If you were to walk into my kitchen right now, you would see the steam rising out of my simmering pot of rice. You would also smell it’s nutty smell. For dinner tonight I’m going to mix some pesto through it and serve it with spinach wilted in cold-pressed olive oil (great for our joints) and some beautiful salmon harvested from the deep south of the South Island. After a particularly busy day feeling time poor, now that New Zealand is out of lockdown and I’m back into meetings again, I need the lovely thiamine, niacin and B6 that the combination of organic brown rice, New Zealand salmon and green vegetables, provides to my over-productive brain. Support local they say. So I am.
The protein is full of a nutrient called tryptophan which, when absorbed in the body is stored in the liver and helps to make at least half of your body’s niacin. This beautiful compound, niacin, is one of your B- vitamins and it helps to prevent a skin condition called pellagra. A condition which the Italian’s know as ‘sour skin’. With all the skin changes that occur as we lose oestrogen in menopause and the continual stress that many women face in their day to day life, as well as the stress from changes in our cells and tissues during menopause, it’s important to think about the vitamins that help us to get through our day. That’s why we need a focus on our beautiful B-vitamins at this life-stage.
If you stop and reflect on what is going on in your life at the moment and whether you feel a bit ‘under-the-pump’ with it all, I wonder if you are also thinking about how your stress levels impact on the absorption of your beautiful, energy-forming B-vitamins. If you aren’t sleeping or feeling anxious, your skin is dry and brittle and/or you are putting on belly-fat by the week (up to 2kg a week can go on during menopause), then my guess is that you aren’t focused on your beautiful B-vitamins. How about we change that will we?
Like millions of women around the world, I’ve followed conventional wisdom about how to manage my menopause symptoms. I took HRT on the recommendation of my Doctor and purchased endless ‘miracle-promising’ supplements on the recommendation of the Pharmacist. I did workouts to try to manage my weight delivered by wonderful young exercise professionals who probably hadn’t even heard of menopause, and I followed high fat, high protein popular diets of the day. Not one person I went to enquired about my stress, my sleep (or rather, lack-off!) nor did anyone ask if I was in menopause.
At the time, I was undertaking my women’s healthy ageing studies. I’m thankful that I was. Because from the work of Margie Lachman (2004, 2015), I learnt about midlife as being a pivotal time for women’s health as they aged. Many of us are not prepared for this perfect-storm in middle age, but it is indeed a period of marked diversity (Lachman, 2004). As Lachman says, “Not only is our body changing hormonally, but as many of us have found or are finding, we also have to juggle many competing demands, including roles not only as workers, but as spouses, parents, and these days, looking after adult children as well. As such, the impact of the accumulation of stress from numerous sources, it’s a time when many women experience precursors to health problems (e.g., high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sore joints) or some of the same conditions as their parents (e.g., Type 2 diabetes, weight gain and hypertension). A range of expected (e.g., children leaving home) and unexpected (e.g., loss of parents, being laid off) events may occur during midlife.“
Many women whom I interviewed on my women’s studies also took the time to tell me about the changes they were experiencing and how, as they had done all their life, they turned to doing lots of exercise in order to ‘cope’ – with many not experiencing the positive health changes or weight loss that they anticipated from doing all this exercise. As I listened to their stories as I interviewed them, I kept thinking, ‘me too!’.
That’s when I began to realise that not only did I feel stressed with all that was going on in my life, but with the perfect-storm arriving of menopause, insomnia, weight gain, too much high-impact exercise and with these intersecting with a busy, stressful life, my body was ‘under stress’. And when our body and brain is under-stress, it is burning through our beautiful B-vitamins and when our B-vitamins aren’t being absorbed, we don’t sleep, we put on belly-fat, our energy crashes and we feel that we can’t keep up with all that’s going on in our busy, active (or inactive) lives.
When you are busy, over-worked, worried, not eating properly, not sleeping, or over-exercising, your stress hormones get thrown into chaos. This has a massive impact on other hormone-control centres in your body as well, especially your thyroid hormones. ‘Stressed’ isn’t just ‘desserts’ spelt backwards. For a multitude of menopausal women, it’s the slippery slope to hormonal chaos, a legacy which for many, has been decades in the making.
Controlling your stress hormones is a critical part of both MyMT™ programmes. As is changing our nutrition to help us manage our stress, our symptoms and heal from within. This is particularly important for weight loss.
Too much stress (load) and not enough recovery (un-load) leads to weight gain, poor sleep, an under-acting thyroid and a brain that isn’t coping. Over time, metabolic chaos arrives too. Any time stress kicks in (and for some, this may have been going for years) a hormone called cortisol, is released from the adrenal glands and surges in the blood stream. When you have cortisol staying elevated all day, then this uses your ‘calming’ hormone called progesterone to keep making it. Cortisol is normally high in the morning and low in the evening. If it stays high in the evening, then it competes with the production of your ‘go-to-sleep’ hormone, called melatonin. With too much cortisol, joints and muscles become inflamed, colds and flus are more frequent and a general feeling of being ‘run-down’ never goes away. You try to exercise it off, but too much exercise when you are exhausted only makes your symptoms worse. How do we know this? Because of the hundreds of studies on over-trained female athletes!
5 Reasons Why B-Vitamins Matter to You in Menopause:
- Vitamins B6 and B12 help you to sleep. We need both nutrients to help to make your beautiful sleep hormone called melatonin as well as your mood hormone called serotonin.
2. B Vitamins are an essential part of Phase 1 Liver clearance of toxins. Because our liver health changes in menopause, many women put on weight and develop a condition called oestrogen dominance which I’ve written about HERE …
3. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) plays an important role in the uptake and metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Deficiency can lead to metabolic chaos and for women in menopause, more weight gain around the belly and under the diaphragm. For those of you doing lots of exercise, low thiamine intake can also cause lactate to build up in your muscle tissues and this causes muscle cramps and aches. For those of you who drink a lot of alcohol, it’s thiamin uptake that is affected too.
4. B vitamins help to reduce your menopause-related depression. Low mood, motivation and depression are often treated with anti-depressants in millions of women around the world. But how many are told about the need to increase their B vitamins and I wonder.
5. Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 help to reduce stress and aid in the transmission of nerves as you age. One of the major changes in menopause is the loss of cells that help to make up the myelin sheath which is the outer surrounding of our nerves. B-vitamins help to repair and restore the function of nerve transmission as we age. As part of the MyMT™ programmes, I encourage women to get blood work done and get their Dr to check B12 levels because if they are low as women transition menopause, then this can give them the feeling of tingling, increased anxiety or poor exercise recovery as well. In which case, good old-fashioned Floradix may help too.
For decades now, women have had a lot of stress in their lives. This might be from the workplace, home or from other sources such as the oxidative stress that builds up from too much exercise and/or the stress that builds up in cells and tissues from the wrong nutrients in our diets or from environmental toxins. Many fat cells hold onto these environmental toxins as they are a source of oestrogen-mimicking compounds. Before many of us entered the workforce, we had no idea of how feeling time-poor and overwhelmed with the demands of a busy job might impact our health, let alone our menopause symptoms. It hasn’t gone past me that there is a discrepancy between workplace stress and our age and stage of life that needs to be addressed.
Today, as I write this, over 45 women from a large company in Auckland, New Zealand, have received a link to my online Masterclass on Menopause, as part of their Workplace Wellness programme run by the company. It’s a wonderful acknowledgment from the company of, not only the need for workplace education about menopause, but as a way of acknowledging the important role that women in mid-life have in the success of the company. I salute them.
Menopause is the biological gateway to our ageing years. This means that there are changes going on all around the body and for too long this age and stage of life has been positioned in ‘sickness’. But it shouldn’t be. It needs to be positioned in ‘wellness’ instead. It’s a particularly stressful time of our lives at the moment, not only with global challenges and threats to our immune health, but combined with menopause changes, this makes us particularly vulnerable. With many of you still in lockdown in the Northern Hemisphere, I have extended my programme promotion (NZ$100 off) until the end of June. You can re-address stress and regain metabolic harmony in and after menopause and when you come on board into your learning hub on my online 12 week programmes, I can’t wait to show you the way. Please use the promo code ATHOME20 when you purchase.
Frank, S., Gonzalez, K., et al. (2017) Diet and Sleep Physiology: Public Health and Clinical Implications. Frontiers in Neurology, (8), 393, 1-9.
Kennedy, D. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review. Nutrients, Feb; 8(2): 68.
Lachman M. (2004). Development in midlife. Annual Review of Psychology, 55(1), 305–331.10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141521
Lachman, M., Teshale, S., & Agrigoroaei, S. (2015). Midlife as a pivotal period in the life course: Balancing growth and decline at the crossroads of youth and old age. Int J. Behav Dev. 39(1): 20–31. doi:10.1177/0165025414533223
Sievert, L., Jaff, N. & Woods, N. (2018). Stress and midlife women’s health. Women’s Midlife Health, 4 DO – 10.1186/s40695-018-0034-1
Stough, C., Simpson, T., et al. (2014). Reducing occupational stress with a B-vitamin focussed intervention: a randomized clinical trial. Nutrition Journal, 13:122, 1-12.