The menopause is a time of life that can be distressing and cause symptoms that affect the quality of life significantly. However it is also a time of life that we neglect to talk about which makes it harder for women to know the evidence for treatments and where to get support.
When does the menopause occur?
The average age is 51yrs, but there is a wide range. The menopause is defined as 12 months after your last menstrual period. Women can be in the peri-menopausal stage where hormone levels are changing and symptoms are occuring for 4-5 years before the menopause occurs.
Symptoms can include hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, disrupted sleep, brain fog, poor concentration, vaginal dryness and joint pains. For some these are mild and for others these are severe causing day to day life to be altered and upsetting.
There are many supplements, pills and potions around that are said to help with the symptoms of the menopause. Sadly a lot of these have no real evidence behind them and end up being very expensive. Nutrition is something that plays a pivotal role in our health so it will come as no suprise that there are dietary changes that can be made to help offer some relief. There are also health issues that need ot be considered with the menopause approaching, which are covered below.
These are one of the most common symptoms and one reason why HRT is recommended. Other lifestyle changes that can help incllude reducing the intake of alcohol, spicy food and caffeine. Weight loss can also help, a study has shown an improvement of 30% with 5kg weight loss.
Countries that eat more soya foods seem to have a lower incidence of hot flushes. This is thought to be due to the phytoestogens. Research suggests 2 x 200ml glasses of soya milk a day of 80g soya mince will give you this benefit.
Bone loss is escalated in the menopause, so calcium is slowly lost from the bones. this is due to osteoclast cells that breakdown bone work harder than osteoblasts (cells that build bone). The recommended daily amount of calcium in the UK is 700mg/d if there is no risk of osteoporosis. However many women reach the menopause with low bone mineral density, in which case they will need to be having more like 1000-1200mg/d. Therefore it is important to focus on increasing calcium rich foods. Good examples include dairy, fortified plant milks, sesame seeds, dried figs, watercress and fortified bread. Weight bearing exercise will also help with bone health.
A note of caution is that excess vitamin A is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, so post-menopausal women should not exceed 600 micrograms a day.
Levels of total cholesterol can rise after the menopause whilst levels of HDL cholesterol tend to fall. This can, combined with weight gain and falling oestrogen (oestrogen is cardio-protective) can be a risk for heart health.
Metabolic rate slows down by about 10% after the menopause, this is why central weight gain can occur. Therefore staying active and eating a balanced diet is key. Resistance training using your body weight or light weights is a good alternative to high impact workouts.
- Reduce saturated fats and eat more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, for example more nuts, avocado, olive oil and seeds.
- Soluble fibre is good for heart health and cholesterol levels. Godo foods include oats, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas.
- Incorporate more soy based foods into your diet. Soya milk, yoghurt, soy mince and tofu.
- Ensure you are eating calcium containing foods – dairy, plant based fortified milks, green leafy veggies, tofu and tinned fish with bones. Also take a vitamin D supplement.
- Keep active and include weight bearing exercise in your week.