“I can’t believe how quickly I’ve noticed a change . My sleep is better, my hot sweats have reduced to nearly non-existent and I’m more motivated to take control of my body.” [Allie, MyMT Client]
It’s always so wonderful to hear how the MyMT™ programme is working for women. As they move through the information in the programme, it is always my discussion about high cortisol and the role of protein that interests them the most. That’s because, I’m turning their beliefs about the amount and type of protein that we need in our diet, upside down. I’m also dispelling their beliefs about not only the types of foods that many have been on for years, but also when to eat their food!
Not only does the timing of food matter but also the type. And it’s all to do with two hormones, insulin and cortisol – both of which, when high, cause over-heating and under-sleeping! They often don’t get a mention when we trudge to the Doctor feeling worn-down and beaten up by our poor sleep, night sweats, weight that doesn’t budge and bloating that turns us to elastic-waistbands and tent-like dresses. Yes, I know all those feelings well. Before we know it, we are on the slippery slope to worsening health as we age. I hear this all too often when I take my live-events.
Our body feels stressed and goes steadily into ‘distress’. But we can pull this back, and for our healthy ageing years ahead, we must!
As I often explain to women on the programme and in my live ‘Masterclass on Menopause’ events, cortisol is an important hormone. Cortisol is one of your stress hormones. We need some but not lots. Cortisol is ideal amounts helps to regulate a number of functions around the body, as all hormones do, and it works closely with your beautiful sleep hormone called melatonin. This means that it helps to regulate your circadian rhythm. In an ideal mid-life body, cortisol should be higher in the morning, than it is at night.
However, when cortisol is out of balance, you can’t sleep, you crave sugar, your night sweats increase and for many of you, your belly-fat quietly but relentlessly increases week by week. Menopause weight research shows that in post-menopause, belly-fat can increase by a whopping 2kg a week. That’s not good for our heart, nor our liver. Dianne discovered this the hard way too.
When your stress hormone, cortisol, is higher than it should be during mid-life, your sleep hormone melatonin stays too low at night for you to have quality sleep, especially during your precious fat-burning hours. The consequence of this imbalance, is that overnight you are awake for hours, and as such, many of you fail to burn fat. As well, you feel hot – damn hot. You toss and turn, the bedclothes are on and off and you sweat so much, that each morning you have to change the bedding. I had no idea about all of this before I went into menopause either.
When I began to understand that cortisol was contributing to my sleepless, sweaty nights and my weight gain, I began to look into what was really going on at this stage of life. It’s a cocktail of chaos that can ensue if we aren’t sleeping. But there are other factors too – if we are busy and stressed and if we are doing heavy exercise or not doing any exercise, or we are eating a diet that is not suited to the changes going on in our body during menopause, then cortisol stays higher than it should.
From sore muscles, to low motivation, to lowered production of our ‘happy hormone’ called serotonin, to increased anxiety, to night sweats and poor sleep, cortisol can be both public-enemy number 1 OR our friend. Too much or too little can be problematic in menopause. Hundreds of MyMT clients have now learnt this too and tell me on the private coaching group that is part of the programmes.
Night sweats are so frustrating.
And so many women get them whether they are on HRT or not. They especially get them when they are overweight and go into post-menopause. This is because as we move through menopause and out the other-side, our blood vessels change in elasticity too. Combine this with not sleeping and higher cortisol, then blood pressure and temperature go higher and the uncomfortable hot flushes and night sweats remain. For millions of women around the world, this is the start of a trajectory into changing heart health and Type 2 diabetes as they age. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
When women begin to sleep all night, lose their menopause weight and learn to change their lifestyle to turn down the heat, then they also improve their cardiac risk too. I know this, because, with over 2000 women having done the MyMT programmes now, so many of them tell me when they have completed their 12 week course.
As I began to un-tangle why I wasn’t sleeping and why my body was feeling hot, hot, hot as I tossed and turned each night, I was undertaking my women’s healthy ageing research. The irony of this was that I didn’t feel healthy. As well the pictures painted by the medical and health research when women aren’t sleeping, did not bode well for a vibrant and healthy ageing ahead. I think our mother’s generation discovered this too.
That’s when I began to put my Sport and Exercise Science knowledge to good use. The research on the type of food we need to eat as we age to remain healthy, points to the wonderful Mediterranean Diet. The MyMT Food Guide and Plans are based on this research, but I’ve modified them to better suit the nutrients that we need during our menopause transition. What you won’t find in this food plan (unless women are doing a lot of heavy exercise and resistance training) is too much protein, especially animal protein. And you certainly won’t find too much of it at dinner time.
You see, protein is ‘thermogenic’ – this means ‘heat-generating’.
When women eat too much protein at night, especially animal protein, their ageing liver and gut, which are also affected by hormonal changes as we move through menopause, can’t process it very readily – and because protein is ‘thermo-genic’ (heat generating), it can be the cause of hot flushes and night sweats into the early hours. And this additional heat generation means that our blood pressure stays high as does insulin and so too, does cortisol. It’s a cocktail for sleepless nights.
As I said earlier, cortisol works really closely with melatonin, our sleep hormone. So, when cortisol is high, melatonin is low. I think as many of us have discovered the hard way, when we don’t sleep, we feel tired, drained and un-motivated. But this also means that our cortisol can stay higher throughout the day too. The vicious cycle has started and menopause symptoms take over our daily life. As the weeks go on, we feel frustrated and lose hope and confidence as fatigue, hot flushes, foggy brain and for millions, weight gain, make our body feel like it is an alien. Yes, that was me too.
When we don’t sleep, we get increasing hot flushes, worsening fatigue and feelings of helplessness. So, the one thing you can try is to change your diet, so you reduce animal protein for dinner at night and enjoy some plant protein instead.
This is just one strategy that I have on my programmes that is helping women to reduce the heat, lose weight and most importantly, to sleep a deep restful sleep.
I love how women are learning to live their best life in menopause with MyMT™. “It’s time to look forward into the future and change how we look after ourselves as we move into a different hormonal environment and with the MyMT™ programmes, I’ve done all the work and research for you. When you come on board, you join me on your self-learning step-by-step programme and in my coaching group too. You just do the programme in your own time and every fortnight you receive a new module with new information to set you on your way to a brighter future.”
Putting menopause in health, not sickness.
- Deeche, D. & Dorries, K. (2007). Understanding the pathophysiology of vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats) that occur in perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause life stages. Arch. Women’s Mental Health, 10: 247–257.
- Mayo Clinic. The science behind a hot flush. Mayo Clinic Online, PDF Handout
- Sharma, S. & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. International Journal of Endocrinology, Article ID 270832, 1-12.