I’ve been quiet lately. Did you notice? This is mostly because I’ve been feeling sick, bored, down and generally fed up. Yes travel is boring sometimes particularly when you’re not actually travelling, you’re just sitting still as we are, again, in Hoi An and not feeling 100%. The major problem I’ve had, my health, a whole heap of symptoms ( anxiety, pain, night sweats, hot flashes) relating to menopause ( or perimenopause) a diet lacking in particular nutrients but containing MSG and the symptoms caused by ingesting things I shouldn’t and not ingesting enough of the things I should. Let me share some worldly wisdom on menopause, diet and the travelling lady and how getting older and bad diet can generally screw with you on the traveller circuit.
I need to add a disclaimer, this post is not intended as medical advice. See your doctor or do some research of your own. I have a degree in physiology and 20 years in hospital pathology, so I’m not badly informed, but I can’t claim to be that great and noble thing, a doctor. They’re the only ones allowed to hand out medical advice and I’m not one. Believe in them at your own risk.
I’m Fit and Well Otherwise
Don’t think I’m crumbling in a corner and that 51 is the end of the road for active travel. I’m not. I’m very fit. I go to the gym almost daily, I leg press 100 Kg, bench press a far less impressive 10 Kg and could run 10 Km right now if I had to, but mostly I just do 15 minutes on the treadmill. I’m well, but I suffer a whole bunch of joy-sapping irritating symptoms related to menopause, ageing, MSG and deficiencies. I’m sure there are other women out there suffering in silence too, so let’s talk, shall we?
I was never delicate, fragile, a hypochondriac or any other sort of weakling when I was younger. I’ve always taken on any physical challenge the world could throw at me but being a woman over 50 changes things somewhat.
Menopause is the Best!
I mean actual menopause, when it’s all over, this officially happens once you’re 12 months without a period. Your life will go back to normal, you’ll skip through the daisies feeling a million dollars, sleep well, lose the erratic highs and lows, crushing, sobbing darknesses and interminable sweaty insomnia. That’s the good news. You’ll also put on weight and your hair may fall out or go frizzy like mine, that’s the bad. I’ve been in the happy place, on the other side for at least 6 months now and life has been wonderful, until menopause and lack of nutrients sucked me back down again. My brain had actually been working fine and nothing had been able to get to me until these last few weeks. But it all came back. My suspicion is that deficiencies and MSG, at least in part, brought many symptoms back.
Magnesium and MSG, Both are a Headache
My suffering gets worse when my magnesium levels get low and I suffer even more if lazy chefs try to poison me with MSG. Unfortunately MSG use is rife in Hoi An and even appears in the most unexpected places ( yesterday in huge doses in an Indian restaurant that I thought would be safe, today I’m bad again). We are totally unable to buy magnesium supplements in Hoi An and eating almonds just isn’t enough. Luckily a friend has gone down to Saigon to buy some for us, but we try to never run out. Worth noting here also that you can’t buy iron in Thailand, we’ve tried, the pharmacist ( who spoke perfect English, in Boots the chemist) told us we’d need to go to a hospital for that.
We Never Travel Without Magnesium Supplements
I started getting low in magnesium back in Australia before we started travelling. As we age, our body doesn’t absorb magnesium so well ( source) and low magnesium levels are made worse by smoking, drinking and sweating. So, as both Chef and I sweat a lot, not just from the heat but from all the running and other such madnesses, and we like a couple of beers of an evening, maybe we’re worst than most, but we can both tell when our body is crying out for magnesium. I get this weird thing in my calf muscles, usually after exercise, but not always. Tiny little tingly contractions that you can actually see in the resting muscle. Just after his 40th birthday Chef started getting it too. After that we progress to night cramps ( calves) and I can get cramps in some of the weirdest places. I think a lot of my bowel pain ( never diagnosed, doctors fobbed me off with ” have a good fart” and ” maybe something has gone into spasm.” It’s the sort of thing that gets called irritable bowel without diagnosis) is caused by this sort of cramping. I know that when I actually remember to take my magnesium supplements and stay away from MSG all of this goes away but I do need to take them every day.
Magnesium and Anxiety
When I’m lying in bed with cramps and night sweats, just to make it extra fun, the anxiety kicks in. Guess what, anxiety can also be caused by low magnesium ( source). To make matters worse, stress further depletes magnesium and causes a multitude of potential physical symptoms. A loudly rumbling and unhappy gut being just one. (source). It’s a vicious circle.
Night Sweats, Hot Flushes or Hot Flashes
Peri menopause is fun isn’t it? Did you know that hot flashes can go on for up to 11 years? ( source). I didn’t get them much in the first 5 years of perimenopause but for the last couple I’ve been getting them from time to time. Once they start they tend to be quite severe go on for days or weeks and be really annoying. As hot flushes could also be night sweats caused by such things as cancer, tuberculosis and hepatitis C, these don’t go down too well with the anxiety.
MSG and Hot Flushes or Flashes
Guess what, MSG also causes hot flashes, so if I’m low in magnesium and find myself using a restaurant that uses MSG for a while ( and it tends to be if we use the same restaurant regularly or for several days) that’s a double whammy of sweaty, anxiety inducing nightmareishness. MSG causes a gazillion other symptoms that I wrote about last time it got me good on Ko Phangan ( See this post on MSG and perimenopause). MSG can also cause this intestinal pain I’ve been suffering on and off for years.
Palpitations, Anaemia, Breathlessness and Fatigue Iron, B Vitamins, Magnesium and MSG. ( and more anxiety)
These are a fun bunch.
I’ve had palpitations on and off during our travels. Twice I’ve had shortness of breath and fatigue to go with them. Guatemala and Ko Phangan saw me very unwell but as usual I fought back, upping my supplements, exercising like a demon and trying to eat right. Most of the things above can be caused by low iron, low B vitamins, low magnesium and MSG. On both occasions I got better after finding an MSG free restaurant and some decent supplements. I can’t say for sure what fixed it, but it all went away. One of the reasons I try to carry Marmite with me is to keep my B vitamin intake up. Marmite can be an almost instant fix for me if I’ve been travelling a long time and my diet has suffered.
The Supplement Checklist
These are just some of the supplements I try to carry a good stock of in our travel first aid kit. You CAN NOT buy these items everywhere. We’re really struggling in Vietnam and in Thailand, for example, you can’t buy iron supplements in a pharmacy, best we could do there is a multivitamin with iron.
Obviously, figure out what you need and don’t take my advice as medical, this is just what I do to stay feeling human.
We have another secret weapon. Chef uses sports rehydration tablets ( electrolytes) for his Ironman triathlon events, without these he would quite literally not be able to compete, up to 12 hours of sweating in the sun destroys your reserves. He uses the tablets below, and others, dissolved in water. They are a useful standby for us in emergencies and are particularly high in potassium, another mineral that I feel I’m lacking. He uses various brands, electrolyte levels vary, so check the labels. Nuun, below are popular and respected. (click here to check them out.)
Self Diagnosis, Doctors and Google
Yes I have been to the doctor. I had 3 ultrasounds and several sets of bloods in Australia. They thought my gall bladder was playing up but ultrasound showed nothing. Bloods were normal. In London I went to A&E with R sided abdominal pain so severe they thought I had pancreatitis. Bloods showed nothing, abdominal X ray just showed gas. I’ve had bloods to confirm I’m in menopause and the normal gynae exams. No doctor has been able to help me with any of my symptoms, from anxiety to pain, to night sweats. No doctor has really tried. No doctor has even suggested I might be deficient in anything. I’m more than happy to self diagnose and Google is a fantastic source of information. The only thing they’ve given me was Xanax ( treat the symptom, don’t find a cause, of course that’s the way to do it !) which a second doctor, thankfully, told me to put in the bin as they are highly addictive. In London they gave me antibiotics for giardia that they couldn’t confirm I had. Those antibiotics half killed me. I was almost unable to walk through joint pain plus exhaustion and general misery. I have been in pain down my right side from under my ribs to hip, on and off, for 7 years with no answers. Yesterday ( and the last 10 days) I was pain free after days of magnesium, Menopace and a very simple rice based diet, no wheat, no dairy, no MSG. That MSG curry yesterday has brought the pain in my right side back. It felt so good to be pain free. It’s a mild pain, more a discomfort, but still it drags you down. I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of symptoms, diet, caffeine and alcohol intake, exercise and so on and patterns are clearly emerging. Low Mg and MSG make me sick. I would highly recommend doing the same if you have weird symptoms that come and go.
So I’m not saying I’ve fixed myself, I possibly haven’t, maybe there’s nothing to fix, but I’ve relieved my symptoms and I just thought other women going through the same crap might find my experiences useful. We don’t talk openly about this stuff and it’s about time we did. If I hear anyone use the term “women’s problems” ever again they’ll face my wrath. So stay off the MSG, get yourself some iron, B vitamins, magnesium and Menopace and see if it fixes your sweats, cramps, anxiety, palpitations and pain. You never know, it might , but I have to tell you to see a doctor first to make sure there’s no reason not to and get checked out for anything nasty. Now as you were.