“Do you know about blackcurrants?” he asked. I nodded as I told him that the anthocyanins and other compounds in blackcurrants were getting great results in heart-health research. My presentation to some South Island New Zealand farmers about the changes in inflammation as we age had caught his attention.
“Well, perhaps add a slide in your presentation about blackcurrants as well as beetroot” he mentioned. “New Zealand grows some of the best blackcurrants in the world and they are now rated as a super-food. They are in high-demand in Japan and other countries for heart-health benefits. I have the largest production of blackcurrants in the country” he said proudly.
So, here I am in this week’s Wednesday briefing. Thanks to Jim and his reminder to me (and you) about blackcurrants and the power of purple, as we help ourselves move towards improved health as we age.
Recent research suggests that New Zealand’s blackcurrants are indeed the best in the world. That’s because they have the highest amounts of compounds called anthocyanins (Barnes, Perry et al, 2020). These powerful compounds help to reduce arterial stiffness and central blood pressure in older adults. (Cao, Park et al, 2021; Okomoto et al, 2020).
With my emphasis on lifestyle science during our midlife and older years, when it comes to managing your hot flushes, depression and the inflammatory changes that can arrive during our menopause transition and continue into post-menopause, the colour purple (and deep red or blue) matters more than we think.
Identifying foods that contain powerful anti-inflammatory ingredients is easy.
These foods typically have strong purple or deep red and blue pigments (blood oranges, grapes, beetroot, blackcurrants and blueberries) and these pigments are called anthocyanins. Many of these fruits are called ‘superfruits’ because they are evidenced to positively benefit human health.
But anthocyanin-rich foods are important for another reason too. Not only do they help you to manage your menopause symptoms, especially hot flushes, depression and weight gain, but adding these foods to your daily diet, help you with your healthy ageing.
New research that came my way recently reminded me of their powerful health benefits, (Panchal, John et al, 2022). So much so, that after reading the article, I retrieved the bag of deep purple New Zealand organic blackcurrants hidden deep in my freezer, poured some into a small bowl, defrosted them, mixed a small amount of low-fat Greek Yoghurt through them and enjoyed the extraordinary knowledge (and delicious taste), that I was helping so many organs throughout my body to reduce inflammation.
Low-grade chronic inflammation underlies many chronic systemic diseases, especially age-related decline and metabolic disorders.
I’ve talked about these age-related changes, numerous times in other articles, which you can always access on my blog page on the website, but this is a reminder that our mid-life menopause transition is a vulnerable time for changing levels of inflammation. Increasingly, research is showing that peri-menopause is viewed as a systemic inflammatory phase that enables later neurogenerative (nervous system) and cardiovascular disease (McCarthy & Raval, 2020; Furman, Campesi et al, 2019).
As such, most roads in women’s midlife health and ageing research lead to the Mediterranean Dietary approach. This type of diet is low in animal fats, but rich in colourful foods that contain anthocyanin pigments. These pigments are researched to fight inflammatory changes which are known to commence in peri-menopause. If you’re experiencing sore joints, changing gut health, or hot flushes, then you may understand what I mean.
Anthocyanins are good for us in a variety of different ways from cancer protection to lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke, improving circulation and gut and joint health. Historian and citrus lover, Helena Atlee, has written about the role of anthocynanins in the health of Italians living in the region of Italy where deep-red blood oranges grow, explaining that,
“The development of anthocyanin pigments in blood oranges is only triggered by a difference of at least ten degrees celcius between day and night-time temperatures. This has made Sicily the most reliable source of blood oranges in the world. Plants use anthocyanins like a sunscreen, to protect themselves against ultraviloet light, and by eating plants or fruits, rich in anthocyanins, we benefit in the same way.“
[The Land Where the Lemons Grow, p. 93].
I’m always explaining to women on my coaching programmes, that when we position our menopause transition in women’s healthy ageing research, it takes away the confusion of what to eat. One of the main theories of ageing that I explored as part of my doctoral studies, was to do with the Inflammatory Theory of Ageing.
At the level of basic biological processes, healthy ageing is defined as ‘fending off cellular and molecular damage for the longest possible period of the life course‘ (Bengtson et.al, 2009). How we do this is through understanding that inflammatory changes arrive as part and parcel of our transition through our mid-life years, therefore, how we mitigate this (or turn back the clock if inflammatory changes have already arrived), is an important aspect of our day to day behaviours and routines.
Adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet is just one of these actions we can implement, including foods that are rich in anthocyanins.
The common dietary sources of anthocyanins are berries, cherries, peaches, grapes,
pomegranates, plums, blackcurrants, red onions, red radishes, black beans, eggplants, purple corn, purple carrots, red cabbages and purple sweet potatoes.
Berry fruits, the most popular and the richest source of anthocyanins, include blackcurrants, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, currants, chokeberries, gooseberries, elderberries and lingonberries. (Barnes et al, 2020; Panchal, John et al, 2022).
No matter where in the world you live, you can find some of these foods I’m sure! And for my wonderful ladies up there in Canada, did you know that the Saskatoon berry, which is native to Canada contains increased amounts of anthocyanins compared to many other berries (294 mg/100 g)?
If you are up in that part of the world as many of the ladies on my programme are, then perhaps buy some of these berries and explore how this might help your sore joints and hot flushes!
Metabolic and cardiac researchers consistently view the menopause transition and subsequent endocrine changes, with increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and immune dysfunction. Looking at these clinical endpoints is therefore important, because it helps us to explore prevention opportunities that (mainly) sit within lifestyle medicine and ageing research.
‘Among the various aspects of health promotion and lifestyle adaptation to the menopause and postmenopausal period, nutritional habits are essential because they concern all women, can be modified, and impact both longevity and quality of life.’ (Silva, Opperman et al, 2021).
With this in mind, my approach with the MyMT™ programmes is on women’s healthy ageing. In my 2 hour Masterclass on Menopause, I introduce you to this diagram, which I’ve designed from women’s health and ageing studies. These 7 pillars help you to consider the most important aspects of moving into the next phase of your life – your ageing years.
In most chronic diseases of ageing, oxidative stress and inflammation play prominent roles.
Oxidative stress is a phenomenon caused by an imbalance between production and accumulation of damage in cells and tissues and our ability to detoxify and reduce the inflammation.
When we can’t reduce the inflammation, then, as many of you know, this builds up over time and we start to experience symptoms that are hard to get rid of. During menopause these symptoms often present as hot flushes, night sweats, thyroid, gut and joint problems and more!
Whilst medications and supplements also play a role in alleviating the inflammatory changes that arrive during menopause, wearing our anti-inflammatory hat with our food and exercise choices is also important.
Placing our menopause symptoms into wellness-solutions for improved health as we get older is the path forward. After all, from our mid-40s onwards, we are moving towards our biological ageing in our post-menopause years.
There are no hormone medications nor menopause-supplements in the MyMT™ programmes – this is between you and your Doctor and I don’t interfere with this. But what I have for you are the scientifically evidenced lifestyle solutions that meet the research on women’s health and ageing – from sleep to nutrition to temperature regulation to joint and gut health – whatever your symptoms, and/or weight concerns, I hope you can explore my programmes sometime.
Feeling healthy, vibrant, pain-free and energetic is within all of our reach in our 50s and beyond. So many women experience changing health as we get older and women’s health research confirms the negative impact of compounding health changes as we move through menopause. I used to be on that trajectory too.
It’s why, if your symptoms or your health are getting you down, I want you to know that you can turn this around with some lifestyle changes that are specific to your changing hormones during menopause.
I’ve used my knowledge and experience to design two different online 12 week programmes which are just for you in your menopause and post-menopause years. They include foods that are evidenced to help reduce inflammatory changes due to our biological ageing. As I discovered myself, too many other lifestyle programmes are not suited to the powerful hormonal changes that are occurring as we move through ‘the change.’
Start with the MyMT™ Symptoms Quiz, follow up with the MyMT™Masterclass on Menopause and then choose the online program that best suits your needs. I hope you can join me sometime.
Dr Wendy Sweet (PhD) MyMT™ Founder & Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine
Attlee, H. (2014). The land where lemons grow: The story of Italy and its citrus fruit. Penguin Books: London, UK.
Barnes, M., Perry B., Hurst R., & Lomiwes D. (2020). Anthocyanin-rich New Zealand blackcurrant extract supports the maintenance of forearm blood-flow during prolonged sedentary sitting. Frontiers in Nutrition, (7), https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.00074
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