By Sue Bedford MSc (Nutritional Therapy), BSc (Hons), PGCE, mBANT, CNHC.
The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline
It’s a chapter viewed very differently by different cultures. In some indigenous cultures when women cross into menopause, they often become known as “wise women” or spiritual leaders and hold a place of respect in their communities. Certainly in the West, it has had a negative connotation and often a taboo topic, consequently not spoken about openly until recently.
Things are thankfully now starting to change with more and more people opening up on the topic. Public figures like Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey are helping to pave this path too.
How we respond to the menopause will depend on how balanced our hormones are going into it
It is important to look after oneself and the time before the menopause too, known as the perimenopause, is a good time to start.
We wouldn’t go into any other important event in our lives unprepared, as we almost certainly would not perform at our best, so why be unprepared going into the menopause?
The most important thing is to understand what is happening to our bodies and promote a healthy response to these changes.
I am often asked the question ‘But, how do I know when I am going through the peri-menopause/menopause?’ Apart from experiencing some of the classic symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings, night sweats, sleep disturbances, forgetfulness (to name a few), there are a couple of hormone tests that can be carried out to get a more accurate picture of where your body is currently at. This then allows you to adapt your diet and lifestyle accordingly.
As a first step, it is important to balance blood sugar levels as an imbalance can have a direct effect on hormones
This can lead to irritability, depression and mood swings.
A useful benefit is that this will help to avoid weight gain, which can be a problem for many women when going through the menopause. You can also address the issues of weight gain by considering the type of food that you eat and the times of day at which you eat.
One recommendation is to consider the Glycaemic Load (GL) of your diet and try to eliminate refined carbohydrates wherever possible. GL is linked to the bodies’ natural metabolism where blood glucose levels increase and decrease when you consume carbohydrates, also depending on both the quantity and quality of carbohydrates consumed.
By multiplying the value of the food in terms of its Glycaemic Index (the quality of the carbohydrate), by the amount of carbohydrate a specific serving of food contains and then dividing by 100, we can calculate a value that allows us to compare the blood sugar response of different foods.
As well as fluctuating weight, the menopause can be linked to osteoporosis or weakening of the bodies’ bones, due to loss of bone density
I will discuss this aspect in more depth in the next article, but for now it is useful to consider some of the key nutrients that support transition through the menopause.
- Calcium – important for bone health and density.
- Magnesium – converts vitamin D to its active form so that calcium can be absorbed (bone health).
- Vitamin C – very important for skin health and immunity.
- Vitamin D – crucial for calcium absorption (bone health). If not enough vitamin D in the body it has implications regarding diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, fertility and musculoskeletal pain.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – the body cannot synthesise these so they need to be consumed through our diet but there is huge problem in the West with the imbalance of the ratio of omega 3:omega 6 fatty acids with many people now being deficient (more to come in another article on this). An omega 3:6 test is another test that I would recommend regarding the menopause.
- Zinc – helps to support the immune system and is also critical in the synthesis and balancing of hormones.
- B vitamins – help to improve energy levels, reduce stress and homocysteine levels (high homocysteine levels have been linked to a higher risk of hip fractures).
- Vitamin K -important for bone formation and heart health.
Our lifestyle is also a key component in shaping our ability to adapt to the changes in our body
There are three main areas where positive benefits can be gained:
- Stress reduction (where possible!)
- Good quality sleep
Suffice to say, we will be looking at these factors, including Glycaemic Load, in more depth in future articles.
If you have any queries and would like to get in touch with Sue Bedford, get in touch here