Menopause: One Hot Topic
Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market
Women’s bodies are pretty spectacular. The fact that every month their body goes through a cycle that could lead to new life is amazing. This cycle has an finite number of turns, and at the end women enter into a phase of their life known as menopause.
This can be a time of major change for women. As menopause typically occurs in their early 50’s, women are finding themselves feeling less needed as a mother with their children reaching young adulthood. This means reconnecting with their partner, and some women are even preparing to retire at this time.
Juggling all of these changes and going through menopause can be incredibly difficult for women, especially if they don’t fully understand what is happening to their body and how they can manage the symptoms of menopause. This week we want to get into what menopause and what lifestyle changes you can make today to make menopause easier for you (& your partner).
What Is Menopause?
Officially, menopause begins at the last menstrual cycle. If a woman has not had a period for 12 months, it is usually safe to assume that she has reached menopause. Premature menopause can also occur when a woman has had radiation to the ovaries due to ovarian cancer, or if a woman has a hysterectomy.
What Changes Can We Expect?
At this time, women’s estrogen levels have been dropping since their 30’s and the ovaries are now no longer producing estrogen. Estrogen has been the predominant sex hormone for the entirety of a woman’s fertile life, but it also has protective effects like maintaining healthy, strong bones and keeping the skin clear and healthy.
Symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, which are random waves of feeling hot and even sometimes sweaty. Some women experience irregular periods, and their periods may vary in the “heaviness” of their flow.
As the hormones change, a woman’s mood can be affected as well. Some women going through perimenopause (the time 2-3 years prior and up to menopause) may experience extreme mood swings at this time, depending on the health of their hormone secreting glands and liver. Some women’s hormonal changes can actually cause some women to become depressed.
Weight gain is also a very likely (but not inevitable) symptom of menopause. When you are no longer producing estrogen in the ovaries, estrogen needs to be produced elsewhere (but in much smaller amounts). One of the ways the body does this is in the adipose tissue, or fat tissue of the body. In order to maintain base levels of estrogen in the body, fat tissue becomes a bit more stubborn during perimenopause and menopause.
Lastly, some women experience difficulties sleeping, or sleeping through the whole night. Every woman experiences perimenopause and menopause in her own unique way, but there are a few universal ways to prepare for menopause so that if you experience any of the symptoms they will be more manageable.
Nutrition for Menopause
There is no perfect way to eat for everyone during menopause, but there are definitely strategies you can implement to lessen the severity of symptoms.
Women who eat plant-based diets report fewer hot flashes. With that said, women who consumed more dairy and meat products had better bone density post-menopause. The conclusion: eating a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables throughout your lifetime will set you up for a healthier perimenopause and postmenopause.
High carbohydrate diets are also related to weight gain and mood irregularities, so sticking to complex carbohydrates like leafy green vegetables and limited simple carbs like breads, pastas, and sweets is a great way to mitigate menopausal weight gain and mood swings.
As estrogen declines, it might be useful to consume foods high in estrogens. Specifically soy and flax meal. These are both phytoestrogens and when metabolized by the body can have protective effects for women.
To help stabilize mood incorporate more foods high in vitamin C like broccoli, bell peppers, citrus fruits, teas, potatoes and yams.
Foods To Avoid
Although the recommendations for helpful foods is fairly broad (whole, natural, organic foods), the foods that will inevitably make menopause more uncomfortable and increase the severity of symptoms are well-known.
As we mentioned before, you definitely want to avoid sugars and processed foods as much as possible. These foods are not great for our long-term health before menopause, and they certainly are not any better afterwards. Sugar causes inflammation in the body, and as your body is at a greater risk for carrying extra weight, developing osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, it is best to keep inflammatory foods at an absolute minimum.
For the coffee and alcohol consumers out there the evidence is somewhat conflicted. Some studies have shown that consuming caffeine can increase the severity of hot flashes, but not increase their frequency. Some women report no changes to their hot flashes when they consume caffeine, so again we are seeing how individual the experience is for each woman. It is well reported, though, that alcohol and caffeine disrupt sleep so if catching proper Z’s is difficult during this time, it would be worth limited caffeine and alcohol consumption so you can get your much-needed sleep.
Spicy foods are also not recommended if you are already experiencing intense hot flashes. Spicy foods temporarily increase body temperature, so if a hot flash hits while/after eating spicy foods it could be extra-unpleasant.
Quality of Life During Menopause
One of the best ways to manage menopause is to check in with your current lifestyle habits and your environment to be sure that it is encouraging healthy and happy behaviours. Are your relationships supportive? Are your getting lots of sunshine and rest? Are your consuming enough water and taking time to meditate/check in with your inner well-being?
If any of the above-mentioned things are not acting to support your happiness in life, then it will only make menopause more difficult.