Menopause – let’s talk about it

Menopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life. Symptoms in menopause vary enormously among women and are largely dependent on a woman’s state of health, nutrition and lifestyle, stress levels and level of hormone chaos.  However, there are some simple strategies that can help ease some menopausal symptoms.

Menopause officially occurs one year after a woman’s last period and is the time at which the ovaries stop producing estrogen.  This can happen anytime between the ages of 40 – 58 years.  Often, women can notice some changes in the years leading up to menopause (peri-menopause) as the body gradually reduces the production of sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone).  Signs of estrogen decline include hot flushes, poor memory, changes in mood, poor skin elasticity, poor sleep and decreased libido.

The body still requires some estrogen and this is produced from the adrenal glands.  However, if the adrenal system is under pressure from dealing with high loads of chronic stress, not enough estrogen is produced.  The body then relies on body fat cells to take over the job and because of this, it needs to ensure that there are enough stores of body fat to enable this process to happen. This, coupled with a woman’s metabolism dropping by around 10% at menopause, highlights the importance of optimal nutrition at this time.  Women should aim to reduce their chronic stressors in their life to best support their adrenal system.  This will also help reduce their body fat around the midriff.

Nutritional changes are important to help reduce symptoms as well as protecting women against age-related chronic diseases that can often occur after menopause.  Increase your consumption of anti-inflammatory foods such as nourishing fats like oily fish, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, chia seeds and walnuts.  Be sure to regularly include avocado, macadamia nuts and pecans into your meals.   Reduce your intake of highly refined sugars and processed foods as they add an additional burden to the body.  Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and can easily be incorporated into a dressing, roasted vegetables or a tea.

Foods high in magnesium (dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, bananas, cacao and dark chocolate, almond butter, nuts, tahini) can improve sleep and mood.  Maintain your bone health with regular weight bearing exercise and adequate calcium intake from dairy products, calcium fortified plant drinks, dark green leafy vegetables and fish with edible bones.  Enjoy regular, short periods in the sunshine for your vitamin D. Include vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish, butter and cod liver oil.  Even leaving your mushrooms in the sunlight for 30 minutes before cooking with them, increases their vitamin D content.

Eating spicy food and drinking alcohol / caffeinated beverages can worsen hot flushes, whilst evidence shows that consuming soybeans, lentils, soy drinks and linseeds can actually relieve a woman’s hot flushes.

A well-balanced diet of nourishing, whole and real food will help menopausal women manage their hot flushes, sleep and mood disturbances and preserve their bone density.