Menopause is a natural and inevitable process that occurs in every woman’s life. It’s preceded by the perimenopause, the lesser known but no less impactful phase of this transitionary period. Perimenopause can start in our early 40s and is often completely missed as a potential cause of troublesome symptoms.
The nature and severity of these symptoms is wide ranging but suffice to say around 80% experience symptoms, 25% severely. Well known issues include hot flashes, weight gain and night sweats but some less commonly known include increases in allergies and neurological symptoms. Anxiety is especially prevalent in perimenopause, with depression an issue in both perimenopause and menopause. Both these symptoms can be quite frightening especially if mental health has never been a problem before.
While every woman’s experience of menopause is unique, there is some generally beneficial advice that can help women manage this transition. The best way to approach this from the nutrition and lifestyle angle, is to look at what systems in the body need the most support.
The health of our digestive function including the liver, has huge impact on our overall wellbeing. The process has an influence on hormone balance, weight management as well as mental health and skin. Whilst this is true at any time of life in menopause, it becomes especially important. Fluctuating oestrogen around menopause, can affect gut function and may slow down the speed at which food passes through the GI tract. This can cause wind, bloating and constipation which encourages hormones and other waste products to be reabsorbed back into the body. Oestrogen needs to be efficiently cleared from the body. If this doesn’t happen efficiently with simultaneous low progesterone, it can lead to a situation of unopposed oestrogen. This can contribute to the growth of uterine fibroids, to breast disorders, to migraines, and worse still, it can contribute to triggering hormone dependent cancers.
What to eat
Cruciferous vegetables are essential to help the clearance of oestrogens. Eating broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and sprouts (amongst others) is well documented to be protective oestrogen dependant conditions. The act of chewing these vegetables releases a compound, that when exposed to stomach acid produces DIM, a compound that helps with the healthy clearance of oestrogen.
To get things moving, try a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds. Add these to your breakfast bowl or to a glass of water and be sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Kiwis and beetroot also have incredible laxative effects feeding our friendly gut bacteria and providing lots of lovely nutrients like vitamin C and folate.
Blood Sugar Balance
There has been a lot of focus on blood sugar balance at the moment and rightly so! Optimising our blood sugar control is the most important thing we can do to help our menopause symptoms. When blood sugar is out of kilter, in other words, it spikes too high and then falls too low, it can contribute to the some of the most debilitating and upsetting symptoms; anxiety, weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog and headaches to name a few! Factors that send our blood sugar beyond a healthy range include simple carbohydrates such as processed foods, baked goods, sugary snacks, most commercially available pop and unfortunately, most fruit juices! But non-dietary factors matter too. Namely, too much caffeine, alcohol, stress and also, missing sleep. These completely mess, not only with your sex hormones but also your hunger hormones often leading to cravings for less healthy foods. The best way to tackle this is to avoid these triggers as best you can and of course, eat a well-balanced Mediterranean style diet with lots of protein and healthy fats, whole grains, legumes and tons of veg. Important nutrients to help with blood sugar and insulin sensitivity generally, include magnesium, omega 3s (oily fish) and vitamin D.
Stress and Exercise
Menopause can be a stressful time for many. Growing children, challenges at work or in relationships and ailing parents can all contribute to very real stress. Managing stress throughout these years and beyond is critical, not only to menopause but to our longevity. Stress impacts so many functions and influences the severity symptoms we experience.
Find a strategy resonates with you and fit it into your daily routines. This could be listening to apps such as Calm on the way to work or doing a 5-minute breath-work routine at your desk when you notice feelings of anxiety. Walking around the block after lunch is great too. These methods work by immediately switching your body into the parasympathetic (calm) mode and shift your hormone picture.
How to move
Exercise has positive affects symptoms especially neurological ones, supplying blood flow to the brain and increasing natural chemicals that improve mood. Weight-bearing exercise improves bone mineral density, reducing risk of fractures that can be a real issue around menopause due to losses in oestrogen. Hormonal changes can lead to muscle loss so focusing of muscle tone is really important. Muscles are metabolically active and boost metabolism helping to control weight. HIIT training and weights have been showed to increase testosterone which in turn improves muscle tone, libido and mood.
Getting active in any way will have benefits so don’t be put off by the thought of classes if you are not feeling confident. Get out and walk with your friends or do some squats while the kettle is boiling.
And to fuel this you’ll need enough protein in your diet starting at the first meal of the day. Ideally animal based proteins such as Greek yoghurt, fish or lean meats but also lentils, nuts and seeds. Protein and fats help you feel full too, thus preventing the temptation to snack on junk!
These are just some of the ways you can improve your overall health and menopause symptoms.
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