Are you enjoying the menopause? This may seem like a ridiculous question, especially if you are one of the 80% of women who experience symptoms that have turned your life upside down.
Instead, have you lost your confidence and feel like you are out of control of your own body? If so, then please read on! I wrote this article with you in mind and offer insights below on how to finally start changing the way you feel for the better.
The menopause can be difficult, and our bodies go through changes that can affect us in profound ways. Dealing with this natural progression is not made any easier by living in a society that seems to value eternal youth and unrealistic beauty expectations above anything else.
So what’s to celebrate?
You are definitely not alone in feeling like this, even though it may seem like it. Unfortunately, the menopause is rarely discussed or openly acknowledged, an attitude that I hope will change in the near future. Shrouding the menopause in mystery is what has contributed to it becoming widely misunderstood and mismanaged in the first place.
At my London-based nutrition clinic, I specialise in hormone support, providing a safe space for women to openly discuss their symptoms and concerns. My clients are women experiencing side effects of hormonal change that you would no doubt be able to relate to. But the good news is that the natural methods they have learnt to integrate into their lives have helped to minimise and eliminate their symptoms for good. Even better, they are ones that you can learn about and start implementing too!
But do natural methods really work?
Yes! The problem is that nutrition is a complex subject, and the mixed messages we receive on what is healthy and what isn’t can ironically stand in the way of us developing a true understanding of food. But what cannot be disputed is that it is more vital than ever during the menopause to gain a proper understanding on the importance of nourishing your body and how everything you eat affects your hormones in different ways.
The menopause may currently be impacting your life in negative ways, but there is simply no reason at all why you cannot continue to enjoy your life as normal, or even more so than ever! This can be done by learning how to put your body first for a change, and helping it to defend itself from the side effects of hormonal change. And what better place to start than at the most fundamental level – what we eat on a daily basis? So let’s talk food…my favourite subject!
BUT FIRST…WHAT EXACTLY IS THE MENOPAUSE?
The menopause is currently being experienced by around 13 million women in the UK and refers to when hormone levels and fertility naturally start to decline around the ages of 45-55. Reduced oestrogen production from the ovaries is the predominant cause of unpleasant side effects. And whilst oestrogen is mainly thought of as a sex hormone, it actually has powerful and far-reaching effects on many different systems of the body. An example is its role in maintaining bone density, hence the increased risk of osteoporosis in menopausal women.
Other common symptoms include:
+ Anxiety, depression and mood swings + Fatigue, headaches and lack of energy
+ Dry skin and thinning hair + Heart palpitations and cardiovascular issues
+ Weight fluctuations and joint pain + Hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia
+ Lowered libido and vaginal dryness + Digestive discomfort and bloating
Symptoms vary from woman to woman, but what remains consistent is the body’s higher demand for vital nutrients and dietary support during this important life stage. Prioritising your diet and nourishing your body as much as possible will not only alleviate more immediate side effects, but will also help to prevent serious health issues that are more prevalent during the menopause and beyond.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY
GPs can prescribe HRT to women suffering with severe ongoing symptoms, which provides temporary relief from oestrogen withdrawal by restoring levels with a synthetic substitute.
Taking artificial hormones is something many women are used to already in the form of the contraceptive pill. And experiencing hormonal fluctuation isn’t new to us either, from puberty, the monthly menstrual cycle and pregnancy too. However, the menopause is the only one of these that has a medication designed to combat it. This has, in many ways, contributed to creating a negative impression of the menopause being more like an illness, as opposed to a natural time in our lives requiring a bit of extra support.
A number of concerns have been raised about HRT, which is understandable considering that the full implications into the biological effects of oestrogen replacement have yet to be realised. As with most medications, HRT is not addressing the underlying issue of what has contributed to the severe reaction to hormonal change in the first place. Therefore, if you are currently taking HRT, it makes perfect sense to start incorporating its use alongside a nutritious and supportive diet as soon as possible.
The NHS encourages menopausal women to make positive dietary and lifestyle changes for symptom relief before considering the use of any drugs, and I am happy to see in my clinic that more and more women are indeed seeking out natural alternatives which not only are they more fully in control of, but which will ultimately benefit their long-term health too.
Natural protocols for symptom relief work, simply because everything we eat and drink and the lifestyles we lead have such an impact on our vastly complex system of hormones.
But where to start?
RELIEVING SYMPTOMS THE NATURAL WAY
Relieving symptoms naturally is based upon the core principle of putting your body in a position to adjust as smoothly as possible to upcoming hormonal changes. Because why not choose to breeze through it in the most enjoyable way possible and eating the best foods you can, instead of placing the inevitable oestrogen dip ‘on hold’ and becoming reliant upon medication alone?
So how can I boost my oestrogen levels naturally?
In a variety of ways! I design personalised nutrition plans that focus on foods and supplements to naturally support your oestrogen balance. Oestrogen production in the ovaries decreases during this time of our lives as we discussed, but what about the adrenal glands and fatty tissues? There is still oestrogenic activity going on here, and it’s these areas that often require additional attention and support in order to promote a healthier hormone balance.
One of my menopausal clients came to see me when she felt like she could no longer manage her ongoing feelings of depression, constant hot flushes and chronic joint pain by herself. She hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in over a year without relying on sleeping pills. She had previously tried to implement her own measures based on what her friends had tried or read about, such as avoiding foods high in fat, eating lots of fruit, making smoothies and doing regular exercise in the evenings after work to burn up some calories.
However, instead of feeling better, she was feeling worse than ever. Her main question was how could her current efforts to be healthy not be working when they seemed to be working for everyone else? My question is – does my client’s lifestyle and diet sound healthy to you? You may be surprised.
After discussing how my client’s current lifestyle and diet were placing additional strain on her hormone production, it all started to fit back into place. We focused on adding high-density nutrients back in, with no restrictive calorie-counting in sight. Small steps made a big impact and my client has now been enjoying six months of improved sleep, reduced symptoms and a much happier mood. Once the body is naturally supported, unpleasant symptoms become a distant memory.
Help! What shall I eat to reduce my symptoms?
To answer this question, you’ve come to the right place! Whilst nutritional requirements ultimately depend upon individual circumstances, there are some key dietary guidelines you can implement today to help you on your way to feeling fantastic again.
FAT IS YOUR FRIEND
Many of my clients are initially surprised when I encourage them to eat more fat. You’re certainly not in the minority if you consider ‘low-fat’ as the healthier option. Fat is higher in calories after all. But what’s wrong with that? Health is about so much more than calories. And at this time in your life, you need to prioritise healthy fats more than ever before. All of our hormones are made from cholesterol, and restricting fat intake in the long run will be make it much harder for your body to produce the levels of hormones it needs to function optimally and for you to feel your best.
Is a bowl of Special K with skimmed milk your typical breakfast? Or is lunch a salad with cottage cheese and crackers? These may seem like the virtuous low-calorie food options, but they definitely aren’t going to be doing you any favours when it comes to symptom relief.
But doesn’t fat make you fat?
This is a complicated subject, but the short answer is – no! Don’t fear fat. I discuss this subject in more detail in my last blog post here.
I advise my clients on the best types of fats to focus on and the ones to avoid. Great sources are found in oily fish, grass-fed meat, nuts, seeds, organic eggs, coconut oil, olives and avocados. Stock up! If you want an excuse to have eggs and bacon for breakfast, then now you’ve found it. 🙂 Visit my Instagram page for lots of meal ideas rich in healthy fats.
I QUIT SUGAR
Many popular health trends these days advocate quitting sugar for good. Whilst this may seem a bit extreme, there is good reason to reconsider your intake of the sweet stuff, especially when suffering from hormone-related side effects of the menopause. This is because sugar raises levels of our hormone insulin, which then interacts and disrupts the mechanism of various other hormones – including oestrogen.
The problem is that most people love sugar! It tastes great and gives us a quick boost of energy, after all. It’s also highly addictive. But when it comes to managing your symptoms, putting your body through a hormonal roller coaster every time you fancy a snack is only going to make matters worse. Constant highs and crashes in energy are also going to exacerbate tiredness and mood swings.
I advise my clients on the most effective ways to reduce overall sugar intake and how to avoid the hidden ones, with delicious recipes that make the challenge just that little bit easier. Two recommended natural sweeteners that can easily be incorporated into traditional recipes instead of sugar are stevia leaf and xylitol.
PERHAPS AN OBVIOUS ONE…BUT EAT YOUR VEGETABLES
But not just any vegetables! Certain types contain powerful compounds involved in oestrogen metabolism and detoxification. Focus on high-sulphur options such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, garlic, onions and leeks.
If the thought of eating these every day doesn’t sound much fun to you, how about melting some butter on top?* (*see previous section – Fat is your Friend) 🙂
PLANTS HAVE OESTROGEN TOO
Plants are great – not only do they provide us with nutrients, fibre, antioxidants….but some of them contain oestrogen too! This is perfect, because phytoestrogens, as they are known, are able to stimulate our own oestrogen receptors into additional activity. They can be found in flaxseeds, soybeans, nuts, wholegrains, apples, fennel, celery, parsley and alfalfa.
HYDRATE WITH HERBAL TEA
Many of my clients find that the metabolic effects of coffee and other caffeinated beverages aggravates their hot flushes. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a cuppa! Green tea is rich in antioxidants, with a fraction of the caffeine content. Or try caffeine-free options such as liquorice or camomile tea, found to reduce hot flushes and encourage restful sleep respectively.
THE INCONVENIENCE TRUTH ABOUT CONVENIENCE FOODS
The temptation to order takeaway at the weekend, pick up a ready meal from M&S on the way home or indulge in some chocolate biscuits in front of the telly can be strong…they’re usually on special offer…buy one get one free…not to mention that they taste comforting and fit in so perfectly with our busy lifestyles when we’re too tired to cook.
But these easy little treats can quickly become a more frequent habit. Then problems start occurring as we unwittingly consume high levels of artificial trans-fats, refined flavourings and cheap inflammatory vegetable oils typically found in these products. These ingredients perfectly preserve our foods until we are ready to purchase them, but ultimately they also leave us more vulnerable to chronic health complaints and further unwanted hormonal disruption.
It may seem unfair that the naughty foods we ate when we were younger didn’t seem to impact us then – so why now? The truth is that our dietary habits soon catch up with us as we hit middle age and beyond. It therefore makes sense to start taking a little bit of extra care and attention over your diet during this time when your body starts giving you the warning signs that it needs some help.
But if the thought of digging out a recipe book or trying something new seems daunting…don’t worry! You needn’t cook anything too elaborate – simply focusing on fresh, whole ingredients is the most important part. It really is surprising how quickly things start to improve with the right nourishment – I give lots of additional helpful tips on my Facebook page here.
It’s no coincidence that stress is implicated as a causative factor in many chronic health conditions. It has a huge impact on our hormones too. Our stress and sex hormones are made from the same basic components, so if your body is too busy creating lots of stress hormones just to help you get through the working day, it will inevitably have less opportunity to make those all-important sex hormones needed to alleviate your symptoms. I know it is easier said than done, but keeping your stress levels down and not letting the little things get to you so often will really make a big difference.
THE ART OF EXERCISE
Do you think that having to relentlessly pound the treadmill for hours is the only way to make a noticeable difference with exercise? This couldn’t be further from the truth! The best exercise is simply the one that you will enjoy the most and feel confident about implementing into your regular routine. During the menopause, it is especially important to focus on weight-bearing activity to improve bone density and muscle tone, which both steadily start to decline as we age. I recommend consulting with a Personal Trainer, who will show you the best types of exercises for your body and age range in a safe and effective way. Need some extra incentive? Exercise also releases endorphins, linked with positive mood, increased libido and improved sleep.
Following a nutrient-dense diet is the priority here, but supplementation is often helpful in correcting underlying imbalances or deficiencies that may be contributing to symptoms. Unfortunately, the nutrient quality of our modern diet is compromised in so many ways, from farming conditions and increasing use of hormones and pesticides, to food storage and even cooking methods.
‘Test, don’t guess!’
There are a number of key vitamins and minerals that play an important role in menopausal health, which I discuss briefly below. You will get the best results from working alongside a Nutritional Therapist before embarking on a supplement regime of your own, who can arrange for your levels of vitamins and minerals to be tested beforehand. So many people waste money on unnecessary supplements that could potentially be doing more harm than good! In the meantime, focus on obtaining your nutrients through food sources where possible.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant usually associated with immune system health. Many people assume that they have enough vitamin C in their diet if they regularly eat fruit, but this tends to be misguided. Especially during the menopause, requirements are much higher due to vitamin C’s important role in collagen synthesis. Collagen is essential for bone health and skin elasticity – two areas that are particularly vulnerable as we age. Studies have also shown that vitamin C is helpful in reducing hot flushes. So top up on rich sources such as dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, red peppers, tomatoes, berries and citrus fruits.
B-vitamins support adrenal gland function and their ability to promote sustained oestrogen production during the menopause. They are also vital for improved mood, energy levels and brain function. They can be found at varying levels in meat, eggs, dairy and whole grains.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that must be obtained from the diet. The problem is that it is predominantly found in oily fish, a food not many people like to eat it on a regular basis! Ideally we should be eating sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon or herring at least three times a week to get the most out of its potent anti-inflammatory benefits. These include promoting brain and joint health, healthy skin and hair, improving our mood and increasing our energy levels.
This particular mineral is notoriously difficult to obtain in optimal amounts from the diet alone – that is, unless you are eating large amounts of dark, green leafy vegetables on a daily basis. You can also top up your levels by including avocado in your salad and snacking on pumpkin seeds and almonds. Magnesium plays a role in improving bone health, as well as reducing other symptoms associated with the menopause such as depression, anxiety, fatigue and insomnia.
Vitamin D is different from the other vitamins – it’s a hormone building block synthesised by our skin when we are exposed to sunlight. Its hormonal activity plays a key role in regulating levels of calcium, absolutely essential for menopausal women who are concerned about the risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to loss of bone density, impaired immunity, joint pain, lack of energy and low mood. GPs now offer free Vitamin D blood testing in priority cases, since onset of deficiency is so prevalent these days. I also offer private testing at my Marylebone clinic.
You can improve your vitamin D levels with responsible levels of sun exposure – small amounts are also present in foods such as fish, eggs and mushrooms.
THE MENOPAUSE SOLUTION
1 MONTH NUTRITION & EXERCISE PROGRAMME
Does the thought of making changes to your diet and lifestyle seem like a daunting prospect, on top of everything else you currently have to deal with? You are not alone. There is so much confusion on what constitutes a healthy diet these days! If you are tired of endlessly searching the internet and chat forums for answers on how to manage your menopausal symptoms, then don’t’ waste anymore of your precious time – you have found the perfect programme for you:
I have collaborated with London-based Personal Trainer, Cassie from Forever Fit, to provide my clients with an all-inclusive one-month programme. It covers both bespoke nutrition and exercise guidelines to provide you with the most comprehensive support available.
Why did we start this collaboration? Because both Cassie and I know how difficult it is to incorporate new habits into your life without having the necessary support in place. We’ve all started the week with the best intentions, only to give up by Wednesday. Now is the perfect time to change that and start make lasting changes.
This isn’t a quick fix or a fad diet. Instead it’s a fantastic opportunity to work with two experienced professionals to get the long-term solution you have been looking for.
We both firmly believe that the menopause should be treated as a positive new chapter and the perfect time to reassess your health and prioritise yourself again. What do you think?
Call me today on 07713 724 006 for an informal chat or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about whether our programme could benefit you.
I would love to hear more about your experiences of the menopause so far. What symptoms are you finding the most challenging? What measures have helped with your symptoms so far? Do you find it difficult to speak openly about your symptoms with friends or family? Leave me a comment below to join the discussion on this important topic.
Know any like-minded women who you think may benefit from this article? Please share via email or on your social media!
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Womens’ Health Concern. (2015). HRT: Benefits and risks – what you should know. Available: https://www.womens-health-concern.org/help-and-advice/factsheets/hrt-know-benefits-risks/. Last accessed 3rd August 2017.