“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]
Nearly all of the female mid-life participants on my doctoral studies had constructed ‘healthy ageing’ within the context of messages coming from the fitness industry. Relying on their Personal Trainers for exercise advice, they also relied on them for nutritional advice too. “How do you know that this advice is appropriate for you in menopause?” I enquired. The surprised looks on many of their faces said it all, ‘I just expect them to know” was the typical response.
How our diet and exercise is influenced over our lifetime by others is an intriguing curiosity. It was part of my curiosity too. Women’s healthy ageing studies are replete with evidence that our mid-life transition into and through menopause is a time that makes us vulnerable to changing health, especially from weight gain, insomnia and immune-health changes. As the pandemic wears on and wears us down, this vulnerability matters more than ever. That’s why understanding how to look after ourselves is contingent on evidence that is specific to our age and stage of life.
I’ve heard a lot about food intake over my 30 years in the New Zealand fitness industry. Like many of the women participating in my studies, advice from various Personal Trainers has reached my ears as well. Yes, I used to be a PT, but in those days, there was very limited advice given to clients about their nutrition. We tended to follow the government’s nutritional guidelines instead – not advice that was gleaned from body-building and sports nutrition research. Afterall, most of my clients were not athletes, nore were they body-builders. My curiosity was piqued when my study participants told me that they followed the advice of their Trainers – many of them young male Trainers. I bet night sweats and hot flushes weren’t even on their radar. I remember vividly, watching a few of these women wipe their sweaty brows as they spoke to me in their interviews. Whilst I didn’t ask about their protein intake at the time, in future I might.
It’s always wonderful to hear how the MyMT™ programmes are working for women. As they move through the information in their modules, it is always my discussion about how much protein they should be having that typically challenges their beliefs 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. Especially those who have worked, or are still working, in the fitness industry like Tineke (her story is here for you).
For decades, sports science has moved us down the path of high-protein diets and I’ve taught this for years as well. But sports-science is intended for athletes, not women going through menopause. When women on my studies told me that they relied on their exercise specialists for nutritional advice, I began to understand that this advice may not suit their age and stage of life. The studies I was reading on women’s health as they aged also suggested that my curiosity was moving in the right direction. When my curiosity moved towards the amount of protein that was being suggested in the fitness and sports industries (sometimes up to 2.0gms/kg/day), and the connection of high protein diets with inflammation, the penny-dropped.
Inflammation increases your stress hormone cortisol. And as oestrogen levels decline and we age, this in itself is ‘inflammatory’. Known as ‘inflammaging’, this refers to the fact that as we move into post-menopause, the changes to cells and tissues in the body create pockets of inflammation. Reducing the build-up of inflammation is the hallmark of staying younger as we age and how to achieve this is the hallmark of the MyMT™ programmes.
When your stress hormone, cortisol, is higher than it should be in the evening, this competes with your sleep hormone melatonin. It’s one of the reasons that I also say that if you aren’t sleeping all night, you aren’t fat-burning. Add to this the fact that high cortisol increases your blood pressure and heart rate, then you start to sweat in order to reduce the build-up of heat. Night after night, you toss and turn as you sweat the night away and morning arrives and you’re more exhausted than before you went to bed. I remember those nights well.
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. And one of these paths led me towards questioning protein intake for women in mid-life. Especially those of you, who don’t have time for much exercise with all that you’ve got going on in your day-to-day life.
Night sweats are so frustrating.
I’m intrigued with the number of women who join me on the MyMT programmes who are taking supplements for their hot flushes and/or are on HRT, but they are still waking up to hot flushes and night sweats. If this is you, then there’s a reason for this. As we move through menopause and out the other-side, our blood vessels change in elasticity as we age. I written about vascular stiffness on numerous occasions in these blogs, but this contributes to ‘inflammaging’ and your night sweats.
However, there’s another reason for your night sweats too – and this is to do with your evening intake of protein. You may not need as much as you think. Especially if you aren’t doing heavy resistance training.
The MyMT™ Food Guide in my programmes is based on women’s ageing research, not sport and exercise science nutrition. The emphasis on protein in sport and exercise science information is intended for primarily, males and younger athletes. I’ve modified the information in the Food Guide to better suit the nutrients that we need during our menopause transition and to reduce inflammation. 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. 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 due to night sweats.
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 smaller amounts of plant protein instead. This includes all variety of beans, legumes such as peas, nuts and seeds and even brown rice contains protein as do many vegetables. With the pandemic hitting a second wave in many countries, it’s time to re-stock your pantry with beans – and if your gut reacts to beans, then try Adzuki beans which are less ‘gassy’ and also read about my GUT HEALTH programme too (this can be purchased on its own, but its included in the 12 week programmes.)
Reducing protein to levels that are better suited to ageing research is just one strategy that I have in my programmes. New research suggests that we can also have protein in 1-2 meals, not throughout the day which is the belief that predominates in sports-science research (Schoenfeld & Aragon, 2018). Protein is an important nutrient for our health obviously, but too much is not necessarily ‘good for us’. If we lower our protein intake, this reduces cortisol, which reduces blood pressure, which reduces night sweats. It’s one of the strategies you can use to help you get off HRT as well.
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
- Schoenfeld, B. & Aragon, A. (2018). How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J. of Int Society of Sports Nutrition. 15(10), 1-6 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1
- Sharma, S. & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. International Journal of Endocrinology, Article ID 270832, 1-12.