It seems as if there is no end to the number of symptoms associated with menopause and the transitional years, and here is yet one more. Systemic inflammation is a key underlying issue that affects women in their perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause years, yet it’s one we don’t hear much about.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a biological response and one way the body protects itself and heals. When you bump your elbow or get a thorn in your finger, for example, you will notice some inflammation around the affected area. This type of inflammation is short-term and can be marked by pain, redness, swelling, and limited movement or function.
Sometimes, however, inflammation works against us, as in when it is systemic and chronic. This type of inflammation is invisible—you can’t see it or feel it—but it can last for years and be associated with diabetes, obesity, arthritis, heart disease, psoriasis, asthma, and more. Inflammation is also associated with perimenopause and menopause.
Why does inflammation occur during menopause?
According to a 2020 study, “emerging evidence is showing that peri-menopause is pro-inflammatory” and that “the menopausal transition an inflammatory event, with associated systemic and central nervous system inflammation.” Basically, estrogen helps keep inflammation at bay. When those hormone levels decline with perimenopause and menopause, however, inflammation increases. In fact, “the endocrine transition is also associated with a rise in chronic low-grade inflammation.”
How can you manage inflammation naturally?
It’s time to reach into your bag of tricks and find ways to manage chronic inflammation without drugs. Here are a few suggestions:
Exercise regularly. This sounds counterproductive since the inflammation can cause pain in your joints (arthralgia). However, regular exercise benefits your mind as well as your body, keep on moving! Try low-impact activities such as swimming, yoga, biking, and hiking. Daily exercise, or at least five days a week, is recommended. You should strive for 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise and 10 to 25 minutes of resistance training or the use of weights.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Some foods, such as meat, dairy, processed foods, and sugar cause or contribute to inflammation in the body. Instead, eat more fresh vegetables and fruits and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as cold water fish (e.g., sardines, tuna, salmon), walnuts, flax seeds, and soybeans and soy foods. Other anti-inflammatory foods include blueberries, celery, garlic, grapes, olive oil, tea, and spices (e.g., ginger, rosemary, turmeric). This approach is largely the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts, and fish.
Lose weight. If you are carrying around some extra pounds, then you already have more inflammation. When you lose weight, you can reduce inflammation in the body.
Control your blood sugar. Foods such as white rice, white flour, refined sugar, and processed foods that contain high fructose corn syrup should be very limited or avoided. These foods make it more difficult to control blood sugar levels and also contribute to inflammation. Use a supplement like berberine, to naturally support healthy blood sugar levels.
Manage stress daily. Life can be very stressful and we can’t always change the stressful situations or encounters in our lives. However, changing how you perceive a stressful event can have a significant positive impact on inflammation. Take a few minutes several times a day to help reduce chronic stress by meditating, doing yoga, using biofeedback or guided visualization, or whatever means works for you.
Don’t smoke. Smoking can increase your risk of bone loss, cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues. It also can take a toll on bone health because smoking can slow or stop the ability of bones to heal.
Try turmeric. The herb turmeric contains curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Research shows that turmeric “aids in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions” and because it is poorly assimilated, you should take it with piperine (black pepper) to improve bioavailability.
when to see a health provider
Signs and symptoms of chronic systemic inflammation can vary. However, if you are experiencing fatigue, skin rashes, digestive problems (e.g., bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, constipation), excessive mucus production, and body aches, consult your healthcare provider.
Inflammation is a natural part of life, and it can be temporary and acute or chronic and life-changing. Chronic systemic inflammation during the hormonal transition years is common, and women can take some natural steps to alleviate it as much as possible.