Menopause is a natural part of a woman's life which isn't talked about as often as it should be! No wonder so many women are unaware that what they eat and drink can significantly affect the symptoms they experience during menopause.
Menopause is when your period stops, which on average is around age 51. There are usually some symptoms, ranging from mild to dreadful, for a few years before (peri-menopause) and after your period stops (post-menopause).
Managing the symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause is a common reason why women come to see me in my clinic. Symptoms are caused by the natural fluctuations and subsequent decline of estrogen and progesterone.
Herbal medicine can be a great help to manage symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. I also find that many women can manage mild to moderate symptoms with a combination of diet changes and herbal tea. The following is a guide to the 6 step dietary advice that I often give to my clients:
1. Foods that can help to balance hormones
Large scale population studies tell us that following a Mediterranean style of diet can lead to improvements in hormonal symptoms at menopause.
A Mediterranean diet has a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, herbs and healthy fats such as olive oil, oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds. The Mediterranean diet is also low in processed foods and refined sugar.
I also recommend my menopause clients consume foods that are high in phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) and to make them a part of every meal. Phytoestrogens can assist with balancing estrogen levels.
This can be as simple as adding ground flaxseed to breakfast, slicing fennel into a coleslaw for lunch, having some sprouts in a salad with dinner, and drinking herbal teas throughout the day. The herbal teas I often recommend are sage, red clover or fennel.
Some women who have suffered breast, ovarian or endometrial cancer are recommended by their doctor to stay away from phytoestrogen foods. If this is you, seeking good advice for your individual circumstances is recommended.
2. Foods that support liver health
Your liver, along with your ovaries and fat cells, plays an important part in balancing estrogen. It makes sense to look after our liver health during menopause. A sluggish liver can impact adversely on menopause symptoms, cholesterol levels, bowel health and the proper digestion of food.
I usually recommend that cruciferous vegetables be eaten everyday. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts and cabbage all contain antioxidants that are excellent for supporting liver health and estrogen metabolism.
Other liver loving vegetables include beetroot and bitter greens including rocket lettuce and dandelion leaves.
3. Foods that help to stabilise blood sugar levels
There are many benefits to keeping your blood sugar levels stable during menopause: to reduce menopause symptoms; protect against insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes; manage weight; increase your energy and stabilise moods.
The nutrition advice I most often give for managing blood glucose levels is:
eat a small amount of protein with every meal (e.g. egg, fish)
eat a small amount of healthy fats with each meal (e.g. avocado, olive oil)
limit alcohol and refined sugar consumption
eat 2 to 3 satisfying meals per day and limit snacking
4. Foods that support bone health
Calcium is the main mineral contained in our bones. Estrogen plays a role in directing calcium into bones throughout our lives. Post-menopausal women have low levels of oestrogen and can suffer from weaker bones as a direct result.
Consuming foods that contain calcium such as sardines, green leafy vegetables, almonds, broccoli, yoghurt and egg yolks is important for bone health.
Many additional vitamins and minerals are needed as part of the process of ensuring that calcium is absorbed from the diet and deposited in the bones. This is why I recommend following a Mediterranean style of diet with a wide variety of healthy foods (as well as spending some time in the sun every day).
I also recommend that women continue to eat foods high in phytoestrogen after menopause to support bone health.
5. Avoiding foods that cause weight gain
The transition through menopause seems to leave many of us with an extra spare tyre around the middle. This extra fat can actually be beneficial during menopause! Fat cells make estrogen and this can be just what we need to lessen menopause symptoms as our ovaries start to make less estrogen.
But since none of us really like the extra rolls of fat, my recommendations are to follow all of the above advice for stabilising hormones, liver support and managing blood glucose levels. Additionally, weight gain can be avoided by cutting down on alcohol and processed foods. Processed foods include muffins, bread, crackers, cereal, cakes, biscuits, pasta and chocolate bars.
6. Diet changes to suit your individual needs
Every woman is different. From working with menopausal women I have discovered that no two women experience menopause in the same way. We all have different lifestyles, different biochemistry and different levels of stress in our lives.
I find that women need additional individualised dietary advice to help them cope with other existing conditions such as thyroid, worsening allergy symptoms, depression, low energy, reflux and other digestive problems.
If this sounds like you, then I recommend that you get in touch with a naturopath to get some additional advice. Please contact me if you would like to arrange for a private consultation.
I am a naturopath, herbalist, nutritionist and certified wellness coach.
I welcome clients to my clinic in Gladesville, Sydney.
Menopause and peri-menopause are areas of women's health that I treat regularly. This blog contains information from my B. Health Science training and from experience gained from working with women during menopause.
The blog is not intended as specific health advice and you should seek assistance if you have any medical conditions.