The Second Spring – Managing Peri-menopause and Menopause years with diet and lifestyle

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In China, a woman’s menopause is called the ‘second spring’. It is viewed as a positive life stage. Northern Thailand have one of the few examples of a menopause ceremony. While it is universal to celebrate births and weddings, the Meo have developed their own ritual to celebrate menopause in an older woman. It is common knowledge that women in Asian countries like China and Japan suffer less with their menopause than western women do and this is thought to be due to dietary factors, namely a high consumption of soy produce containing plant oestrogens that reduce low oestrogen symptoms. However, it may not only be diet playing a role in this striking difference, it may also be because Asian populations welcome ‘the change’.

During the menopause, our metabolic rate drops, as does our cardiovascular rate, so women must be careful to watch their blood pressure. Increasing levels of magnesium and potassium is important, as is reducing sodium, (potassium lowers blood pressure whilst sodium heightens blood pressure). Foods such as oranges, bananas, new potatoes, sweet potatoes, white beans, dates, tomatoes and raisins all help here.

Studies have found that the DASH low salt diet improved women’s moods in the menopause, whilst oily fish has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in some. Generally healthy diets are linked to better cognition and concentration.

It is also important to eat lots of B vitamins to keep energy up and stay positive mentality. Wholegrains, marmite and wholegrain cereals all contain vitamin B.

We also loose bone density as we age and especially in the menopause, so we should up our levels of calcium. Cheese, yoghurts, milk, pak choi and dark leafy greens and almonds all contain a lot of calcium.

The Mediterranean diet is recommended by dieticians as a healthy diet and it is thought that this can improve women’s moods.

What are isoflavones?

Isoflavones are part of a group of plant-based chemicals called phytoestrogens. These chemicals act like a weaker form of oestrogen in the body.

The main isoflavones in soy are genistein and daidzein. When you eat soy, bacteria in your intestines break it down into its more active forms.

Once in your body, soy isoflavones bind to the same receptors as oestrogen. Receptors are like docking stations on the surface of cells. When isoflavones bind to some receptors, they mimic the effects of oestrogen. When they bind to other receptors, they block oestrogen’s effects.

When isoflavones mimic oestrogen, they might help reduce hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.

Soy is low in saturated fat and calories. It’s also high in these beneficial nutrients:

· fibre

· protein

· omega-3 fatty acids

· antioxidants

If you’re interested in exploring soy’s potential health benefits, consider adding some of these foods to your diet:

· soy flour

· edamame

· miso soup

· tempeh

· fermented tofu

· soy milk

· soy yogurt

 

General Dietary Guidelines

1.Centre diet around plant-based whole-foods: women who follow a plant-based diet have a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Recent evidence suggests that they may also suffer fewer menopausal symptoms.

2.Think “right carbs, good fats” not “low-carb, high fat” or “no fat”: complex carbohydrates (e.g. root vegetables, beans, oats, wholegrains) and plant-based fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, avocado, good quality olive oil) are essential for good hormonal health.

3.Eat the rainbow AND the alphabet: fill your plate with a wide variety of brightly coloured fruit & veg. Aim to include at least ten different types of vegetable in your meals each week – diversity is key to a healthy gut microbiome (and good hormonal & emotional health). Leafy greens and dark-coloured berries are particularly beneficial.

4.Include a serving (or two) of beans/lentils/hummus in your daily diet – a fantastic source of fibre, protein and micronutrients. Also excellent for heart health.

5.Consider switching cow’s milk for fortified soya/oat/hemp milk (more heart-healthy)

6.Include minimally processed soya foods in your diet: e.g. edamame beans, tofu, tempeh, miso (limit to one serving daily if you have a thyroid condition) – helpful for menopausal symptoms, heart and breast health.

7.Flavour your food with all manner of herbs & spices (rich in anti-oxidants) – experiment!

8.Minimise refined/processed carbohydrates and junk food (e.g. refined sugar, white bread, baked goods, take-aways), alcohol, caffeine & animal products.

 

SLEEP

1. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night

2. Switch off electronic devices at least one hour before bed and/or consider wearing blue-light blocking glasses in the evening

3. Aim to get up at approximately the same time each day to establish a routine (this will help with hormonal balance)

4. Aim to get outside in the morning daylight (whatever the weather) for at least 20 minutes each day. If this is not possible, try and have your breakfast/morning drink close to a window/in a naturally lit area.

5. Do not drink caffeinated beverages after midday

6. Avoid alcohol before bed – not only does it reduce good-quality sleep, it is an endocrine (hormone) disrupter and can affect HRT.

EXERCISE/MOVEMENT

1. Aim to move your body daily – this is important for mental & physical well-being, as well as hormonal balance.

2. If you don’t already have an exercise regimen, start slowly – even a ten-minute walk around the block has its benefits https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/active10/home , or consider a five minute morning online yoga session e.g. https://yogawithadriene.com/5-minute-morning-yoga/

3. Weight-bearing exercise (e.g. hiking, running, dancing, weight-training, tennis) – at least twice weekly – is essential for bone health after menopause. Swimming and cycling are great forms of exercise for heart health and general well-being but will not prevent osteoporosis. 4. Consider joining your local Park Run http://www.parkrun.org.uk/ or Great Run Local https://www.greatrunlocal.org/ - great not only for exercise, but also community-building, social inclusion and gets you out into nature (which has enormous benefits for our mental health). Do not be put off if you do not run (yet!); many people walk or walk-run around the courses. Children and dogs are welcome too!

5. Balance and core-strength are increasingly important as we age and reduce the risk of falling in later life. Another reason to consider a regular yoga practice, or why not sign up to a local Pilates or tai chi class?

STRESS REDUCTION/SELF CARE

1. Stress reduction is important for all of us and is paramount during the menopausal transition

2. 5-10 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation/breathing exercises can provide enormous benefits and lower the stress response: Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer are all meditation apps you can trial for free.

3. Take at least 15 minutes a day, every day, to do something you enjoy (and just for you) e.g. reading a novel, playing an instrument, having a candle-lit bath, listening to your favourite music/podcast.

4. BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Suggested reading:

· The Stress Solution: Dr Rangan Chatterjee

· A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled: Ruby Wax

Cook books:

 

· The Doctors Kitchen

· Deliciously Ella

· Hemsley & Hemsley

· Healthy Eating for the Menopause – Marilyn Glenville

 

Websites:

https://theguthealthdoctor.com https://www.devongutclinic.com/healthy https://courses.thehappypear.ie/

What other things work:

 

· Acupuncture – to help reduce sweats and balance mood as well as helping with overactive bladder

· Valerian Herbal tea & Camomile tea – calming and great before bed

· Lavender oil – to relax you at night, put a few drops on your pillow

· Chillow – cooling pillow