As if we ladies haven’t got enough to do in our 40s and 50s, juggling jobs, homes, family and fitness whilst finally (finally!) not caring what other people think of us, along comes the hormonal havoc of menopause.
Hot flushes. Mood swings. Crazy irregular periods. Hair thinning. Forgetfulness. Anxiety. Just a few of the delights we can experience as we transition through this phase of life.
Taking HRT is an option, but not everyone wants it, and I have to say I’ve seen many clients who’ve taken it for years, come off it, and gotten all the symptoms of menopause back again because the artificial hormones have merely delayed the process.
HRT was originally created purely as a product to preserve youth and beauty – which says a lot about how women are viewed and valued once menstruation ends, and is not an attitude I subscribe to. At this stage of life we have strength, experience, and wisdom on our side: a fact to be celebrated! We just need to strip off the duvet and open windows more often.
So, let’s explore the stages of menopause, and how nutrition can help you through it…
This stage can start quite early for some women, in their early 40s. As there are fewer menstrual cycles where ovulation takes place, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone become increasingly imbalanced. Early signs that things are changing include periods becoming longer, heavier, more frequent, or more painful – and PMS symptoms can change too.
Perimenopause continues until egg production and ovulation stop altogether, and you enter menopause. After 12 months with no periods, you are considered to have gone through menopause.
Because perimenopause to menopause is a transitional phase, the symptoms can fluctuate and change as you move through. The more common menopausal symptoms include;
– Hot flushes (power surges!) caused by changing hormone levels affecting the temperature regulation system in the brain
– Mood swings, anxiety, depression, apathy
– Weight gain
– Insomnia (often caused by hot flushes)
– Low libido
– Vaginal dryness and shrinkage
– Changes to hair & skin; lower levels of oestrogen affect skin elasticity and moisture levels, causing skin to be thinner and slower to heal. Hair growth slows, and it can change in texture too
Add to this list the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis, and you can see the extent to which menopause affects health.
An underfunctioning thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) can produce symptoms similar to menopause: weight gain, tiredness, poor memory, constipation, for example. Equally, menopause can accelerate any changes that may have been happening to your thyroid gland, and hypothyroidism often goes undetected as the symptoms get attributed to menopause. If you suspect poor thyroid function, do look at getting it tested either with your GP or privately via Thriva or Genova (please contact me for more details).
When does stress ever make things better? Never! And certainly not with menopause. Hot flushes can be triggered by high levels of adrenaline, and chronic stress can lead to extra weight gain.
Creating time each day for 30-60mins of downtime is crucial when dealing with ongoing stress. Reading, walking in nature, journalling, yoga, meditation – all are brilliant at helping your body downregulate the stress response and focus on healing and balance.
What to eat?
Phytoestrogens to support hormone balance
Certain foods contain high levels of ‘phytoestrogens’ – compounds with a similar structure to oestrogen, but a much weaker effect in the body.
There are 3 main classes of phytoestrogen;
– isoflavones: found in chickpeas, lentils, red clover, kidney and aduki beans, and naturally fermented soya products like tofu and tempeh.
– lignans: milled golden flaxseeds are packed with lignans plus essential fats and protein, making them an ideal seed to include regularly.
Phytoestrogens are not stimulative or overwhelming like synthetic oestrogens, and despite what the internet says, will not make any men who eat them grow enormous breasts! Phytoestrogens are considered to act as ‘selective oestrogen receptor modulators’, exerting a balancing action on fluctuating hormone levels. Isoflavones are the most widely studied type of phytoestrogen, with studies linking their actions to reduced cardiovascular disease risk in diabetic women, and beneficial effects on cholesterol levels.
Soya is a controversial food, but we’re talking here about traditional soya products being used in sensible moderation within a balanced nutrition plan, not the highly processed textured soya protein products.
As ever with nutrition, the research into phytoestrogens is limited and varies in quality. However, the inclusion of phytoestrogen foods is seen overall as being beneficial for women transitioning through menopause.
Greens for energy and hormone detox
Green veggies in the cruciferous family – think broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts – support hormone detoxification and clearance through the liver. This is particlarly important in early menopause, when low levels of progesterone can lead to a relative oestrogen excess.
More broadly speaking, all types of green vegetables are a good source of magnesium – the ‘anti-stress’ mineral that helps with energy production and keeping calm.
Sage: organically grown whole herb sage supplements can be helpful for reducing hot flushes and sweats, thanks to the influence of sage on the temperature regulator in the brain.
Shatavari: this beautiful herb is from the Ayurvedic tradition in India. The name shatavari loosley translates as ‘she who has 100 husbands’! (Blimey!) It is thought to support hormonal balance and act as a nourishing adaptogen for women. See Pukka Herbs for more details.
Rose water: again, another idea from Ayurveda; spraying rose water on the back of your neck and face when a hot flush begins can stop it taking hold and cool you down. Rose is traditionally seen as been a flower to support female health.
Siberian Ginseng: this gentle adaptogenic herb helps the body cope with different mental, physical, and emotional stresses, and can support energy levels.
Passiflora: a calming, soothing herb, suited to low or fluctuating mood and frayed nerves.
As with all herbal remedies, please seek advice from a herbal advisor or your GP before using alongside prescription medications. The advice given here is not intended to replace that of a medical practitioner.
And a few tips for more specific female health conditions..
Thanks to the close proximity of the vaginal tract to the bowel and the subsequent easy movement of unfriendly bowel bacteria, we ladies are particularly prone to thrush. Antibiotics, stress, hormonal fluctuations and a diet high in sugary foods also contribute to yeast overgrowth and thrush symptoms.
- Support bacterial balance from the inside by eating fermented foods
- Avoid refined sugar, excess fruit sugar (1-2 pieces of whole fruit per day may be ok), fruit juices, yeast extract and alcohol
- Use a non-perfumed simple cleanser instead of soap or regular shower gel: ‘Green People’ ‘Akin’ and ‘Dr. Bronner’ make wonderful organic, chemical free bodycare products
- Drink plenty of water and address any bowel issues such as constipation or diarrhoea
- If periods are still happening, opt for organic cotton tampons or sanitary pads – or escape tampons and pads altogether with an amazing reusable environmentally friendly Mooncup
Like thrush, cystitis can be triggered by antibiotics, stress, constipation, diarrhoea and hormonal fluctuations. The menopausal drop in oestrogen levels affects the lining of the bladder, making it more prone to sensitivity and inflammation.
- Avoid tea, coffee (regular and decaffeinated), alcohol, soft drinks and fruit juice.
- Plain water and chamomile tea are soothing for the bladder whilst horsetail herb tea has bladder strengthening properties
- Take a multi strain high potency beneficial bacteria supplement
- If an overgrowth of E.Coli bacteria is responsible, cranberry extract (dried extract, not juice) can stop the bacteria clinging to the bladder wall
- Check for food intolerances; gluten has been implicated in cases of overactive and sensitive bladder
- If symptoms persist and are affected by your menstrual cycle ask your GP for a scan to investigate endometriosis: endometrial tissue can grow on the bladder, affecting its function.
During the menopause the vagina shrinks and becomes drier as the moisturising effects of oestrogen are lost. This can lead to small tears in the vaginal wall and painful sex. Certain auto-immune conditions such as Sjogrens Syndrome also affect vaginal lubrication, so if you are experiencing dry mouth and dry sore eyes, see your GP for further investigations into Sjogrens.
- Sea buckthorn extract is rich in omega-7, a type of fatty acid that maintains moisture levels in skin membranes: supplement with this for at least 3 months to support vaginal lubrication
- Drink plenty of water and include omega-3 rich foods too (oily fish, walnuts, ground flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds)
- Opt for a chemical free water based lubricant: ‘Yes’ offer a range of lubricants, some of which may be available on prescription in the UK.
If you’d like friendly support with your transition through menopause drop me a line today… Call on 07910 705272 or email email@example.com
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