“I loved all the food ideas” mentioned Chris in an email to me, “I’ve gone from 71kg down to 63kg (11st 3lb to 9st 13lb in UK terms) and it feels great. It also wasn’t really that hard and I love how my hot flushes are reduced and my sleep is so much better. The best thing that I took out of this programme though, was that I’m back to eating what my body needs and wants – not what my teenage boys demand. I feel amazing now.”
I bet that many of you, like me, never gave your heat regulation a thought prior to menopause, nor did you realise that our declining oestrogen levels impact our body temperature regulation mechanisms.
The human body maintains a consistent core temperature between 36.5-38.5 ℃elsius [98 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit], and it requires certain nutrients, including water, magnesium, folate and other nutrients derived from our diet, to maintain this healthy temperature.
Although, dehydration and illness can cause changes in the body’s temperature regulation, one of the main problems that women in menopause face, is that declining oestrogen levels can cause changes to not only heat regulation, but also to blood vessels and our skin. All of these structures impact temperature regulation for the midlife woman transitioning menopause.
But the skin – our largest organ – is replete with oestrogen receptors. During our menopause transition, these receptors struggle to find oestrogen to attach to them as levels decline and for many of you, these changes in your skin also affect your sweat glands causing them to shrink in size. As such, as you move through menopause, you overheat more readily.
The increased body-heat I felt around 6pm when I was cooking dinner, supervising kids homework and multi-tasking numerous other home activities was energy-zapping. But these days I know better and understand why those endless expensive supplements weren’t helping to reduce my body temperature either.
Yes, not sleeping was problematic, but so too was the fact that I wasn’t eating the correct nutrients to help to rebalance my changing heat production in midlife.
With scientists finding a link between circadian rhythm and body temperature variations with the function of our immune system, I’m not surprised that they have called this connection ‘a tangled threesome’. [Coiffard, Diallo et al, 2021].
‘In mammals, including humans, the body temperature displays a strict circadian rhythm and has to be maintained within a narrow range to allow optimal physiological functions. There is nowadays growing evidence on the role of the temperature circadian rhythm on the expression of the molecular clock. The Circadian Rhythm Body Temperature (CRBT) participates in the phase coordination of circadian timekeepers in peripheral tissues, thus guaranteeing the proper functioning of the immune system’. [Coiffard, Diallo et al, 2021]
With the link between temperature regulation, the circadian rhythm and our immune system, it’s important that we reflect on our food intake during menopause. Especially as there are certain nutrients that you can include in your diet, which will help you to beat the heat.
The four main nutrients that help to regulate our body temperature during menopause are:
In today’s article, I want to remind you of these four nutrients and why, they help you to beat the heat during and after menopause.
It’s no surprise to me that many supplements marketed to women during menopause have folic acid added to them. This is the synthetic form of folate but vegetables such as Spinach, Kale and Parsley are high in Folate. Whilst I knew about the importance of folate in pregnancy, I had no idea that I needed this nutrient to help alleviate my hot flushes and night sweats.
Folate is Vitamin B9. When absorbed into its active form it is converted to tetrahydrofolate. No, you don’t have to pronounce this, because it is known simply as Folate.
“Folic acid was effective in reducing the severity, duration, and frequency of hot flashes during menopause. Therefore, it can be recommended as an affordable and accessible method for treating menopausal hot flashes for women.” [Bani, Hasanpour et al, 2013].
Folate is a nutrient that you may have heard of. It is an essential cofactor (helper) for the production of both nor-adrenaline/nor-epinephrine (a nerve transmitter that is related to your stress hormones) and serotonin.
As many of you on menopause-related anti-depressants already know, serotonin production in our brain is reduced as our oestrogen production declines during menopause. But did you know that studies have shown that taking folic acid has effects similar to that of antidepressants too? (Young, 2007).
The total body content of folate is estimated to be 10 to 30 mg; about half of this amount is stored in the liver and the remainder in blood and body tissues. If your liver isn’t healthy, or your alcohol intake is high, please take note – alcohol interferes with folate absorption and metabolism and accelerates its breakdown, rather than its absorption. [National Institutes of Health Factsheet]
Folate is absorbed primarily in the duodenum and jejunum within the acid micro-environment at the cell surface on the gut wall, so if you have IBS, Coeliac Disease or other gut health concerns, then this is something to remember.
Folate absorption is important and it’s why one of the optional modules I have for you in my programmes, is about restoring your gut health … with the information in this module, you will understand the evidence behind helping your gut and liver absorb not only folate, but other B-vitamins too.
Lycopene in Tomatoes and other red coloured vegetables are also relevant to our hot flush management during menopause.
Lycopene is a naturally occurring compound that contributes to the red colour of fruits and vegetables. BI’m sure you’ve heard of this powerful compound, but it’s what the lycopene does inside our body that women’s health and ageing scientists are discovering, that is helpful for all of us to know.
Lycopene is a carotenoid antioxidant – these are compounds which help to reduce inflammation inside our cells and tissues. This type of inflammation is known as oxidative stress and during menopause, inflammatory changes contribute to increased heat production and hot flushes.
Plants which grow above ground and conduct photosynthesis are generally rich in carotenoids. We need these in our diet to be sent to our blood and tissues, especially to our liver (hepatic) and fat cells because as humans, we don’t make carotenoids. However, they play an important role in the production of retinol (vitamin A) and of course, in cell protection.
Lycopene plays an incredible role in weight loss, hot flush management, heart health, improved bone density in post-menopause and for those of you who struggle with your liver health, then it is now known to help in the modulation of detoxification pathways.
With it’s role in liver detoxificaiton pathways, lycopene clears excess cholesterol and other toxins, which in turn reduces inflammatory changes in the liver. As I mentioned earlier, any reduction in inflammation in the body, helps to rebalance and regulate temperature changes. (Hodges & Minich, 2013; Tokac et al, 2015; Walallawita et al, 2020; Wilcox et al, 2003).
Lycopene is found in high amounts in tomatoes but is also present in watermelons, pink grapefruits, apricots, and pink guavas.
The bioavailability of lycopene is higher in processed tomato products than in unprocessed fresh tomatoes, so grill them, add them to sauces or make soup or drink tomato juice. Just be aware that lycopene bioavailability is also affected by processing methods and storage. Improper processing methods, handling, and storage (i.e., exposure to light and oxygen) can degrade lycopene too.
When we provide lycopene in our diet, this valuable compound is stored and used in high concentrations in the liver, adrenal glands, and adipose (fat) tissues. It’s role in these organs is to help to reduce damage from oxidative stress and tissue injury – all of which contributes to reduced heat production.
My other favourite nutrient for managing temperature regulation is magnesium and I’ve written about it extensively in my articles over the years. This mighty mineral helps to relax blood vessels and reduce muscle cramps.
Whether you are on the treadmill at the gym or lying in bed at night, your muscles are continually contracting and relaxing. As such, they are generating heat and contributing to your body’s heat production too. This is where magnesium comes in to help you with recovery.
But there’s more to muscles and magnesium too. If you have been overheating and experiencing lots of sweating, then you are also losing electrolytes such as magnesium (and other minerals) in sweat. If you aren’t replacing them, then you may experience worsening hot flushes, brain fog as well as muscular cramps.
Foods that are rich in magnesium helps to counteract these changes. When we improve our blood vessel dilation, this helps with reducing heat.
As the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, magnesium plays an important role in a variety of body functions, including energy metabolism, protein synthesis and blood sugar and blood pressure regulation. But for women in menopause, it also plays a role in regulating body temperature.
Women should get 320 milligrams per day increasing this to 420mg in post-menopause. Food sources of magnesium include almonds, cashews, soybeans, spinach, fortified oatmeal, potatoes, peanuts, legumes, wheat bran, wheat germ, brown rice and avocados.
Are you looking after your thyroid with iodine?
Unless you are on thyroid medication because you’ve got an underactive or over-active thyroid, then you need iodine in your diet … every day. Many soils around the world, including New Zealand’s and Australia’s, are known to be deficient in two minerals that help to regulate our precious thyroid gland, selenium and iodine.
Much of thermoregulation is ultimately controlled by central neural (nerve) control of blood flow, heat production, and heat loss. Thus, the impact of micronutrient deficiency states, such as iodine or selenium deficiency, on temperature regulation can often be traced to our thyroid and it’s role in helping to manage other hormones as part of the HPA-Thyroid Axis.
Menopause and produces some changes in our thyroid gland, which are a normal part of ageing. In fact, research suggests that there is some lowering of thyroid function and this is helpful in relation to our longevity and health. [Gesing, 2015]. Despite these changes however, keep up your consumption of iodine if you can.
A healthy adult body contains 15-20 mg of iodine, 70-80% of which is stored in the thyroid gland. iodine is found in a variety of body tissues including mammary glands, eye, gastric mucosa, cervix and salivary glands. Deficiency of iodine causes goitre and this condition is prevalent world-wide.
As such, looking at your dietary contribution of iodine matters. Good sources of iodine for women include seafood (fish, shellfish and seaweed), commercially prepared bread and iodised salt (if salt is used). Milk, milk products and eggs are also sources of iodine, however, if cutting back on dairy products and eggs, then explore other dietary sources of iodine too.
Lifestyle solutions are an important aspect of menopause symptom management. Even if you are on menopause hormonal medications and supplements, then changing things up a bit with your nutritional intake is also important.
The My Menopause Transformation programmes help you to turn around your symptoms and/or weight using specific, scientifically evidenced lifestyle solutions that I’ve researched for you. Patricia in the banner below joined me – I hope that one day you will too.
Dr Wendy Sweet (PhD) – Read about me HERE.
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Folate Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
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