Do you have menopause, or know someone who is going through it? Read below and find out how diet can manage the symptoms of menopause.
By definition, menopause is the absence of menstrual periods for 12 consecutive months; hormonal changes, particularly a decrease in oestrogen mean that periods are less regular, and stop altogether.
The age of onset varies for each woman, however, in the UK most women tend to start menopause in their 40s and 50s.
The most common symptoms of menopause are hot flushes and night sweats, but other symptoms include issues with memory, vaginal dryness, urinary issues, mood swings, irritability, thinning hair, dry skin, low libido, sleep disturbances, headaches, weight gain and joint and muscle stiffness. The length of these symptoms also varies in women, roughly lasting around 4 years after your last period.
The reason these symptoms occur is due to the ovaries produceing less oestrogen, which is associated with many functions in the body, including the brain and emotions, temperature regulation and libido. Often, doctors give women hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which replaces the oestrogen that is not produced from the ovaries. Oestrogen depletion long-term can cause changes to bones and the cardiovascular system which means that post-menopausal women have an increased risk of certain chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
Diet can play a huge part in managing hormone imbalance. Consuming a diet rich in essential minerals and healthy fats is key to balance hormones.
Foods that help manage menopause symptoms
- Fruit and vegetables – packed with fibre to control appetite and also rich in antioxidants to slow the ageing process.
- High-fibre foods – important for cardiovascular health as well as digestive health, plus helps maintain a healthy weight.
- Water – aiming for at least eight glasses of water can help replace the fluid lost from hot flushes, as well as reducing bloating.
- Cruciferous vegetables – this includes broccoli, cabbage and kale, high in a compound called indole-3-carbinol which help balance oestrogen levels. Also packed with vitamin C and K, both important for heart health and blood pressure.
- Phytoestrogen foods – plant-based estrogens that can mimic the effects of the hormone; food sources are soybeans, tofu, flaxseeds, oats, barley, beans and lentils.
- Omega-3 fats – protect the heart, reduce inflammation and prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis. Some of the best sources are wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies.
- Probiotics – known to improve the production and regulation of key hormones like insulin, ghrelin and leptin. They can also boost the immune system and protect cognitive function. Best sources are yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.
There are some nutrients vital to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis; vitamin D and calcium help maintain bone strength and density. Other essential nutrients include B vitamins, zinc, selenium, magnesium and protein.
Avoid foods that make menopause symptoms worse
- Fried foods – increase inflammation.
- Added sugar – can cause weight gain, digestive issues and disrupt hormone balance.
- Carbonated drinks – can deplete the body of calcium, contributing to osteoporosis and bone loss.
- Alcohol – known to aggravate hot flushes, and contribute to weight gain.
- Processed food – contain sugar, chemicals, preservatives, toxins and synthetic additives. These foods tend to be high in carbohydrates and therefore worsen hormone imbalances.
- Farm-raised meat – contains added hormones that can increase inflammation.
There is no specific diet or single vitamin/mineral supplement that has been proven to get rid of menopausal symptoms. A balanced diet, regular exercise and a stress-free lifestyle must be maintained to prevent symptoms worsening and potentially leading to chronic conditions.
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