Menopause is a stage of life that we often hear about but it’s pushed aside as ‘women’s business’ and we don’t talk about it enough.
Thankfully there has been more discussion about it recently and women are being encouraged to seek support. Fellow Registered Nutritionists Laura Wyness and Lynn Burns have done extensive work in this area and their ebook is worth a read.
I wanted to share some key things about menopause which might help you now or in the future, either personally or for a friend or family member.
Menopause is when you have your last period but there is a period of perimenopause before this, which includes hormonal changes and irregular periods. Lots of women experience symptoms of hot flushes, recurrent urinary tract infections, insomnia, hair loss, dry and more sun-sensitive skin, mood swings and depression, heart palpitations, and vaginal dryness. Much of this is due to changes in hormone levels.
During this time our body fat distribution changes. There can be muscle loss and more of our fat moves to our middles rather than our hips and thighs.
It all sounds a bit grim, doesn’t it? This is a natural stage of life BUT there are things we can do to protect our health during and after menopause.
How to reduce your risk of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis or brittle bone disease is debilitating. I have seen it in my own family. Here are 5 key things we can do (there is lots more information on the Royal Osteoporosis Society website and they have an amazingly helpful helpline too)
- Ensure you do weight bearing exercise – you don’t need to start doing weights, your body is the weight. It just excludes things like swimming or seated exercise (although these are good for other reasons)
- Make sure you get enough calcium. 3 portions of low fat dairy or dairy alternatives which are fortified with calcium are recommended. 4 portions if you have a family history of osteoporosis. A portion is 200ml of milk, a small pot of yoghurt or a matchbox size piece of cheese. There is calcium in some other foods (eg calcium set tofu, green veg and tinned fish with the bones) but dairy and dairy alternatives provide most in the UK diet.
- Take your vitamin D supplement. We don’t get enough sunlight in the UK so adults over 65 and those who cover their skin or don’t go outside much are recommended to have 10 micrograms a day as a supplement. For younger adults it’s recommended you take it between October and April although most of us would benefit year round. Vitamin D is needed to help you absorb the calcium in your diet.
- Watch your alcohol intake – keep within the recommended limits (no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread across 3 days or more)
- Stop smoking (easier said than done, I know but it is worth it)
How to reduce your risk of heart disease
We don’t often think about heart disease in women but coronary heart disease kills more than twice as many women as breast cancer does.
Oestrogen helps control cholesterol and so reduces the risk of the fatty deposits building up in our blood vessels. Also as fat builds up round our middles, like I describe before when I talked about fat distribution, the fat moves to be round our internal organs and that increases our risk of heart disease. What can we do?
- Increase the amount of fibre in your diet – wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and pulses
- Have at least 1 portion (140g) of oily fish a week – sardines, mackerel, salmon, kippers, trout are all examples of oily fish
- Reduce your salt intake. Salt can increase blood pressure so reducing the amount of pre prepared food we eat can help. Swapping salt for herbs, spices, ginger, onion or garlic can also help. The recommendation is no more than 6 grams a day
- Reduce your fat intake, particularly saturated fat from meat (trim off the fat you can see), pastries, biscuits, cakes and coconut oil products
- Make sure you are getting magnesium in your diet – nuts, seeds, pulses, wholegrains, leafy greens, oily fish all contain magnesium
- Keep active. The recommendation is 150 minutes of ‘moderate intensity’ physical activity a week (exercise where your heart rate is raised but you can still talk whilst you are doing it)
For more information about heart disease check out the British Heart Foundation website
How to reduce the menopause symptoms more generally
I wish there was a magic pill but there isn’t but here are a few things which might help.
- There is some evidence that soy can help because it has an ‘oestrogenic’ effect. Having some edamame beans, soy milk or tofu would be a good way to get these beneficial compounds in. 2 portions a day is recommended based on the evidence and this was shown to reduce hot flushes by 50%.
- Keep hydrated. Often we don’t drink enough. If you are sweating, you will need to replace the water lost but water in itself can help reduce symptoms like UTIs, lack of concentration and increased blood pressure.
- Have protein with every meal. I mentioned reduced muscle. This can increase osteoporosis risk and also affect balance and strength. Protein comes from foods like dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts, seeds. Having some at each meal is more beneficial than most of it at one meal.
- Be careful when it comes to supplements and herbal remedies. Some can affect the absorption of nutrients, some can also affect how other medications work. Always check with your GP or pharmacist before taking additional things.
The bottom line
Menopause is a natural part of a women’s life. It is ok to talk about how you are feeling. It is ok to seek medical help. Some women find taking medication helps too. There is no shame in that. Whatever you choose, these dietary tips can help reduce symptoms but also reduce your risk of some pretty nasty long term illnesses.
If you would like one to one support putting this into practice around your busy schedule, or you would like me to come and talk to a group of women you know, get in touch.
Disclaimer: This post is meant for information purposes only and is not personalised advice or in place of medical advice.