  • How misogyny has lots to answer for on how we view menopause
  • How rethinking menopause and ageing can re-frame our experience of both

And more!

Find out more about Darcey:

Darcey’s website: darcey-steinke.com | Instagram

Darcey’s book: Flash Count Diary: A New Story About the Menopause 

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10 Natural Remedies for Menopause Aches and Pains

There’s a lot of change during perimenopause and getting more aches and pains is often something women notice. It could just be that you’re getting a bit older and perhaps not moving your body enough. Sometimes it’s hormonal changes or it could be something else entirely. It helps to understand more about what may be going on to help identify the right remedies for menopause aches and pains.

Estrogen has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, so as it drops, if we’re not finding other ways to reduce inflammation, this may be one reason why we start to experience aches, pains and stiffness around menopause.

If we put on weight, as often happens in midlife and around menopause, we can increase the strain on our joints which can cause pain. If we’re not eating the right diet, eating too many inflammatory foods and not enough anti-inflammatory foods, that can also lead to problems.

Remedies for Menopause Aches and Pains

If you’re highly stressed and producing too much cortisol, that is also associated with inflammation and can contribute to distracting our adrenal glands from their important role of producing the estrogen post menopause (instead of the ovaries) that is needed for healthy joints (Jackie Lynch, The Happy Menopause).

It could also be that we’re not staying hydrated enough, especially if hormonal changes are leading us to dehydrate, such as hot flashes and night sweats for example. Estrogen has a role to play in keeping us hydrated so we need to put more effort into that as it decreases.

When it comes to pain we may experience the following:

  • back pain
  • unexplained stiffness
  • aching muscles
  • loss of flexibility
  • chronic joint pain
  • or just generally more aches and pains

If changes are major and there’s no obvious explanation, they could be a sign of an underlying condition, so be sure to visit your doctor and get yourself checked out.

Osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and certain autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease or multiple sclerosis can all cause painful joints, so be sure to eliminate these as possibilities if pain is a big problem.

Sometimes we assume that aches and pains are a natural part of getting older but they don’t need to be. I love the wisdom of Ashton Applewhite, the anti-ageism campaigner when she talks about her knees.

For a long time she’d assumed that pain in one knee was age-related. But then she thought about it and realized that her knees were the same age, so if pain in one of them was age-related how come the other one didn’t also ache?! Listen to Ashton on the Magnificent Midlife Podcast.

Here’s a really good article to help if you do have painful knees!

Natural ways to ease aches and pains

1. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you suffer from hot flashes or night sweats.

2. Balance your blood sugar and improve your diet. This will help with your overall hormonal balance which will help with anything that can be attributed to hormonal fluctuation. Reduce actual stress and also the blood sugar spikes and drops that can lead the body to think it is under stress and stop producing estrogen in favor of stress hormones.

A little good food and often, and eating protein and complex carbohydrates (such as beans, whole grains, and starchy vegetables), which are high in fiber, with every meal is a good way to go. Now is the perfect time to make your diet healthier overall and include lots of fresh vegetables. Cut out that processed food as much as you can. Refined carbohydrates, in particular, are known to mess with our hormones generally, quite apart from the blood sugar spiking effect.

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and reduce your sugar, processed foods and caffeine intake. Eating organic when you can will also help, as you’re cutting out any pesticide or hormonal additions to food that can have an impact on your own hormones. Consider cutting down on alcohol, which is generally pretty bad for women’s bones and doesn’t help our hormones either!

3. Add natural phytoestrogens to your diet. These can be found in soy and flaxseed, for example, and will help to boost hormonal balance and counteract any impact from declining estrogen. This will help with most menopause-related symptoms because phytoestrogens help to balance your hormones naturally.

Here’s a comprehensive list of foodstuffs that can also help. Daily ground flaxseeds on my breakfast cereal as well as organic soya milk instead of dairy have massively helped me.

4. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet . This will make a big difference. Include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and their associated oils. Many people believe meat can exacerbate aches and pains in later life, so consider eating less meat and moving more towards plant proteins such as soya beans and quinoa for example. Eat more cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Cut out refined sugar and carbohydrates (those again!) as these are both highly inflammatory. Similarly processed meat is not going to help. I’m sure you’ve also heard that following a Mediterranean diet is particularly good to reduce inflammation in the body. Track what you’ve consumed in a food diary and how you feel each day, so you can be aware of what may be triggering extra pain.

Here’s a list of foods to avoid if you have arthritis.

5. Try Turmeric, taken with black pepper to aid absorption, as it is also thought to be great as an anti-inflammatory.

Remedies for Menopause Aches and Pains

6. Make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D. In the winter, or if you live in a place where there isn’t so much sunshine, take a daily supplement to make sure you are getting enough. Low levels of vitamin D are strongly associated with joint pain and stiffness and it’s easy to become deficient. This is the lower dose version I took pre-Covid. Research is showing Vitamin D can also help counter Covid infection, so double whammy! This is the higher dose version I’m now take.

7. Try glucosamine or chondroitin (or both together) supplements. Many people find glucosamine and/or chondroitin helpful for joint pain. I haven’t needed this yet but my neighbors swear by them!

8. Magnesium can really help with stiffness, joint and muscle pain. It’s also good for another menopause symptom, restless legs! It helps to calm our nervous system and I take it regularly in the evening. It’s supposed to be more effective when taken with calcium. This is what I take. You can also take it in the form of an Epsom salts bath which can be very soothing of an evening. Why not buy in bulk?! Much cheaper than the small bags you can buy.

9. Make sure you move regularly! We spend so much of our time sitting down these days and I truly believe sitting is the new smoking. Get a standing desk, take regular breaks and set an alarm on your computer or your phone to prompt you to get up regularly.

One of the most flexible women I’ve ever met, Katherine Allen, has an alarm on her computer every 30 minutes and she will get up and do a full body shake when it goes off. In her 70s she can lift her foot above her shoulder!

10. Start a yoga practice, (like Katherine). This I believe is absolutely crucial for long term health and wellness especially for women as we go through perimenopause.

Remedies for Menopause Aches and Pains

A gentle practice of the flowing Surya Namaskara (sun salutations) helps to increase flexibility in the joints and works every muscle in the body, a complete physical and emotional workout in itself. Try practising 5-10 rounds of sun salutations per day. Even if you don’t have time for other yoga, you will experience dramatic relief from general aches and pains.

Yoga has been proven to help people suffering from joint issues such as arthritis, as well as helping to relieve the stress that can put additional pressure on our hormones. Find out more about why yoga is so great for menopause here.

I hope these ideas will be of help. Definitely start the yoga practice! That will help enormously. And get up and move regularly. Don’t get stuck ‘in the box’ as your body will stiffen up accordingly.

You don’t want to be chair shaped either! Try sitting on the floor. You’ll fidget and that means you’ll be moving around more to get comfortable!

Good luck and if you discover anything else that really helps you, please let us know!

You may also like: Menopause Matters: Resources To Help and Hormone Imbalance Symptoms and Immune Systems

Remedies for Menopause Aches and Pains
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How To Stop Hot Flushes (And Hot Flashes!)

Are you burning up? One of the most annoying symptoms many women experience on the perimenopausal/menopausal journey is hot flushes/ hot flashes or the night-time version, night sweats. Just how do you deal with hot flushes? This post is all about how to stop hot flushes without HRT.  If you’d prefer a natural menopause there are lots of things to try.

Some have an occasional hot flush/flash. Some dream of a time when they weren’t constant! And for some, flushes hang around long after menopause is over.

But for most of us they can be managed and they will go away eventually.

how to stop hot flushes without HRT

I rarely have hot flushes or night sweats, being postmenopausal. When I get one, I usually know the trigger – sugar or alcohol for me. I believe the way I live now, and my diet, have really helped manage my flushes.

I was on a low dose of HRT for about seven years because of early menopause at 41, to protect my bones and heart. But I came off it at ‘normal’ menopause age of 51 and managed my menopause-related symptoms, including hot flushes, naturally, both before I went on HRT, while I was on it and since coming off.

Menopause is still a massive taboo, although becoming less so. But the more we talk about it, the less of an issue it is. I want women to feel empowered and informed to take control of their menopause experience. That includes how we deal with hot flushes/flashes and night sweats.

Here are my top tips for how to stop hot flushes without HRT!

1. Think of them as power surges! If you think of them like that, rather than seeing them as a problem or something shameful, they become less of an issue. They’re great when it’s chilly! This may sound simplistic and naïve, especially if you’re coping with being drenched in sweat, but it’s worth a go. Mindset can be very powerful. A BBC documentary on menopause found that when women used CBT techniques to lesson feelings of shame around hot flushes, their hot flushes became fewer and less intense.

2. Keep a diary of when you have hot flushes and the triggers for them. Is stress bringing them on? Caffeine? Sugar? Or alcohol? All these are known to exacerbate hot flushes. If you know the triggers, you can tackle the symptoms.

3. Start with trying to lower your stress or improve how you deal with it. Hot flushes are exacerbated by stress. If you’re able to manage your stress, you may also be able to manage your hot flushes. Reduce levels of stress in your life, maybe adopt a meditation practice or do some restorative yoga. Both of these will help you lower stress levels overall and potentially reduce hot flushes.

4. Try avoiding or reducing caffeine. For many women caffeine brings on a hot flush. Personally I haven’t had any caffeine since I went through early menopause at 41 which is over a decade ago. I was advised by Dr Marilyn Glenville to give up caffeine and I haven’t missed it in years. I love not being dependent on caffeine to get myself going in the morning or after lunch.

5. Work at maintaining constant blood sugar levels. When we consume certain products like refined carbs, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, these can cause a spike in our blood sugar levels. That puts stress on our hormones.  Similarly when we leave a long gap between eating, our blood sugar levels can drop also putting stress on our hormones. In the menopause years that can result in a hot flush. 

Similarly, eating protein often (even a few nuts, for example) will help to stop a blood sugar crash that sends us looking for something to pick us up. I try not to overdo it on the sugar front but I do love my chocolate. The mini hot flush I occasionally get after I’ve had some chocolate is worth it. It’s just my little power surge! For more on the importance of balancing blood sugar on all things menopause check out my podcast with Jackie Lynch, author of The Happy Menopause.

6. Evaluate how you live and what to change. I believe menopause is nature’s way of getting us sorted for a healthy second half of life. Rather than it being menopause that causes the problems (it gets a really bad rap!), I see it as prompting us to re-evaluate how we live and what won’t work long term. We may have been able to abuse our bodies when younger. But if we carry on the same, we’ll run into problems as we age. Menopause is when our bodies say, enough’s enough with the unhealthy living! Or at least, be aware of the consequences if you choose to turn a deaf ear.

7. Get a handle on your weight, if you think it’s an issue. If you’re significantly overweight in midlife, that will cause problems down the line. And women who are overweight are known to have more of an issue with hot flushes. Yes, you can take a supplement or HRT or try other things below that will help. But if you are, hand on heart, overweight and suffering hot flushes, consider trying to do something about it rather than just accepting it as a natural aspect of getting older. It’s not.

8. Up your exercise. As we age we need more exercise not less and many women swear by exercise to help them manage menopause symptoms including hot flushes/flashes. I know regular yoga and running certainly help me.

9. If you find alcohol a trigger for hot flushes, consider reducing your intake of that also. Unfortunately, it’s many of the things we love that contribute to our power surges. But you may consider it a price worth paying. That’s up to you. But better to be informed so you can make that decision. Again, remember it may be your body telling you what you’ve done in the past, may not be what you need for long term future health. Bummer!

10. Learn to regulate your temperature with ease. Wear layers and if you’re a fan of polo necks and sweaters, consider alternatives. I’ve given up wearing polo necks because I don’t want to run the risk of being caught having a hot flush and then being unable to do anything about it! Instead I’ve become a committed wearer of scarves and I regulate my temperature by just taking them on and off. Similarly, although they may not be the most sophisticated item of clothing, I’m a big fan of the humble cardigan. I can wear a cardigan, jacket, or zip-up fleece either open or closed.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for a sweater. So I think about the environment in which I’ll be wearing a sweater and whether I’d be comfortable taking it off! Avoid synthetic fibers and carry a pocket foldout fan especially in summer.  I’m also usually to be found with a hair band on my wrist. I have long hair and my hair band helps regulate my temperature. I actually really feel the cold and can’t imagine ever having my hair cut short now.  I would just be too chilly! Put being able to put it up in summer (or if flushing) is fab.

11. Consider other dietary changes. Now’s the time to make your diet healthier and include lots of fresh vegetables.  I was also advised to increase my intake of natural phytoestrogens which are thought to help replace the estrogen lost by the body during perimenopause. This may help explain why women from cultures that eat foodstuffs with a higher level of natural phytoestrogens, experience fewer menopause symptoms, such as Japan. I gave up dairy milk and replaced it with organic soya, and have not had any dairy milk for over a decade. (Except of course when I’m at my mum’s and she doesn’t have an alternative, I will have a splash in my tea! I still eat cheese and other dairy products but not as much as before.) 

As well as soya milk, I also consume soya products such as tofu and miso – I try to keep these as unrefined as possible – highly refined soya products are not good for you. I also have ground flax-seeds on my cereal (soaked ones are particularly effective – soak over night then drink them and the water the next day) and I’m addicted to hummus. All of these are good sources of natural phytoestrogens and I’m convinced they’ve helped me transition more easily through menopause. I recently found out that sprouted greens such as cress, mustard, mung beans and broccoli sprouts etc. are all good sources of plant hormones, as are dried apricots – but make sure these are organic otherwise you run the risk of any pesticides also having a detrimental impact on your hormones.

Drink plenty of water and check whether spicy food brings on a flush. If so, consider avoiding that curry or decide it’s a price worth paying! Spirulina and maca powders, added to smoothies for example, may also help reduce hot flushes.

12. It’s expensive but eat organic if you can. The pesticides used in agriculture are known to impact our hormones negatively as well as generally not being very good for you. Certain fruit and vegetables have higher proportions of pesticide residues on them than others.  So some you don’t need to worry about so much if they are not organic and others you may want to avoid unless they are organic. I’m still grappling with this but have printed out the lists of the worst offenders for reference. You can get these lists for the UK at Pesticide Action Network or in the US at the EWG.

13. Consider also what toxins are in your home environment and whether you can cut back on those. Household cleaning products are full of chemicals, some of which are thought to interfere with hormones. Personal products like deodorant, moisturizers, shampoos etc. often come laden with potentially suspect ingredients – can you identify everything in the ingredients list of your favorite product? I’ve followed advice over the years to try to cut back on these both for myself and the environment.

I now use less toxic cleaning and laundry products when I can and try to keep cosmetics as natural as possible. I use organic coconut oil to clean my face and take off makeup, and make my own facial oil to moisturise. I buy organic sunscreen when it’s available. All this helps to keep any hormone influencing toxins as limited as I feasibly can.

Finally, before resorting to HRT, which can be very helpful for many women, but which I see as something to try after everything else, consider these natural remedies:

  • Black cohosh
  • Sage – as a supplement or just as a tea
  • Evening primrose
  • Red clover
  • Camomile tea
  • Dong quai – a Chinese herb
  • Foods rich in vitamin E like sweet potatoes, hazelnuts, almonds and avocados are thought to be able to help, particularly to decrease night sweats

So there you have it. My top tips for how to stop hot flushes without HRT. There are many things to try and often it’s a process of elimination to work out what’s causing them in the first place. No one remedy will fix the problem, but a package may do it. For most women, they will eventually go away post menopause. If they stay, it may be because there’s something else going on, which should definitely be explored with a medical practitioner. If you’re really suffering with hot flushes you should certainly consult your doctor. You should not have to suffer and HRT may be what you need.

If you have anything else to add that has helped manage your hot flushes/flashes and night sweats, please let me know in the comments below.

Here’s wishing you healthy happy midlife transition! Being post menopause is wonderful!

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