Many of us become reliant on various supplements and medications to help our menopause symptoms and/or weight gain, and there is nothing wrong with this of course, but how many of us also change aspects of our nutrition to accommodate our transition through menopause?
Whilst seeking the quick-fix menopause supplement, I didn’t understand that nutritional lifestyle solutions were becoming well evidenced for symptom management, until I did my doctoral studies on health and mid-life women. Scientists have discovered thousands of substances in foods that go way beyond relying on ‘just’ supplements.
Our nutritional choices play an important role in reducing symptoms and according to the work of the authors below, it’s ‘essential’ to change our food choices when we arrive in midlife.
‘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).
Positioning our menopause transition in ageing research opened the door to a variety of symptom management possibilities using food as medicine, not only for myself, but now for the thousands of women who join me on my programmes and in my coaching community. There’s an element of surprise when this happens.
All roads in women’s health and ageing research lead to the Mediterranean Dietary approach. It’s this approach I’ve taken and adapted to the specific nutrients that help to reduce our symptoms and weight during our menopause transition.
Part of this approach is ensuring that we are having the appropriate nutrients that fight inflammatory changes that begin to arrive in peri-menopause. For example, if you constantly feel hot and bothered and are sweating a lot, then this is a sign that your temperature regulation is out of balance.
As such your body is trying to cool you down by moving heat to the surface of your skin. Heat generation becomes worse as we move through menopause, because our blood vessels lose some elasticity. This is called vascular stiffness.
Foods high in nitrates help to reduce this effect. Dietary nitrate has been demonstrated to have a range of beneficial vascular effects, including reducing blood pressure, inhibiting platelet clumping and clotting, and preserving or improving endothelial dysfunction, enhancing exercise performance in healthy individuals and patients with peripheral arterial disease. (Lidder & Webb, 2012).
It is well known in metabolic and cardiac research that the menopause transition and subsequent endocrine or hormonal changes, are associated with increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosisis and immune dysfunction. Looking at these clinical end-points is important, because it helps us to explore prevention opportunities according to the lifestyle and ageing research.
For example, when exploring the nutritional research on post-menopause weight gain, dietary intake and fat mass, there is clear evidence that dietary plant carbohydrates that have a low rating on the Glycemic Index rating system (below 55), and whole grains (instead of refined grains) have positive effects on our resting metabolic rate (Silva et al, 2021). Yet many popular diets these days remove wholegrains however, cardiac health research shows that wholegrains will steady your blood glucose, give you lasting energy, reduce your cholesterol, reduce your racing heart-rate and help to protect your ageing heart.
I never knew that oestrogen played an important role in the health of my heart and muscles when I went into menopause. Did you? But from our early-50’s onwards, as menopause progresses, our cardiac muscle changes in structure and function as do our skeletal muscles. And it doesn’t matter if you are an exerciser or not, your ageing heart and muscles, need the nutrients that matter to them to help your health as you age. Some of these nutrients come from wholegrains.
Adjusting your nutrition as you age is a major modifiable risk factor that you have control over, especially for preventing heart disease, weight gain and osteoporosis – the main conditions that beset western women as they age. Whilst you may be currently following a diet that is high in fat and protein such as are popular today, as you move through menopause into post-menopause, a high-fat diet isn’t recommended, especially for women already overweight. (Silva et al, 2021).
I can’t reinforce this enough and have written about the detrimental effects of diets high in both fats and animal protein and the load that these are known to place on ageing kidneys. This is known as PRAL, or Positive Renal Acid Load.
When it comes to looking ahead to a potentially healthy ageing, then I’m a great advocate of using our menopause transition to begin to try new approaches. The lifestyle and disease-prevention science specific to women allows a framework from which to make these adjustments. Most advice follows learnings from cardiovascular research as well as ageing and longevity research including:
- Protein sourced from plants, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish and salmon.
- Fats from unstaturated plant sources or alternative sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil.
- Carbohydrates from whole-grains and starch vegetables
- A minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (and up to 10) but not sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Small to moderate amounts of Dairy foods.
[Silva, Oppermann et al, 2021).
It makes sense to change our lifestyle at this time of life to reduce the rate of age-decline. Nutritional changes are one way of doing this and for those of you in your menopause transition, then you also have to learn about the power of using food for your symptom management and healing.
The discovery of phyto-nutrients ahs changed everything we know about foods. This term refers to the compounds in foods that contain an abundance of microscopic healing substances. Some scientists call them the ‘vitamins of tomorrow’ such is their power to heal. Many pharmaceutical companies are using these phyto-chemicals in plant-derived hormone therapies for women and as I examine many of the ingredients of menopause supplements, then they too have a variety of phyto-nutrients in them, especially B-vitamins which are known to reduce hot flushes in women.
Another example is apples. How many of you are told to eat apples, not only to improve your chewing, which helps to reduce dizziness, but also to improve your lung health. If you’ve had covid then this is an important food for you to eat. Apples contain quercetin, which is strong enough to improve the inflammatory changes in your lungs and to reduce your risk of heart disease as you age. Most importantly, apples (and tomatoes) are evidenced to help you detoxify your liver – an important part of your weight management as you move through menopause and into post-menopause.
As the seasons are changing and the year continues to be a busy one, then don’t forget that my 2 hr Masterclass on Menopause is waiting for you with incredible savings and a promo code to use as well.
Wendy Sweet (PhD)/ My Menopause Transformation/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
Feskens EJM, Bailey R, Bhutta Z, Biesalski HK, Eicher-Miller H, Krämer K, Pan WH, Griffiths JC. Women’s health: optimal nutrition throughout the lifecycle. Eur J Nutr. 2022 Jun;61(Suppl 1):1-23.
Jin K. Modern Biological Theories of Aging. Aging Dis. 2010 Oct 1;1(2):72-74.
Lidder S, Webb AJ. (2013). Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 75(3):677-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04420.x. PMID: 22882425;
Preedy V. & Watson. R. (2020). The Mediterranean Diet: An evidence-based approach. 2nd Ed. Elselvier Academic Press: London, UK
Schwingshackl L, Morze J, Hoffmann G. (2020). Mediterranean diet and health status: Active ingredients and pharmacological mechanisms. Br J Pharmacol. Mar;177(6):1241-1257.
Silva, T., Oppermann, K, Reis, F. & Spritzer, P. (2021). Nutrition in Menopausal Women: A Narrative Review, Nutrients, 13, 2149, 1-14.
Yoshany, N., Mazloomy Mahmoodabad, S., Bahri, N., Moori, MK., & Hanna, F. (2020). Association between lifestyle and severity of menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women. Electron J. Gen Med. 17(5): em22, 1-6.