Hot flushes, sweats, brain fog, forgetfulness, mood swings, fatigue…do we really need to suffer these symptoms (and more!) when our bodies go through peri-menopause and menopause? Is there anything we can do with our diets to help?
The answer is very often “yes.” Here are my top ten tips for a smooth ride through these hormonal changes.
- Include phyto-oestrogens in your diet. Phyto-oestrogens are fabulous for women of all ages but are very important when oestrogen levels are declining. They are adaptagens, which means that if we don’t have enough circulating oestrogen they provide some, and if there is too much they prevent us from uptaking it. Phyto-oestrogens are found in many fruit and vegetables (eg: fennel, celery broccoli) but are rich in pulses such as chick peas, and are abundant in soya and flaxseeds. Choose fermented soya such as miso, nato and tempeh – not soya milks. When soy is fermented, certain anti-nutrients, that can block absorption of other nutrients are inhibited. Do NOT take soya if you are hypothyroid.
- Have 2 dessertspoons per day of ground flaxseeds, in porridge, salads or in yoghurts. These are very high in lignans, which convert to phyto-oestrogens in the gut.
- Address any gut issues. You need healthy gut flora to activate phyto-oestrogens. If you’ve had a high sugar/alcohol diet or taken courses of antibiotics or steroids, or been through a lot of stress, your gut flora is likely to be compromised. More and more research shows just what an important role our gut bacteria play in hormonal health.
- Ensure you have good quality oily fish. The omega 3s contain beneficial prostaglandins that can help with hormone balance. Flax also contains omega 3 oils, but they may not be as well utilised as oils from fish.
- It sounds obvious, but do limit refined carbohydrates (sugars, white pastas etc) and alcohol. These can lead to peaks and troughs in blood sugar. Managing blood sugar is key in minimising symptoms such as hot flushes, sweats and brain fog. High vitamin C foods may also help manage hot flushes.
- Manage/reduce stress. Firstly, hot flushes and sweats can be triggered by adrenaline. Secondly, your adrenal glands (which secrete stress hormones) produce some oestrogen even after the ovaries cease to do so. It’s the lack of oestrogen that gives us all our menopausal symptoms. Nutritionally, managing blood sugars, increasing B vitamins, magnesium and vitamin C all support the adrenals.
- Consider caffeine. Caffeine can overwork already depleted adrenal glands (see above) in sensitive individuals. It is also known to encourage hot flushes.
- Don’t forget your bones! Oestrogen protects our bones, hence the risk of osteoporosis post menopause. Nutrients needed for bone health are calcium, magnesium, boron, vitamin D and vitamin K. Vitamin K is made by bacteria in your gut, so another reason to make sure your gut is happy and healthy!
- There are many herbs that can potentially help. Sage, red clover, black cohosh and wild yam are ones commonly used in practice. Get professional advice before you start adding these and other supplements into your regime. Quality varies enormously. Drinking sage tea is fine.
- You need some body fat. This is not an excuse to dive into the doughnuts, but women with a low body fat percentage often suffer more during menopause as our fat cells have the ability to produce and secrete some oestrogen. Balance is always the key.
Kate is a fully qualified nutritionist, specialising in gut and hormone related issues. She offers individual consultations, which include dietary plans and recipes as well as supplement and functional testing recommendations.