What is the menopause? – The official definition of the menopause is “12 consecutive months without a period” but actually symptoms may have been presenting for up to 10 years prior to this and may continue for an average 4 years after. Some women may also experience surgically induced menopause but whatever the cause the symptoms and risks remain the same. The bottom line is every woman is different and not one of us will experience it in the same way.
You can have blood tests with your GP who would generally check your follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)and luteinising hormone (LH) levels but these are unreliable so you won’t get a definitive answer until your periods have been absent for 12 months.
Hot flushes, vaginal dryness, brain fog, weight gain (especially around the middle), night sweats, insomnia, depression, anxiety and many more. All of which can be attributed to changing hormone levels but can be supported naturally through diet and lifestyle changes.
80% of women in the UK suffer one or more symptoms during this time.
The important thing that most women don’t realise is that oestrogen will have had a protective effect for all of your life and the impact these hormone changes have on health, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And its these issues we need to focus on to keep women healthy long past the menopause and into their later years.
Oestrogen will have had a protective effect for all of your life but as soon as it drops your risk of a heart attack is the same as a man.
What can you do about it?
What helps – A whole body approach which encompasses a combination of strategies to make the transition as easy as possible.
- Exercise is the single most important thing you can do during this time
- Managing stress levels
- Keeping blood sugar balanced throughout the day
- A nutritionally dense and balanced diet which is lower in carbohydrate (note not keto)
- Maintaining adequate body fat around 20%
- Talking therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have been shown to help women to manage their symptoms with more success
- Recent research has shown a course of Reflexology can help with some menopausal symptoms such as HOT FLUSHES, SWEATS and NIGHT SWEATS
I spoke with the fabulous Natalie Brotherhood of Reflexology by Natalie who had this to say:
What is reflexology?
It’s a non-invasive complementary therapy. Feeling similar to a massage at first, Pressure is applied to each ‘reflex’ on the feet to stimulate nerves and energy lines running through the body. Studies over thousands of years have shown that different areas on the feet correspond with each organ and part of the body.
Reflexology can bring a wonderful feeling of wellbeing and calm especially in times of high anxiety. The body’s own coping and healing mechanisms are encouraged leading to better quality of sleep, a calmer mind and a body that’s working more efficiently and smoothly. 💜👣
Though these things are shown to help lessen symptoms, there is no single programme of support as each woman’s experience is unique.
What doesn’t help –
- Alcohol; it’s common for many women to be drinking a fair amount during the evening and even if they are eating an otherwise balanced diet this can totally blow their efforts out of the water
- Caffeine; that’s not to say coffee is totally off the menu but certainly keeping about 2 cups a day will help with the stress side of things
- Stress; you need your adrenal glands to pick up some of the slack as your ovaries shut down production
- High sugar foods
You cannot reverse the menopause but applying some of these tips and finding what works for you can help alleviate the symptoms and make day to day life a bit easier.
Foods to include in your diet –
- Flax seeds
- Yoghurt (some research shows this to help with depression and anxiety)
- Soy based products – soya milk and tofu (not recommended in women with a history of oestrogen dominant breast cancer)
- A more plant based diet, lower in carbohydrate and sugar – I’m not talking Keto as this is NOT recommended.
- Lots of fibre, especially used as a prebiotic to support gut health.
- Vitamin E – oily fish, sunflower seeds, almonds, avocado
- Vitamin C – kale, Brussels sprouts, berries, red & yellow peppers
- B vitamins – many different sources including whole grains, eggs, dairy, poultry, fortified cereals, soya, broccoli, leafy greens, meat and fish
Flaxseeds, soya, and sunflower seeds are examples of foods containing phytoestrogens, these are similar in structure to oestrogen and have been shown to help keep our hormones in balance as our oestrogen levels drop. There are many more examples including chickpeas, lentils and legumes.
Foods to manage specific symptoms and ongoing health –
Sleep – everything is harder when we don’t get enough sleep. Try eating magnesium rich foods like cacao powder which can be stirred into porridge. Epsom salts for soak in bath during evening (make sure it’s not too hot). Drink cherry active juice or consume oatcake with nut butter before bed as the melatonin can help promote sleep.
Hot flushes – Vitamins E and C have been shown to be beneficial (see food list) and avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee and chocolate particularly later in the day
Bone Health – Eat calcium rich foods such as kale, full fat Greek yoghurt and sesame seeds, which when combined with vitamin D (oily fish and eggs) help your body absorb calcium. Eating foods rich in phytoestrogens and Vitamin K found in green leafy vegetables,
Tiredness, irritability and depression – Avoid sugary foods to help keep your blood sugar balanced and focus on whole-grains like oats and brown rice as these help to increase serotonin levels helping you feel better about yourself. You might want to try eating little and often to see if this works for you during this period of time.
Cardiovascular health – Focus on eating a well balanced diet as outlined in the Eatwell Guide and regular exercise including both aerobic and weight bearing. Maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting alcohol and stopping smoking
A quick word on supplements – there are a few supplements and herbal remedies recommended for use during the menopause but please be aware that some that cannot be used with certain health conditions like high blood pressure or if you have a history of cancer so if you are considering going this route please double check with your GP or other health practitioner.
There is so much more to discuss than can be covered in a single blog post but I hope you’ve found it informative and useful.
If you’d like to know more come to my Nutrition to Support the Menopause Workshop at Fresh Fitness, Brightlingsea on 24th January 7.00 pm – come along for an informal and relaxed evening to learn about how you can support yourself naturally during this transition, whether you’re in the perimenopause, menopause or post menopausal time of your life. The workshop will consist of a presentation, followed by time for you to ask any questions you have and leave better informed about how to manage your own menopause, so in the long run you can have a better quality of life… and maybe have some cake at the same time.
For more information or to book please contact me via the link above or via my form below.
Email: Julie@juliecourtnutrition.com or call: 07947 452229.
Shuster, L. T., Rhodes, D. J., Gostout, B. S., Grossardt, B. R., & Rocca, W. A. (2010). Premature menopause or early menopause: long-term health consequences. Maturitas, 65(2), 161–166. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2009.08.003
Milart, P., Woźniakowska, E., & Wrona, W. (2018). Selected vitamins and quality of life in menopausal women. Przeglad menopauzalny = Menopause review, 17(4), 175–179. doi:10.5114/pm.2018.81742