Nutrition & the Menopause
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Feeling a bit under the weather? well you’re not alone... the strain of modern life coupled with shifting hormones can easily lead women to become run down.
But read on to discover some simple nutritional steps that we can take to help keep well, foster healthier habits, manage our symptoms and protect our future health too.
From our early forties onwards we enter the realms of menopause, the onset of which - peri-menopause - can last up to 10 years. Symptoms include hot flushes, lack of concentration and fluctuations in mood and as oestrogen levels fall we can suffer detrimental effects particularly to our bone and heart health.
Oestrogen protects our bones and decreasing levels can lead to an increase in the loss of bone mass and the development of osteoporosis. Hormone replacement therapy is the first line of treatment, however, diet can help too. Making sure we are ingesting enough protein, calcium and vitamin D alongside weight bearing exercise such as walking, running and yoga will give the body the building blocks it needs to maintain healthy bones. Most of us eat enough protein, however, dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are good sources of protein and calcium. Try to consume 3 servings per day, a serving is equivalent to a glass of milk, matchbox sized piece of cheese or a yoghurt - full fat and a low fat versions will do the same job.
During and post menopause our risk of heart disease can also increase as oestrogen helps to maintain healthy arteries and cholesterol levels. As we age we tend to store more fat around our middle which is again linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. To try and mitigate these factors we can reduce the saturated fat intake of our diets by switching to more healthful unsaturated fats such as olive oil and make sure we are eating enough whole wheat and whole grain foods. Wholegrains such as oats, corn, barley & rye can help to mop up the cholesterol as well as providing fibre essential for a healthy gut. We should also strive to meet our five portions of fruit and veg a day and two portions of fish week (one of which should be oily) as there is strong evidence to support the beneficial effects of including these whole foods and healthy fats in our diets. We should also try to eat more unsalted nuts, seeds and legumes (peas, beans & pulses) and limit our intakes of salt and sugar, ditching processed foods will help here. Finally, alcohol can exacerbate menopause symptoms, limiting alcohol to within recommended amounts - 2-3units alcohol/d with some days alcohol free and no more than 14 units/week (equivalent to 1.5 bottles wine) is sensible and will reduce your risk of other diseases and can improve your quality of sleep too.
We can also make other lifestyle choices such as increasing our intake of phytoestrogens, there is limited evidence that these plant-based compounds that mimic our bodies own oestrogen can alleviate menopause symptoms in some women. They are contained in soya beans and soya rich foods as well as flaxseeds, sesame seeds, barley, grapes and tea. However, be careful when substituting plant based milks for dairy as they do not contain the same matrix of healthful constituents and you may unwittingly be removing more nutrients from your diet than you gain.
In summary, stick to whole foods where possible, reduce intake of saturated fats, add in more whole grains, colourful fruits & vegetables and try and eat three serves of dairy a day. Take a vitamin D supplement (10mcg/d) to help the body use the dietary calcium and find a resistance exercise that you enjoy to protect your bones and help maintain a healthy weight.