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Menopause Symptoms: Can Certain Foods Help?

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October is World Menopause Month, a time to raise awareness of menopause and its support and resources.

It affects half of the world’s population at some point in their lives (typically between the ages of 45 and 55), but many menopausal symptoms are still difficult to manage. The most common side effects are perhaps the dreaded hot flushes, night sweats, and brain fog – but each person’s experience is unique, and the impact on individuals can vary greatly.

It is estimated that approximately 13 million people – roughly one-third of the female UK population – are either perimenopausal or menopausal, with a variety of physical and psychological symptoms that can last for several years.

Though the main indicator is the cessation of monthly periods due to oestrogen deficiency, there are 34 recognised symptoms ranging from poor sleep, anxiety, and depression to headaches, recurrent urinary tract infections, itchy skin, and heart palpitations.

According to a Fawcett Society survey, 44% of women have three or more severe symptoms, and 77% find at least one’very difficult’. It’s unlikely that everyone will experience every symptom, and they aren’t constant, according to Jenny Haskey, chief executive of The Menopause Charity, but knowing what they are can help with menopause management.

“It’s really important we don’t scare women when talking about the menopause and the way to do that is to arm them with the information and knowledge they need in a way that doesn’t make them dread it, but makes them understand what’s happening and what they need to do to move forward and thrive,” she explains.

Adjust Your Diet

According to Haskey, it’s important to consider your symptoms carefully and identify any foods or drinks that may aggravate them. “But it’s about being mindful of how you respond when you eat or drink them and, if they’re having an impact, reducing them,” says the author.

She suggests that if poor sleep or heart palpitations are a problem, cutting back on caffeine may help. If night sweats and hot flushes are a problem, it may be prudent to avoid spicy foods on most days.

Dr Linia Patel, a registered dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson, points out that drinking too much alcohol can exacerbate symptoms because the liver enzymes responsible for metabolising alcohol decrease during menopause.

“Spoiler alert – alcohol and menopause are not the best of friends,” she continues. “It can have an impact on symptoms from hot flushes to mood swings and can make weight loss and sleep harder.”

According to Dr. Patel, it is a common misconception that “carbohydrates make you fat, inflamed, and sluggish” during menopause, but the key is to choose the “right ones and the right portions.” She explains that symptoms such as weight gain can be caused in part by eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates. However, fatigue, headaches, sugar cravings, and irritability may be caused by a lack of complex carbs such as whole grains, beans, and lentils.

“They contain fibre and protein which means they are good for helping control your blood sugar levels.”

Fact of Fiction?

These complex carbohydrates also contain phytoestrogens, which can have oestrogen-like effects if consumed regularly and in sufficient quantities. Some evidence suggests that phytoestrogens, specifically isoflavones found in tofu, tempeh, and soy milk, can help with menopausal symptoms.

According to one study, 85% of North American women experienced hot flushes, compared to only 25% of Japanese women, possibly due to Eastern Asian diets being much higher in isoflavones than Western diets. This viewpoint is supported by a review of previous research, which discovered a link between isoflavones and a reduction in the frequency and severity of hot flushes.

Meanwhile, a separate study into lignans, which are found in flaxseed (also known as linseed), found that eating 40g per day could help with hot flushes as well as vaginal dryness, another common menopause symptom.

However, while the findings appear promising, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to make concrete health claims because some studies revealed benefits while others did not. More research is also needed, according to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), to confirm the safety and effectiveness of herbal remedies marketed to help relieve menopausal symptoms, such as red clover (a source of isoflavones), black cohosh, and St John’s wort.

“Menopause has been heavily over-commercialised and there’s still a lot of misinformation and areas where people are profiting from potentially vulnerable women,” says Haskey.

Simple Diet-Boosting Steps

“All of the information we offer as a charity is trusted and reviewed by our clinical panel and we’re particularly looking at how to make nutrition more manageable for women, especially in a cost of living crisis,” Haskey informs us.

According to YouGov research conducted last year, the economic crisis has left nearly a quarter of women unable or less able to purchase certain foods to alleviate menopause symptoms. Haskey believes that it is critical for women going through menopause to eat a balanced diet even when money is tight.

“Some women may see nutritionists on social media and think to themselves, ‘Well, I can’t suddenly change my entire eating regimen to eat expensive, complex-looking dishes.'”

“What’s important in a cost of living crisis is to say there are some simple steps, like getting as much colour in your diet as possible.”

Haskey recommends a Mediterranean diet during menopause, which includes fruits, vegetables, legumes and pulses, nuts, wholegrains, fish, and unsaturated fats like olive oil. It also recommends moderate dairy consumption, which is thought to be important during and after menopause, when falling oestrogen levels can increase the risk of osteoporosis, according to Sara Stanner, BNF’s science director.

“It’s important that women are able to access plenty of calcium-rich foods such as milk and yoghurt, spinach and kale to protect against osteoporosis in later life,” she states. “They are also advised to consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months.”

According to nutritional therapist Tammy Gee, vitamin D is also found in eggs, which are an alternative source of protein and an important part of a healthy diet during menopause.

“Protein provides the building blocks for our hormones and so adequate protein is needed for health as our hormones change and we age,” she explains. “Rather than relying solely on expensive meat or fish, look into alternative protein sources like chickpeas, eggs, and Greek yoghurt.” Canned fish, such as tuna, sardines, or salmon, are an inexpensive way to get lean protein into your diet.”

Holistic Approach

According to Haskey, it’s not just about eating a balanced diet, but also about being adaptable and mindful, such as knowing your trigger foods and making sensible substitutions when sugar cravings strike. While some women may only want to manage symptoms through diet, she believes it is beneficial to consider other methods in addition to diet.

“When we hit menopause, we do need to eat differently – we need to be even more conscious about having that balanced diet and also coupling it with exercise.” It’s about taking a comprehensive approach to managing everything.”

There’s also no harm in considering positive lifestyle changes before menopause begins, says Dr. Patel.

“It’s never too early to start planning to eat well, get moving, and learn to manage your stress.” All of these things will make the menopausal transition easier.”

SourceBBC

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