By Mary Purdy, MS, RDN
(The original version of this article was published on the Arivale Website)
Menopause just around the corner? You’re in good company. Approximately 6,000 women or those assigned female at birth (“AFAB”) around the age of 51 reach menopause every day in the US, and of those, 85 percent experience menopausal symptoms1. That means in a room of 10 menopausal individuals, eight (and a half!) may be contending with:
- Concentration and memory issues
- Mood shifts and depression
- Joint pain
- Night sweats and hot flashes
- Sleep disruption
- Heart palpitations
- Hair loss
- Weight gain
- Decreased libido
“But I’m only 47!” you say. Perimenopause, which means “around menopause,” can occur up to five years prior to menopause and may also bring along with it the beginnings of the above-mentioned symptoms as hormones begin to fluctuate.
Menopause and your health
Aside from the discomfort of feeling a little extra heated, moody, foggy, and achy–and the often-unsettling sexual changes, digestive issues, and disruptions in sleep–what impact does this natural life transition have on our health? Well, estrogen plays a pretty vital role in women’s/AFAB’s health. In addition to its role in reproductive function, estrogen:
- Supports cardiovascular health
- Helps maintain bone mineralization
- Plays a role in cognitive function
- Supports collagen production and skin health, as well as vaginal tone and lubrication
As an individual approaches menopause, their estrogen decreases. As a result, they may be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease2,3,4 and osteoporosis5.
So, what’s a dame in this stage of life to do? First, don’t panic! Secondly, don’t isolate yourself. For many, this is a time of life where women feel forgotten and hushed into silence around this experience. The more we can begin to discuss and embrace it as a part of the life journey, the more likely it is that it will be a less challenging time. It can also be freeing to let go of the idea that contrary to popular opinion, menopause is less like a disease that needs to be treated and more like a natural and normal rite of passage.
Changing your perspective
Menopause doesn’t have to be a distressing affair. There’s a lot that can be done around diet and lifestyle that may help to prevent potential accompanying issues as well as mitigate current symptoms.
You can start off by doing an inventory of your current habits and patterns. High stress, poor sleep, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and excessive intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar are all factors that may worsen menopausal symptoms. So are carrying metabolically unhealthy excess weight and having chronic health conditions. Overall poor and inconsistent dietary patterns can also add to the severity of symptoms6,7,8,9,10.
Luckily, all the above are modifiable. Getting personalized guidance from a healthcare provider and beginning to make some shifts may make the difference between “ugh” and “OK!” And while nothing can replace a systems biology approach to menopause, (a comprehensive and holistic look at numerous diet and lifestyle factors) here are six simple steps you can take right now to get you started:
Find ways to move your body, whether it’s formal exercise at a gym class, a walk in the park, a dance party in your kitchen, or intermittent bouts of “deskercise.” This can help in a myriad of ways, from promoting mood and sleep to supporting weight loss and an overall increased sense of joy in being in one’s body.
Experiment with reducing your current alcohol and caffeine intake. Some women find this can make a big difference, but others may not see a shift in symptoms.
Increase your fiber intake (beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables) to improve elimination and liver detoxification and support your heart health.
Switch up that wardrobe. This suggestion is two-fold. For the purposes of hot flashes and night sweats, dress in layers and wear loose-fitting clothes. This gives you flexibility and allows for a bit of relieving air flow. Additionally, if you’re finding yourself less comfortable in your body and tight clothes are exacerbating the situation, it might be time to purchase some new outfits that allow you to feel your best. If finances are an issue, thrift stores, consignment shops, and good ol’ Goodwill can be amazing places to find clothing treasures.
Try adding more sources of “phyto-estrogens” to your diet, which may act like weak estrogens and have been shown to reduce menopausal symptoms for some women11. These include foods like flaxseed and soybeans in products like tofu and tempeh.
Make time for yourself. Are you the last on your list? See if you can find ways to engage in activities that you love, spend time with friends who can support you, and work on stress management. Identify what brings you joy, and do more of it!
Menopause doesn’t have to be a hardship. Think of it as your body’s personal era where you slow down, take stock, get to know the latest version of yourself and find easy and realistic ways to help your body feel its best.
- AG Nardone. Managing Menopause, Part 1: Vasomotor Symptoms. May 23, 2014. ObGyn.net.
- Perimenopause. Oct. 21, 2016. MayoClinic.org.
- W Merrell. Are Hot Flashes A Sign of Heart Trouble? Feb. 19, 2010. PsychologyToday.com.
- Salmoirago-Blotcher E, Crawford S, Jackson E, Ockene J, Ockene I. (2011). Constipation and risk of cardiovascular disease among postmenopausal women. American Journal of Medicine, 2011 Aug;124(8):714-23. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2011.03.026.
- Menopause & Osteoporosis. July 29, 2015. ClevelandClinic.org.
- Borrelli F, Ernst E. (2010). Alternative and complementary therapies for the menopause. Maturitas, 2010 Aug;66(4):333-43. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2010.05.010.
- Bromberger JT, Kravitz HM. (2011). Mood and Menopause: Findings from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) over ten years. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 38(3), 609–625. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ogc.2011.05.011.
- Dormire S, Howharn C. The Effect of Dietary Intake on Hot Flashes in Menopausal Women. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 2007;36(3):255-262. doi:10.1111/j.1552-6909.2007.00142.x.
- Doshi SB, Agarwal A. (2013). The role of oxidative stress in menopause. Journal of Mid-Life Health, 4(3), 140–146. http://doi.org/10.4103/0976-7800.118990.
- J Miquel, A Ramírez-Boscá, JV Ramírez-Bosca, J Diaz Alperi. (2006). Menopause: A review on the role of oxygen stress and favorable effects of dietary antioxidants. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, Volume 42, Issue 3, May–June 2006, Pages 289-306.
- Soy Isoflavones. Linus Pauling Institute. OregonStateUniversity.edu.