It is becoming well known in lifestyle medicine that diet influences menopause symptoms, especially as the Mediterranean Diet is associated with the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and abdominal obesity. [Vetrani, Barrea et al, 2022].
Tomatoes both raw and cooked are extensively consumed in the Mediterranean regions. Tomatoes are low in fats, rich in vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, carotenoids such as lycopene and polyphenols.
All of these nutrients are beneficial for women looking to reduce menopause symptoms as well as manage cholesterol changes, cardiac health, liver health, especially Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), which is often the cause of weight changes during menopause. [Rovero-Costa et al, 2019]
That’s why I love the smell of the vine-ripened tomatoes coming off my vine at the end of summer. Tomatoes also feature in the Italian Tomato Sauce recipe which is in the MyMT™ Recipe Book – women on my programmes know that tomatoes are rich in a compound called Lycopene and it’s good for their heart and their liver!
One cup (240mL) of tomato juice provides approximately 23mg of lycopene, which is evidenced to help in menopause and post-menopause cardiovascular and liver health. (Petyaev, 2016). But to enable your body to utilise the lycopene, then cooking the tomatoes is best. Heat transforms natural lycopene to a form that is easier to utilize by the human body.
I’ve often talked about the changes in our liver health as we move through menopause in my articles. I also mention it in my Masterclass on Menopause (recently updated), which I hope you can listen to sometime.
Understanding that liver and gallbladder detoxification pathways respond to certain foods (and not all the smoothies that you see advertised), was a key part of my own weight loss, as it is for women who join me on my Transform Me weight loss programme. One of the compounds that come in foods that help our liver to ‘detoxify’ is a compound called lycopene.
I’m sure that you know that Lycopene is a naturally occurring compound that contributes to the red colour of fruits and vegetables. 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. 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.
Which brings me to lycopene in tomatoes and other vegetables and red coloured fruits.
Lycopene plays an important 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.
In other words, if you really want to help your liver to detoxify and clear excess cholesterol and other harmful substances (including excess oestrogen), then explore reducing your intake of saturated (animal) fat and protein enriched smoothies and cook up some tomatoes instead. (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.
Accumulation of excess fat in liver cells and adipose tissue is cited among the major reasons behind tissue dysfunction (Tokac, Aydin et al, (2015). When this happens it can lead to increased weight as well as poor gallbladder health called Cholestasis.
Some of you might have heard this term if you have had gallbladder problems, because Cholestasis is a liver disease. It occurs when the flow of bile from your liver is reduced or blocked.
Bile is fluid produced by your liver that aids in the digestion of food, especially fats. When bile flow is altered, it can lead to a buildup of bilirubin.
When this happens we can also put on weight (belly fat), feel bloated and/or develop a condition called Metabolic Syndrome. This refers to a cocktail of health problems such as hypertension, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which often arrive in menopause and are often accompanied by poor liver function.
Increasing our Lycopene intake is just one way to restore tired, overworked, inflamed liver cells.
It’s an important nutrient to include in your diet, not only for menopause weight loss, but also for helping to detoxify the liver and improve cardiac health as we age.
When my own weight reached an all-time high as I went into menopause, I was on all sorts of supplements and HRT. But that wasn’t what my ageing liver needed. It needed some lycopene enriched tomatoes instead.
Middle-aged women are not only bothered by the physical and psychological symptoms of menopause, but are also at increased risk for cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), such as central obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes, which, yes, are partly induced as a result of diminished oestrogen production, but as women on my 12 week programmes are also finding, these diseases are also the result of our lifestyle.
And by following the correct evidence for changing our lifestyle to better match our health needs during our menopause transition, we can turn around our mid-life health, including our symptoms and weight.
I hope you can explore my 12 week weight loss programme called Transform Me and perhaps join me when you can – especially if you made a resolution to turn around your mid-life health this year, but your busy life has gotten in the way – I know that feeling myself!
Which is why, if you need to take your time and step through my suggestions in your own time and at your own pace, then this is the programme for you. I can’t wait to show you the way.
Dr Wendy Sweet (PhD)/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
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