Menopause is responsible for a wide variety of symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia, but many women do not automatically make the link with low mood, anxiety, and depression. This has wide reaching effects on how women view themselves, their work and family life and for some, changes the relationship they have with their partner.
Approximately 45 % of women experience anger/irritability, anxiety/tension, depression, sleep disturbance, loss of concentration, and loss of self-esteem/confidence.
Much of this is caused by the lowering levels of oestrogen and HRT is shown to be a great option to help, however there is lots you can do to support and improve your symptoms both through lifestyle changes and improvements to your eating habits.
Several studies have shown talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to be of benefit by providing coping skills and strategies and this is also recommended by NICE. Using a whole-body approach helps to reduce stress and supports general feelings of well-being through relaxation has been shown to alleviate symptoms. Complimentary therapies, like Reflexology for instance, have been shown to be useful.
Taking part in regular exercise that you enjoy. We start to lose muscle mass as we age and may become more sedentary leading to a general decline in the number of calories, we need each day. Exercise is known to boost mood and feel good hormones. So, keeping active can help with low mood and keep you in shape at the same time. Win, Win!
Ensuring you participate in exercise that you enjoy is key, whether that be yoga, walking or Zumba. If you do not enjoy the activity you will not sustain it, so choose something you love! A note here though, please don’t over exercise as that can have the reverse effect.
What to eat
I find with food the best place to start is not looking at individual nutrients, but by looking at how your overall food intake can be more balanced and increasing the variety in your everyday diet. Many of my clients don’t need to be eating less, just eating more of the right things at the right time in order to avoid the afternoon sugar crash. This will help you sleep better so you start the day on the right foot rather than automatically reaching for a coffee, raising your cortisol levels and starting that stress cycle.
If you have worked with me, you will know how I am always talking about magnesium! If you are highly stressed or exercise (sweat) a lot, you may well be low in magnesium which helps with the production of serotonin. My personal favourite of dark chocolate is recommended here, along with oats, whole grains, nuts and seeds and dark leafy vegetables. Magnesium will also help with your sleep and as we all know if your sleep is out of whack, everything else is so much harder the next day. Tiredness effects your hunger hormones driving you towards those sugary foods and you end up starting the whole cycle again.
Fatty fish like Salmon, Trout, Mackerel and Sardines have been shown to have the greatest impact on our mental health. The recent SMILES trial really highlighted this link. You should aim for 2 portions per week. If you do not eat fish you can look at walnuts, chia, and flax seeds. Getting enough healthy fats is essential for hormone production so please skip that low-fat diet!
Fibre & Fermented Foods
Planning your diet around a more plant-based diet, including a small amount of meat and fish has been shown to be beneficial for many menopausal symptoms. In terms of managing your mood, your gut produces neurotransmitters (feel good hormones) via the microbiome. This can be supported by eating plenty of high fibre foods such as fruit and vegetables (variety is key) and fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut and kefir by feeding and increasing the good bacteria in your gut. We excrete excess oestrogen through our bowel movements, so keeping regular by including plenty of fibre is essential.
This helps to make serotonin (the feel-good hormone) and low levels have been found to contribute to anxiety and depression. You can source this from soy products, eggs, turkey, fish, milk, pumpkin and sesame seeds, beans, and oats. But it is important to note that this needs to be combined with carbohydrate for best effect, so no low carb diets here!
No woman will experience menopause in the same way, but the main thing is that we keep speaking about it, so other women know what to look out for and how to support themselves. It is also important to know when to seek help, so please visit your GP if your symptoms concern you in any way.
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I help women approaching the menopause to gain control of their weight and manage symptoms through changing their diet. I specialise in working with women who have had years of yo-yo dieting without success, who want to feel good about themselves and start living life to the full again.
Often, my clients are approaching the menopause and are finding managing their weight even more difficult to manage but combine this with the onset of symptoms such as disrupted sleep, mood swings, hot flushes, joint pain & brain fog, their goal seems even further off in the distance.
Through my work I have found that it is not just about food, it is also about BEHAVIOUR CHANGE. Guided by you, I will help you form new positive habits that fit into your lifestyle so that change feels easy. By helping you feel successful this will empower you to make greater change.
My aim is to bring back the joy and pleasure in eating, to help you nourish and love your body again whilst helping you to lose weight and keep it off for good.
Peacock K, Ketvertis KM. Menopause. [Updated 2020 Aug 16]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507826/
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Menopause: diagnosis and management, Nov 2015.
Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med 15, 23 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y