6 Surprising ways your body changes after menopause — and what to do about it
Changing hormones during menopause can cause unexpected and unwanted side effects. Here’s what you need to know about the ways your body changes after menopause.
Hot flashes. Night sweats. Mood swings. These are the symptoms that usually come to mind when you say the word menopause. But the so-called “change” can have other surprising and unwanted effects on your body and mind, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D. Dr. Minkin is a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. But what about the other ways your body changes after menopause?
Some of these effects, such as brain fog, go away once you’ve fully gone through menopause. Others, such as weight gain, can be controlled through lifestyle. And then there are those, such as dry eye, that are often here to stay. Still, even with stubborn postmenopausal issues, you can do a lot to keep them in check, says Dr. Minkin. Here’s how.
Menopause Side Effect: Hair Loss
More than half of postmenopausal women report having some hair loss. This may be due partly to the loss of estrogen that comes with menopause. It could also be caused by an underlying condition such as thyroid disease, says Dr. Minkin.
Tips that can help: Treatment will depend on the cause, so be sure to work with your doctor. But eating a healthy diet and taking a multivitamin may also help, reports the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). So can using some over-the-counter (OTC) products such as topical minoxidil (Rogaine®).
Menopause Side Effect: Eye Changes
During and after menopause, you may notice new eye symptoms such as:
- Dry and scratchy eyes.
- Frequent tearing. (With dry eye, your body makes more watery tears to compensate.)
- Sensitivity to light.
Tips that can help: Most women can find relief by:
- Using OTC artificial tear drops.
- Drinking plenty of water.
- Taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
Also, regular eye exams are a must. The reason: Postmenopausal women have a higher risk of cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye) and glaucoma. Catching and treating these issues early can help fend off vision loss or even blindness.
Menopause Side Effect: Cognitive Problems
Many women say they feel more forgetful and have “brain fog” while going through menopause, says Nieca Goldberg, M.D. Dr. Goldberg is medical director of Atria New York City and a clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.
A recent study sheds some light on why. Scientists scanned the brains of 161 women between the ages of 40 and 65 who were in perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. They found several brain changes, including a decrease in brain matter and increases in deposits of proteins linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
Tips that can help: The good news is that women’s memory issues and fogginess often fade on their own over time, says Dr. Goldberg. In the meantime, she suggests eating a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet. It’s rich in:
- Whole grains.
- Healthy fats such as olive oil.
This way of eating seems especially supportive of brain health. In fact, in a study, middle-aged adults who followed a Mediterranean diet had fewer signs of Alzheimer’s in their brain than those who didn’t.
Another important way to boost your brainpower: Get plenty of z’s. “Some memory problems may simply be due to sleep deprivation,” says Dr. Goldberg.
Menopause Side Effect: Bone Loss
Women (and men) begin to lose bone as early as their 30s. But the process speeds up in women after menopause. “Unfortunately, many women don’t realize this until they fall and fracture something,” says Dr. Minkin.
Tips that can help: If you’ve gone through menopause and you’re under 65, ask your doctor if you need a bone density test. If you’re 65 or older and haven’t had a bone density test, schedule one. There are medications that can help slow bone loss. Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements may also help. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends:
- 1200 mg of calcium and 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D every day for all women over age 50.
- 1000 mg of calcium and 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D daily for women 50 or younger.
Need to schedule a bone density test? A digital health management app like Wellframe makes it easy to connect with your care advocate to book an appointment. Many health plans offer Wellframe to their members as a benefit at no extra cost; to find out if yours does, reach out to your human resources department.
Menopause Side Effect: Weight Gain
Women gain about 5 pounds on average after menopause. Lower estrogen levels play a role. But the bigger culprit is often just the natural metabolic slowdown that comes with age, says Dr. Goldberg.
Whatever the cause, it’s important to keep an eye on this weight gain, says Dr. Goldberg. It can raise your risk for health problems such as:
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Type 2 diabetes.
Tips that can help: For starters, stick with that Mediterranean diet. One study found that postmenopausal women who did were able to lose the same amount of weight as perimenopausal women.
Also, try some resistance training. This type of exercise uses weights or your own body weight to build strength and endurance. Examples include lifting weights, doing squats, and even light yoga. It’s been shown to help increase muscle mass in postmenopausal women. And more muscle mass may help you burn more calories.
Menopause Side Effect: Higher Risk of Heart Disease
An overall increase in heart attacks is seen in women about a decade after menopause. “As your estrogen levels go down, your LDL, or bad cholesterol, and triglycerides go up,” says Dr. Goldberg. At the same time, your HDL, or good cholesterol, stays the same or decreases. “You’re also more likely to develop insulin resistance, which raises your risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Goldberg.
Besides eating a heart-healthy, Mediterranean-style diet and getting regular exercise, it’s also important to stay on top of heart health screenings, says Dr. Goldberg. This includes knowing key numbers such as your:
- Blood pressure.
- Fasting blood sugar.
If your numbers aren’t where they should be, work with your doctor to bring them back into a healthy range.
The Bottom Line
There are many ways your body changes after menopause—some more temporary than others. It’s important to remember that menopause isn’t a disease, stresses Dr. Goldberg. “It’s a natural part of a woman’s life cycle. You can turn it into a positive by using this time to really take stock of your health.”
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