WHAT IS MENOPAUSE
Menopause is a natural process that is defined as the point in time when menstrual cycles permanently cease due to the natural depletion of ovarian eggs. With no remaining eggs, the ovaries no longer produce the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone at the same level or in the same cycle. It’s the drop in these hormone levels, together with other hormonal changes, as the body adjusts that are responsible for the symptoms of menopause.
The diagnosis is typically made retrospectively after a woman has missed her period for 12 consecutive months, and so marks the permanent end of fertility. For most people in the UK, this occurs between their 40s and 60s with the average age around 51.
The experience of menopause changes from person to person in terms of symptoms and severity.
The most common symptoms are:
- Hot flushes and night sweats.
- Emotional and psychological disturbances, for example anxiety, depression and irritability
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary problems
- Loss of libido
- Joint and muscle pain
Hormones have a broad and varied effect on the body. Past history of contraception use and other exogenous interventions may also impact the menopausal transition, which is why symptoms can vary widely from woman to woman.
Conventional treatment is to consider Hormone Replacement Therapy, but the good news is that the symptoms of menopause can be managed with diet, lifestyle support and targeted nutraceutical support.
Hormone balance includes addressing deficiencies through tailoring your nutrition and lifestyle with the aim of reducing your symptoms and improving your health and wellbeing through this time.
Below, we have listed below some key areas which can be impacted with targeted nutrition:
Vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats, are the primary symptoms of menopause. Avoiding stimulants such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate and spicy foods can help reduce hot flushes. Herbs such as black cohosh, evening primrose oil and phytoestrogens such as flaxseeds, soy and red clover can also be helpful.
Balancing blood sugar helps to better manage your energy levels. It is beneficial to focus on protein-based snacks like nuts rather than foods high in quick-release sugars such as cakes, biscuits and sweets.
Eating foods that boost your serotonin levels, such as turkey, oats and legumes can also help stabilise your sleep.
Watching your alcohol and caffeine intake can not only help reduce sleep disturbances that lead to tiredness, but also improve bladder control.
The essential fatty acids (healthy fats) contained in nuts and seeds can help prevent dry skin. Try adding some pumpkin and sunflower seeds to your diet. These contain vitamin E, zinc and calcium which can all helpful.
One long-term consequence of menopause and lower oestrogen levels can be a reduction in bone density. Therefore regular exercise including some resistance and weight-bearing exercises can protect against bone density loss. Eating foods that help maintain bone health is also important. Foods high in calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K, and boron are especially good for this.
Too much phosphorous in the diet accelerates the loss of minerals such as calcium and magnesium from bone. Reducing the amount of protein from animal products and fizzy drinks is important to maintain this balance.
DEPRESSION AND IRRITABILITY
Oestrogen levels also impact our mood. When they drop, your mood can also drop, making you susceptible to depression and irritability. This can be helped by eating foods that can increase your serotonin levels which is considered our ‘feel good’ hormone. These foods include turkey, chicken, salmon, tofu, nuts and seeds.
Erratic blood sugar levels can also have an impact on your mood. Make sure to keep these stable by incorporating proteins and healthy fats into your meals to balance out the release of carbohydrates.
Women are at particular risk of depression while transitioning into menopause.
The NutritionalMatters team works closely with our therapists to help provide coordinated support. If you are interested in arranging therapy, our Client Support team will be happy to arrange this for you in your assessment call.
Phytoestrogens are plant-derived substances that are able to weakly bind to oestrogen receptors in mammals. They have been shown to have a balancing effect on hormones.
Foods such as soya, linseeds, tofu, tempeh and miso, pumpkins seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, celery, rhubarb and green beans are all high in phytoestrogens.
Research shows that consuming phytoestrogens little and often is more effective than in one large amount.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and cabbages contain indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a naturally occurring compound which actively promotes the breakdown of sex hormones, such as oestrogen, to beneficial metabolites. Other antioxidants and phytonutrients that can influence healthy oestrogen metabolism include curcumin, vitamins E and C and selenium.