Natural actions you can take to help control the symptoms of menopause.
Many women choose to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help control symptoms of menopause, however, several lifestyle changes can make symptoms more tolerable such as taking dietary supplements, being proactive with nutrition and staying physically active.
The menopause and weight gain
During menopause, women lose muscle mass which means that it may be necessary to reduce overall calorie intake if you are wanting to avoid weight gain over time. There are different ways to do this such as tracking calories, altering portion sizes and being more physically active. Resistance training is particularly useful to both preserve and builds muscle mass, you should aim for a moderate intensity for a minimum of 2 sessions per week.
Keeping our bones healthy
Once we reach the age of about 35 we slowly lose calcium from our bones and during menopause a reduction in oestrogen speeds up the rate of loss, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Aside from taking HRT, eating a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and foods high in calcium can help you to keep your bones healthy.
You should be aiming for two to three portions of calcium-rich foods every day; some examples include:
Semi-skimmed milk [recommended 200ml)
Cheese (recommended matchbox-sized piece)
Small yoghurt or milk-based pudding (ie rice pudding, custard)
Your skin makes Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight and having enough vitamin D is also very important for bone health. In the UK we can only get enough vitamin D through sunlight exposure between the months of April to September and therefore it’s recommended that all adults take a daily 10mcg supplement during autumn and winter. For those with dark skin, from African, African Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds and those over the age of 65 the usual recommendation is to take a vitamin D supplement all year round.
Vitamin D can be found in some foods for example:
Mushrooms marked with Vitamin D on the packaging
Some fortified plant beverages (check the packaging for details)
Some fortified breakfast cereals (check the packaging for details)
Eating these foods regularly however is not likely to raise your levels of vitamin D to an adequate level during the autumn and winter months and therefore you should still follow the recommendation of taking a vitamin D supplement during the colder seasons.
Keeping your heart healthy
During menopause, your risk of developing heart disease increases but eating a healthy diet can help you to keep cholesterol levels and blood pressure within a healthy range to decrease this risk.
Here are a few simple swaps you can do to make your diet healthier for your heart:
Eat less saturated fat by switching to low saturate oils and spreads, lower-fat dairy, grilling rather than frying your food and cutting down on fatty meats.
Eat more meals that are based on fish, nuts, beans or pulses or swap some meat for vegetarian alternatives. You should be aiming to eat at least 2 portions of fish per week, one of which should be oily (sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout and herring).
As a general guide, you should try to consume around 4 to 5 portions of unsalted nuts, seeds and legumes per week.
Reduce your overall intake of salt (ready meals, soups, cooking sauces and salted snacks are particularly high).
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. To increase variety, eat a range of different coloured fruits and vegetables, these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
Include wholegrain and high fibre foods such as brown bread, cereals and rice, as well as pulses like lentils, beans and chickpeas.
Should I be eating plant oestrogens?
Plant oestrogens, sometimes known as phytoestrogens can be useful in helping to control some of the symptoms associated with menopause. If eaten regularly and at the right amount, they can have mild oestrogen-like effects which are particularly useful as our natural oestrogen levels decline. Some women find that consuming sufficient amounts of plant oestrogens regularly can help to relieve some menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.
If you do decide to include plant oestrogens as part of your menopausal diet it’s important to allow enough time to notice any reduction of symptoms. It could take 2-3 months to see the benefit of including plant oestrogens in your diet and research suggests that they work better for some women than others. It’s also thought that consuming smaller doses regularly throughout the day may be more effective than one larger dose.
Foods that contain plant oestrogens include:
Soya and soya products
Other changes you can make:
Hot flushes may be made worse by consuming alcohol and caffeine so try to moderate your intake of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. If you do choose to drink these, try to choose decaffeinated where possible and keep to a sensible alcohol limit (less than 2-3 units per day).
If you do wish to take nutritional supplements to support you through menopause you should seek advice from your GP, pharmacist, nutritionist or dietician, especially if you are taking medications.