What is Menopause?
The word menopause comes from the Greek men (month) and pausis (cessation). Menopause was a term coined by French physician Charles Pierre Louis de Gardenne in 1821 to define the permanent cessation of menstruation and actually only refers to one day!
The official definition of menopause is when a woman has not had a period for a year, although women may experience the hormonal rollercoaster of perimenopause for 12-13 years prior.
Menopause is caused by a decline in the body’s sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone, and is a natural part of ageing. The average age for menopause is 51. It is one of the most significant transitions in a woman’s life and brings with it several physiological changes.
Medical Management of Menopause
The medical management of menopause usually involves prescribing HRT or hormonal replacement therapy, alongside anti-depressants, but these therapies can cause unwanted side effects. Women with a history of familial breast cancer may not be eligible for HRT. Increasingly, women are looking for ways to manage their menopause naturally.
The Mirena coil can be used as a form of HRT, and doctors may also prescribe bio-identical hormones. These are man-made hormones that are very similar to the hormones produced by the body.
Menopause is a Natural Transition
Although the transition from childbearing to menopause is a perfectly natural one, many women’s experience of menopause is by no means positive. It is often dominated by unpleasant symptoms including weight gain, insomnia, memory loss, anxiety, depression, vaginal dryness, exhaustion, osteoporosis, low sex drive, and the infamous night sweats and hot flushes.
Menopausal women often report their partners having to sleep in the spare room due to the hormonal hot water bottle sleeping beside them!
Stress in the lead up to and during the menopause can have a considerable influence on the menopausal experience. Oestrogen is produced by the ovaries but declines in menopause. Production is taken over by the adrenal glands, which converts hormones called androgens into oestrogen.
Our adrenal glands produce our stress hormones, so minimising stress and taking steps to nourish your adrenals is very important. To help alleviate stress, practice yoga, take a walk in nature, have an Epsom salt bath, or try four-seven breathing (breathe in through the nose for four and out through the mouth for seven).
Empirical data shows that practicing mindfulness may be associated with fewer menopausal symptoms. Findings suggest that being mindful may be helpful for menopausal women struggling with anxiety, depression and mood swings.
Early research suggests that exercise may help to reduce night sweats and hot flushes, but there are not enough studies to draw a definitive conclusion. It is still important to exercise regularly, however, as there are proven benefits such as healthier bones and joints, better sleep, and improved mood, energy, and metabolism.
Weight-bearing exercise is particularly important during menopause to support bone health bone density can decline.
Common trigger foods for hot flashes and night sweats include alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, and foods high in sugar. Achieving and maintaining your optimal weight may help to reduce menopause symptoms and help to prevent disease.
Dietary Management of Menopause
Proper hydration is important to reduce toxins, help maintain a healthy weight, and reduce bloating caused by hormonal changes. Aim to drink two litres of filtered water and/or herbal tea daily (regular tea and coffee don’t count. Sorry!).
Balancing blood sugar levels is the cornerstone of hormonal balance.
A diet high in refined foods and sugar can severely disrupt blood glucose. This imbalance results in feeling tired and irritable, depression, brain fog, low energy levels, and difficulty in sleeping. Rather than eating carbohydrates in isolation, combining them with a protein source slows down the rush of glucose into the bloodstream, as well as helping to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass that occurs with age. Foods rich in protein include fish, meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes, beans, and tofu.
Time Restricted Eating
Eating three nutritious meals a day within an 8-12 hour window and not snacking in between can also help to balance blood sugar and this form of time-restricted eating (TRE) has been shown to have many positive health benefits, such as improved mood and sleep, and weight loss.
Eat the Rainbow
Eat the rainbow! A diverse diet rich in fruit and vegetables may help to manage menopausal symptoms. The loss of oestrogen in menopause may correlate with an increase in osteoporosis and heart disease, and research demonstrates that the antioxidants in fruit and veg may have a protective effect. Oestrogen and progesterone also fuel your gut bacteria, so a decline in these hormones can disrupt healthy gut flora.
Feeding your beneficial flora by consuming a diversity of produce helps to ensure a better balance of gut bacteria.
Scientific data on the benefits of phytoestrogens during menopause is varied, but many studies report that including them in your diet may support menopausal symptoms.
Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds which mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body. They may be consumed in natural food sources such as tofu, tempeh, lentils, soy milk, and edamame beans, or taken as a supplement, such as red clover.
Other supplements reported to have a positive effect on menopausal symptoms include agnus castus, black cohosh, ginseng, wild yam, flaxseed, sage, holy basil, dong quai, calcium, and vitamin D.
Supplements should preferably be recommended by a qualified professional and should always be checked against any current medication.
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that alter the function of hormones and demonstrate oestrogen-like effects. These harmful synthetic compounds are found in skincare and cleaning products, plastics, processed food, insecticides, and building supplies.
It is impossible to entirely avoid these chemicals, so it is important to limit your exposure; drink enough filtered water to flush them out, consume healthy oestrogens, avoid plastics, switch to non-toxic skincare and cleaning products and eat organic where possible. Use non-toxic cookware and cook with pans made of steel.
A Healthy Menopause
It may take up to three months to notice positive benefits of these nutrition and lifestyle changes, so it is important to stick with it.