As a culture we have lost touch with being in sync with our body’s, often not prioritising sleep, exercise and diet, which we know are important influencers of female hormones. The menopause is a natural stage in any woman’s life but here in the West rather than viewed in a positive way, it is often treated as a disease and signifies loss, rather than celebrating the wisdom and liberation that other cultures round the world seem to.
It can be challenging of course so if you feel like hot flushes, mood changes, fuzzy brain, low energy and poor sleep are holding you back then it’s time to act!
Synonymous with menopause hot flushes are actually quite poorly understood. Changes in hormone levels play a central role but the hypothalamus, the part of the brain which regulates temperature control, is also thought to be involved. It goes slightly awry, triggering blood vessels to dilate which diverts heat out of the body even when the body is not actually hot –causing the flush.
Blood sugar drops can trigger hot flushes, so making some simple dietary changes to help support blood sugar control can make big differences. Avoiding or reducing sugar and stimulants like alcohol and caffeinated drinks is key. Focus on slow-releasing carbohydrates, balanced with a serving of protein or healthy fats. Include whole grains like oats, brown rice, vegetables and fruits and add protein, like tofu, fish, beans, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds. Try taking some chromium too – this mineral is needed for maintaining normal blood glucose levels
The herb Black Cohosh has been used successfully to reduce hot flushes and night sweats, but sage and Mexican wild yam could also be considered.
Did you know, alcohol, spicy, hot food and stress can all trigger hot flushes?
Reducing stress supports even blood sugar and the hypothalamus, but also provides much needed TLC for your adrenal glands which take over some hormone production as it tails off in your ovaries. High stress or anxiety can cause progesterone to get used up to make stress hormones rather than the steroid hormones oestrogen and testosterone aggravating hot flushes and leading to lowered libido. Using adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha and rhodiola may help encourage balance. B vitamins are also beneficial - in particular, B5, which is highly concentrated in the adrenals and vital for steroid hormone production. B5 is also needed for mental performance, reducing tiredness and energy production so great for helping tackle foggy brain and fatigue. Magnesium is also important as it supports the nervous system but is rapidly used up by stress.
Don’t forget other ways to reduce stress. Walking is a great way to reduce stress hormones but yoga, meditation, T’ai Chi or just making time for yourself are really important to include daily too.
Mood often takes a plummet during menopause, partly in response to falling hormone levels, but it can also be a time when changes to women’s roles can trigger low mood. Include plenty of omega 3 sources in your diet (think oily fish, flax and chia seeds) or take a supplement. The amino acid 5-HTP is also good to add to your list.
Sleep is often disrupted during the menopause commonly by the adrenalin release which accompanies a hot flush leaving you feeling wide awake long after you have cooled off.
Following the advice for hot flushes and stress should help but sticking to regular bedtimes/wake times, a dark, cool room and good wind down routine are vital. If you need some extra support try taking the herb Valerian before bed. This is especially good if mild anxiety is a factor (often experienced during menopause). Alternatively try the amino acid 5-HTP.
Whilst you can’t yet see or feel it, as you head through the menopause, your bone density can start to decline more rapidly as the protective effect of oestrogen drops away. Top up on bone health nutrients especially calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, silicon, boron and zinc.
Whilst calcium is essential for the skeletal system, dairy products are not the only source. Calcium is also found in green leafy vegetables such as curly kale, watercress and spring greens. Dried figs, almonds, ground sesame seeds, tahini and tinned oily fish are also good sources. Magnesium is a crucial mineral, needed to enhance absorption of calcium from food and to promote mineralisation of the bones. It is found in beans, lentils, tofu, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables and whole-grains. Vitamin D is synonymous with bone health and for good reason, it is needed for calcium absorption and utilisation. Living in higher latitudes leaves many low in vitamin D especially during the winter months when the body’s stores have been depleted. Taking a supplement providing around 2000iu is a good idea but you can also ask your GP to test your levels to see if you need more. Eat a diet high in alkalising fruits and vegetables and with moderate amounts of protein to help keep calcium in the bones and avoid sugary and refined carbohydrates which may increase urinary calcium loss.
Don’t forget collagen though. A staggering 35% of bone mass is a protein matrix of which 90% is made up from Type I collagen fibres twisted around each other providing the scaffolding onto which the minerals are deposited. It follows then that collagen is just as integral to bone health.
To help boost bone density take regular weight-bearing exercise which helps to promote bone formation. Any weight bearing exercise is good so try rebounding, tennis, dancing, resistance training, yoga or a brisk walk.
Finally research suggests including phytoestrogens in the diet may help to reduce menopause symptoms. Weakly oestrogenic, these natural occurring plant compounds are thought to help stimulate oestrogen receptors as production of your own oestrogen drops. So regularly include flax seeds, chickpeas, lentils, celery, green beans, brassica vegetables (broccoli, kale, greens, and cauliflower) and wholegrains. Latest research also hints at their neuroprotective effects – good news for your brain too!