In the final part of PerformancePro’s popular Nutrition for Women series, we focus on menopause nutrition. Our Nutritionist and Naturopath, Cathy Williams shares some essential guidance.
Menopause is the natural transition in life that usually occurs in women between 45 and 55 years of age. Every woman will experience menopause differently. Some experience few, if any symptoms. For those who do, the symptoms can vary widely.
Good menopause nutrition can make all the difference. What you eat and do throughout this important life stage can have profound effects on your body’s functioning and your mental and physical wellbeing.
In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51. The transition and symptoms of menopause can last several years. During this time, a woman’s ovaries get smaller and stop producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone which control the menstrual cycle.
The 3-5 years before menopause when these hormone levels begin to drop is called perimenopause. You typically enter into perimenopause in your late 40’s and could begin to experience irregular menstrual cycles and other symptoms. Technically, you are in menopause after you’ve missed your period for 12 straight months. Symptoms that may have started in perimenopause can continue through and post menopause.
It’s not unusual to experience hot flushes and night sweats, elevated heart rate, sleep disturbances and insomnia, mood changes (including irritability, depression and anxiety), urinary issues and vaginal dryness. Additionally, due to the decrease in oestrogen, there’s an increased risk of heart disease, osteopenia and osteoporosis.
BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS… you can influence and help improve your journey through and beyond menopause, by understanding your body and taking control of what you eat and what you do.
The main change leading to symptoms in menopause is the falling oestrogen levels. The delicate balance between oestrogen and progesterone is disrupted and can lead to an array of symptoms including weight changes, hot flushes, trouble sleeping.
Oestrogen deficiency can lead to metabolic dysfunction by altering the way your body deals with the energy you get from foods. This can predispose you to diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Oestrogen deficiency can also impact on bone growth, which can lead to osteoporosis.
Here are some top tips on menopause nutrition, plus a couple of notes of caution.
Calcium, Vitamin K2 and Vitamin D are vital for bone health
Taking a calcium supplement or eating a calcium rich diet will only be effective if your body is absorbing the calcium in the first place! Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium through the intestines. Vitamin K2 works like a chaperone, guiding the calcium to the bone to help protect from osteoporosis, as well as cardiovascular disease. Vitamin K2 also improves insulin sensitivity which can help reduce metabolic dysfunction.
Calcium – spinach, kale, salmon, sardines.
Vitamin K2 – natto, egg yolks, cheese and grass-fed dairy. But a supplement is recommended for certain individuals including those going through menopause such as https://www.microbiomelabs.co.uk/products/megaquinone-k2-7/
Vitamin D – mushrooms (especially shiitake), egg yolks and oily fish. Blood tests for Vitamin D levels will identify whether supplementation is necessary. “Normal” blood Vit D levels aren’t enough! Aim for optimal levels of 50-80ng/ml or 125-200nm/l.
Good fats for temperature control and brain function
Omega 3 can help decrease hot flushes and night sweats. As with its role in alleviating PMS, Omega 3 can also help with brain function for cognitive and menopausal mood symptoms such as brain fog, memory loss, depression and anxiety.
Omega 3 – avocado, nuts, oily fish, eggs, olive oil
Fruit and veg for healthy cells and a healthy gut
The high level of phytonutrients in fruit and vegetables helps to keep cells healthy and can alleviate symptoms such as hot flushes, sleep disruption, mood imbalances and weight gain. A wide variety of plant foods promotes a healthy microbiome (the bugs that live in your digestive tract). AND as we know, a healthy gut helps to improve just about all symptoms and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.
Eat for a healthy oestrogen balance. As with most hormones, there are different forms of oestrogen and oestrogen metabolites (the substances that oestrogen is broken down or transformed into by the body). These different forms have very different effects, so it’s important to aim for the best ratio to promote good health. Vegetables of the Brassica genus, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage contain a phytochemical, which may shift oestrogen metabolism and increase the amount of the preferred metabolites.
Protein to help weight control
Protein helps reduce weight gain, curb cravings and hunger AND helps insulin and blood sugar regulation. Adequate protein also helps maintain muscle mass which naturally starts to decline as we age.
Spice up your life!
Many people avoid hot spicy foods thinking it may exacerbate hot flushes. This may be the case for a small number of people, but it doesn’t really stack up in the research. Including spices can be helpful for healthy ageing and reducing inflammation, so only avoid them if you note they specifically cause you problems. Then try them again regularly as your responses can change over time.
Sugars and processed carbohydrates
As always, added sugars and processed carbs should be avoided where possible – this is the case for all people, not just menopausal women! Help blood sugar and insulin regulation for a healthy weight, reduced risk of diabetes and CVD as well as promoting healthy brain function and mood.
These are oestrogen-like substances found in foods such as soy, flax seeds. This is a slightly controversial topic and studies have varying results. Soy is the most commonly used but there are concerns around the widespread genetic modification used in soy and also the levels of aluminium found in many soy products.
Some people swear by phytoestrogens but it also important to note that some contraindications occur around hormone sensitive cancers and some other hormonal symptoms. Eating phytoestrogen containing foods as part of a varied diet is fine for many but it is definitely worth an independent dietary and health review for those going through menopause to determine the best foods and supplements for your unique needs.
Alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine may exacerbate symptoms in some and can impact sleep and mood. Enjoying a small amount in moderation should be ok for most but be aware of relying on these to ‘wake up’ and ‘de-stress.’ It’s better all round to identify and rectify the cause of the stresses and low energy symptoms in the first place.
Support your mental and emotional health as you journey through the menopause. This fundamental life stage can trigger all sorts of emotions, so it’s really important to create the time and space to look after yourself throughout the process.
You can feel more sensitive, overwhelmed and/or fatigued by trying to manage menopausal symptoms as well as dealing with everyday life. Make sure you have a good support network in place. It can also help to explore and learn new stress management techniques and/or seek some professional mental health support where needed.
As your physical health and mental health are inextricably linked, don’t forget to include regular exercise as you progress through the menopause. A good walk is a fantastic daily activity if you’re not up for something more strenuous. We would also recommend including some weight bearing activities to help achieve the best outcomes.
More and more, women consider menopause as a natural point to take stock. It can be an opportunity to recalibrate work-life balance. It’s a new chapter, so a good time to consider how best to tweak and/or change lifestyles and perhaps reprioritise health and well-being for the future.
PerformancePro is here for you. We’re ideally placed to help you review and take the next steps towards a fitter, stronger and healthier future.
Take your next step with the FREE no-strings PerformancePro 75-minute introductory consultation. This includes goal setting, movement analysis, body and fat measurement.
AND if you contact us before 30 June, you can enjoy a FREE Nutrition Consultation too, when you book your first block of training.