Everyday things that can make menopause symptoms worse!

Eileen Durward
Ask Eileen

08 July 2024

Things that can make your symptoms worse

Here are a few things that could be triggering or making some of your symptoms worse:

1. Not drinking enough water

There's no surprise there. For those of you who have been following my blogs for a while, you know how much emphasis I put on drinking water. This is honestly the simplest and easiest thing you can do. And it can often make a huge difference really, really quickly.  

The main reason for making sure you drink plenty of water in perimenopause and menopause is that when oestrogen levels fall, our body's ability to retain moisture in connective tissues is reduced. We need water for so many processes in the body, including brain function, digestion, keeping our bladder healthy, keeping our joints healthy, and keeping our skin from drying out.

Water is so, so vital. And if our body's level of hydration drops to a lower level, that's going to impact a whole range of symptoms. So, some symptoms that you're getting could maybe have more to do with dehydration rather than being blamed on menopause itself.

The important thing here is to remember that it needs to be plain water. The minute you put juice or anything else in it, it changes the way that your body uses it. You can use natural flavouring, such as a couple of berries, or a little bit of mint, or cucumber, or grated ginger, but don't put anything else in it. And don't use fizzy water either, because that doesn’t seem to hydrate us as effectively.

Also, things like tea, coffee, alcohol, and fruit juices really do not count towards your water intake. Indeed, some of them like tea, coffee, and alcohol actually make you lose more water. The more of those you drink, the more dehydrated you're going to be.

So, remember, aim for about a litre and a half of plain water a day, over and above whatever else you want to drink.

Extra Tip: Drink some warm water first thing on getting up, to start your day off well. And try not to drink with meals, as this will improve your digestive function. 

2. Using artificial sweeteners

We want to maintain our weight or stop putting weight on, so very often we think artificial sweeteners will be better than sugar. The answer here is that they won’t, because artificial sweeteners affect your blood sugar levels in a different way. They affect your insulin production by making your pancreas think that there's lots of sugar coming in when there isn't. Over time, that can weaken your blood sugar control. If your blood sugar control goes all over the place, that can trigger a lot of symptoms, such as headaches, palpitations, low mood, anxiety, and mood swings.

And as I see it, why would you want to put anything artificial in your body? There's now quite a lot of research coming out looking at the detrimental effects of artificial sweeteners. We know too that some of them can affect the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, so you may find taking artificial sweeteners causes bloating, constipation, and cramping. And we need plenty of friendly bacteria to help with our hormone balance as well. So, there can be quite a vicious circle going on here.

It is difficult to give up sugar. I used to take two teaspoons of honey in my tea and coffee, and a good number of years ago I thought, "Yeah, I need to stop this." And it's really hard to start with. They do say that it takes about 10 days to retrain your taste buds to make do with less sugar. And I find that now, if I'm away somewhere or visiting somebody and they inadvertently put some sugar or honey in my tea or coffee, I hate it. It just tastes so awful. So, it's worth trying for 10 days just to see how you get on. And if you count up how many teaspoons of sugar you take in things, it can add up to quite a lot on a daily basis, without you realising it.

3. Drinking coffee first thing in the morning

Is that the first thing you do when you get up? A lot of people do. You're tired, you haven't had a good night's sleep, you've got a busy day in front of you, and you want something to give you a big hit. And coffee will certainly do that. But that coffee and the caffeine is going to be whizzing around in your system for hours after you drink that cup of coffee.

Normally, before you get up, your blood pressure rises. It's part of the wake-up process. Your blood pressure rises a little bit to get you ready for moving and doing everything that you need to do. Your cortisol level, which is associated with the nervous system, rises as well, in order to help you cope with any stresses and strains that may be going on.

So, you're getting up, your blood pressure is rising, your stress hormones are rising, and you then take a cup of coffee, which is going to put your blood pressure up further. It's going to raise your stress hormones even further. It's possibly going to impact your blood sugar level. Your nervous system, before you've done anything else, is already in a state of high alert. It's been revved up, and that can take hours to calm down. To reduce or avoid morning symptoms such as flushes and sweats, palpitations, headaches, the jitters, followed by brain fog and feeling drained of energy, keep away from that early cup of coffee.

I'm not saying, "Don't ever have coffee." I love a cup of coffee in the morning, and I would never ask anybody to do anything that I can't do myself. But all you need to do is swap that cup of coffee for a big glass of water first thing. I've done it for years, and I can't actually function without that first glass of water now. You've been dehydrated all night, and your body is going to soak that glass of water up like a sponge and thank you very, very much.

How to take coffee? Have it after food, when it's going to have less impact on your nervous system and your stress levels. I usually have my breakfast at about 7am, and I have my one-a-day morning cup of coffee at about 8:30 or 9:00.  I find it doesn't have a negative impact, and I get the nice mood-lifting benefit. So again, try it for a couple of weeks and see how you get on.

4. Using antiperspirants

Who would have thought that antiperspirants could make your hot flushes worse? But they can! One of the main areas where your body controls the heat is under your arms. That's where we sweat the most. So, when you get too hot, when you get agitated, or when your nervous system is revving up, that heating process will cause you to sweat under your arms. But of course, in this day and age, it's not really socially acceptable to be going around with wet underarms, especially if you've got a little bit of B.O. So, you put antiperspirants on.

Nowadays, there are antiperspirants that last for 24-48 hours. They block the pores so you can't sweat from your armpits. But if your body’s thermostat is out of control, if you're getting hot flushes, if you're getting sweats, where are you going to sweat from? What happens is your body, trying desperately hard to bring the temperature down, finds other ways. You're going to get hot flushes in the face. You're going to sweat in the face, behind the neck, under the breasts or in the groin. You could end up with sweaty feet. It could be the palms of your hands. Your body will find any means of regulating the temperature by sweating, if it can't do it under your arms.

I recommend using a natural deodorant instead. This will work well for keeping you nice and fresh. There are so many out there now, loads to choose from, and they're very good at controlling odour. We have a lovely range from a company called Salt of the Earth that I use all the time. I have been to countries where it's been over 40 degrees, and it's still kept me lovely and fresh. Again, just try for a couple of weeks. See how you get on.

5. Eating on the run

If you eat on the run, if you're chomp-chomp-chomp, if you're eating at your desk, if you're eating really quickly because you've got a deadline to face, you're going to put pressure on your digestive system, which is not going to help with the general digestive issues that can be common during perimenopause and menopause.

If you're really rushed, your digestive functions will actually stop. This will cause all the foods that you have eaten to sit in your stomach. It's then going to ferment. It's going to give you indigestion. It's probably going to cause bloating lower down the digestive tract.

So, the thing to do here is that when you eat, eat at the table, not hunched up at your desk, not hunched in front of the TV. Sit up straight, eat slowly, and chew your food really well. Just doing simple things like that can ease or stop digestive problems such as bloating.

I hope you found this one helpful. There are lots of little things you can do to help yourself. If you try any of my suggestions, let me know how you get on. If you have found other things that have really helped you, then please share them. I love that after these blogs have been posted, we can have lovely dialogues between everybody. It helps me, and it also helps everybody else as well.

Until next time, have a lovely week.

You may also find these topics helpful:

3 ways caffeine can make your hot flushes worse

10 reasons to drink more water during the menopause

5 signs your digestion is struggling during menopause

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