Are you experiencing hot flushes, night sweats and difficulty sleeping?
These are the most common symptoms of a woman who is entering into the menopausal phase. Menopause is the cessation of the menstrual cycle, following the loss of ovarian follicular activity. The ovaries stop producing the oestrogen hormones, resulting in physical changes (energy level, memory, bone health), mood-related symptoms (anxiety, depression) and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. For most women, menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 years. Early menopause occurs before 45 and it is usually caused by heavy smoking and drinking.
Good nutrition and small lifestyle changes can both contribute to a healthy menopause. Exercising and eating the right nutrients can make a real difference to how you feel. Some women opt for a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help control the menopause symptoms, however the best and most natural way to ease the symptoms is to change your dietary pattern during this transitional phase of your life.
Soya has received escalating attention as an alternative to conventional hormone replacement therapy, as it is a natural source of isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens that are converted into oestrogens by our body with the help of gut-friendly bacteria. This is very important, considering the fact that oestrogen levels decrease during menopause.
It is interesting that, on average, Japanese women consume 35 mg of isoflavones a day and they experience 5% less menopausal symptoms than Western European women. Following a Japanese style diet can reduce the adverse effects of menopause. This diet consists of higher levels of soy protein as well as red clover and sea vegetables like kelp, nori, wakame which are valuable sources of plant oestrogens.
Other important considerations are:
- Heart-friendly food to prevent cardiovascular disease: cardiovascular disease along with osteoporosis and weight gain are very common conditions that occur during and after the menopause. Due to a loss of oestrogens, which help protect your heart and blood vessels, women develop loss of lean body mass (LBM) (around 0,5%) and increase in fat mass (FM) (around 1,7%).
Research studies show that participants with low LBM and high FM have the highest cardiovascular and total mortality risk. To prevent this, we encourage women to consume oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines 2-4 times a week. Non-animal sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as avocado, nuts and seeds are also advised.
- Calcium and vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis: due to a loss of oestrogen production, the average woman loses 25% of her bone density between menopause and the age of 60. Therefore, it is very important to add food high in calcium such as cheese, milk, green leafy vegetables as well as food containing vitamin D like mushrooms, fortified cereals and eggs.
- Increased the amount of beta-cryptoxanthin and fruit to prevent obesity: most women report weight gain as they transition through menopause. This is partially attributed to the reduction in energy expenditure, due to a decrease in leisure-time physical activity, loss of lean body mass and loss of luteal phase. Chronological aging and lack of physical activity are the main culprits of weight gain in midlife women.
It is therefore important to increase the activity level and to consume healthy and nutritious food. Dietary intake of the micronutrient beta-cryptoxanthin and fruit are associated with a significant delay in the onset of menopause and a lower risk of obesity.
A diet containing 400 mcg of beta-cryptoxanthin per day deriving from fruit such as oranges, tangerines and peaches have the potential to delay the menopause by 1.3 years.
- Increased exercise level: physical activity is essential during menopause, as it helps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, it can also delay the menopause and reduce those terrible hot flushes and night sweats.
The recommended exercises are weight-bearing exercises, particularly moderate to intense exercises performed in a high speed during short intervals of time, in water or on the ground.
Recent research studies have shown that swimming between 3 and 6 hours per week is an effective activity to maintain bone mineral density in postmenopausal and premenopausal patients. Swimming is a physical activity that stimulates the osteoblasts by inducing water movement and water pressure on the bones, which ultimately delay bone decline. Moreover, swimming increases the content of oestrogens in the body. It is very interesting to note that levels of estradiol in the blood of swimming trainers is higher than the control group.
Finally, we encourage you to avoid caffeine and alcohol which increase menopause symptoms, as they interfere with calcium by diminishing its absorption. As mentioned above, women need more calcium during menopause to keep the bones strong. Caffeine also interferes with your sleep and, as it is usually consumed hot, it triggers hot flushes.
Overall, by embracing a balanced diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and soya along with physical activity, can help reduce menopause symptoms.
Finally, make sure to eat the right amount of calories for your nutritional needs: research has shown that overweight and obese women are more likely to experience more palpitations and hot flushes, because fat cells are the ones that boost low levels of oestrogens in the body.