As someone who is going through perimenopause, I’m looking for ways to support my body as it goes through this monumental change. I’ve been managing menopause symptoms with HRT but feel that now they’re more under control, I want to find out about ways I can support my body in a more natural way.
This brilliant article has been written by Caren from Penarth Nutrition and provides advice to help us all eat healthy, nutritious foods that supports our body’s needs.
October is menopause awareness month and a great opportunity for me to shout about how the right balance of targeted nutrition can support us through this phase of our life.
In case we haven’t met – I’m Caren; a Registered Nutritionist with over 12 years’ experience helping people make positive changes to their diet so that they feel and look healthier.
I firmly believe that good nutrition isn’t about depriving yourself of foods you enjoy; it’s about making simple, practical adjustments that become a natural part of your daily routine, supplying your body with the essential nutrients it needs to flourish.
I have a special interest in women approaching or over 40 who are managing busy lives and are aiming for more energy, stable moods, weight loss and to manage their hormones – particularly during the menopause transition.
Before we explore how nutrition can support your health, let’s quickly recap what menopause entails.
The transition can be divided into three stages:
This is the phase that leads up to menopause and usually starts in our mid 40s, although in some cases as early as our mid 30s, and can last for over a decade. Early symptoms include irregular periods, mood changes, hot flushes and your body might feel ‘different’.
The definition of menopause is when a woman has not had a menstrual cycle for 12 months. So ‘menopause’ is actually just one day!
After 12 months without a period things might settle down but we are not out of the woods yet! Many women still experience ongoing symptoms for a number of years (sorry!).
During the menopause transition, our oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease but unfortunately not in a steady controlled manner. Oestrogen often fluctuates dramatically impacting our moods, weight, sleep and appetite levels.
The Diet-Menopause Connection
Just as the hormone changes in our teenage years and pregnancy demanded adjustments to our nutrition, the menopause transition needs a different dietary approach.
Research shows that women incorporating specific nutrients into their diets and adhering to certain eating patterns experience a smoother menopause with fewer symptoms.
It’s never too late, or too early, to make changes to the diet to start supporting your body.
Here are a few areas where nutrition is useful:
The decrease in oestrogen affects metabolism, making it easier to gain weight and harder to burn fat. The right balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats will help to manage weight and energy levels.
Certain foods like soy, flaxseeds and legumes contain compounds called phytoestrogens that mimic oestrogen and may alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes.
Feeling tired is common so we need to use food to keep our blood glucose balanced and eat meals that provide the vitamins and minerals for energy production.
The decline in oestrogen is a potential threat to your bone health. So, it is especially important to include sufficient protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and other bone-loving nutrients.
Fluctuating hormones influence our mood. Balanced nutrition will support your body and brain – try including foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish, chia seeds and walnuts.
The Menopause – Diet connection
Eating our way through the menopause transition is a two-way street! The hormonal fluctuations mentioned earlier can interfere with our intentions to make healthy choices.
We may find ourselves in a vicious cycle where our fluctuating hormones tempt us to indulge in options such as sugary foods, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and caffeine to resolve an unpleasant feeling. However, we’re aware that this kind of diet, in the long run, makes us feel worse.
Understanding the underlying reasons for these changes in appetite helps us to address the dietary challenges.
Oestrogen and Neurotransmitters
The hormone oestrogen affects neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine that influence mood and reward. Lower levels of oestrogen can disrupt the delicate balance of these neurotransmitters leading to cravings.
Oestrogen and Appetite
The hormone helps to regulate appetite and body weight and as oestrogen levels decline, alterations in neurochemicals can lead to increased appetite.
Oestrogen and Insulin
Oestrogen influences insulin function which impacts how the body processes glucose. A decrease in insulin sensitivity is likely to prompt a preference for sugary and carbohydrate-rich foods.
Stress and Emotional Eating
The menopausal transition often coincides with increased stress levels and a busy life load. Persistently high cortisol can lead to emotional eating, where we turn to comfort foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates to cope with stress-induced emotions.
Sleep Disturbances and Cravings
Menopausal women regularly experience sleep disruptions which impacts the regulation of hunger hormones such as ghrelin and leptin. Poor quality sleep alongside fatigue (another common symptom) prompts cravings for energy-dense, high-sugar foods.
Menopause triggers intricate changes in our hormonal balance that affect not only our bodies but also our thoughts and emotions, collectively influencing our dietary choices. Understanding why your body is demanding certain foods will help you develop strategies to minimise cravings and realise that, at this time of hormonal fluctuations, it’s often not a lack of willpower driving eating habits.
I hope that this have given you more of an insight in the connection between what we eat and how it can help support our body through menopause.
Managing menopause: Where To Start
If you’re considering dietary changes, here are five nutrition tips to get you started.
We need protein to produce hormones and maintain stable blood glucose levels, supporting consistent energy throughout the day.
Essential for stress and sex hormone production. Include sources like oily fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados in your diet.
Powerhouses of nutrients and phytonutrients. Aim for a minimum of 5 servings per day, striving for 10 servings, and pay particular attention to cruciferous vegetables.
B vitamins are essential for energy / Vitamin C for skin, hair, bones and immunity / Vitamin D is essential for bone health / Magnesium is vital for energy, bones, stress, sleep, hormones.
Be mindful of dietary saboteurs that disrupt your hormones, including caffeine, alcohol, toxins, and refined carbohydrates. Making informed choices in this regard is crucial for managing menopausal symptoms effectively.
Small changes in your diet and lifestyle can make a big difference to not only your overall health but also reduce the symptoms of menopause. Your menopausal journey is unique, and with informed choices, you’re setting yourself on a path to a healthier and happier future.
If you are ready to start making changes to your diet and have questions or would like to sign up to my nutrition programme, please get in touch.
Did you enjoy this article? Why not buy me a coffee to help keep the magazine free for everyone to read? If you’d like to read more articles about adoption and parenting, head over to the home page and have a look at what’s new.