Nutrition and lifestyle techniques to manage symptoms commonly experienced around the menopause
The period around menopause (Perimenopause) is a period of significant hormonal changes especially our primary sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
It is a natural part of female ageing and will start at different ages for women but usually occurs between 45 and 55 years old.
These changes and fluctuations in hormone levels at this time are linked with a number of symptoms which if not managed can leave women feeling like they are on a rollercoaster that they definitely want to jump off!
In addition whilst these symptoms will subside for the majority of women between 2 -5 years on average after periods have stopped, some symptoms have been known to continue for many years afterwards.
Symptoms associated with the menopause
Monthly cycles ie periods become very erratic and unpredictable due to our fluctuating hormone levels of our key sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and this is what gives rise to the noticeable changes and symptoms that clients present with including:
- Hot flushes
- Joint pain
- Anxiety / low mood
- Weight gain especially around the middle
- Vaginal dryness
- Brain Fog
- Poor sleep
For most women the decline in our sex hormones up to menopause is gradual but a more rapid or early menopause may occur as a result of previous/current health, for example diabetes, smoking, and auto immune conditions can trigger an earlier menopause.
However if there is no family history or obvious health marker which would explain signs of early menopause, further investigation is merited as there may be other underlying causes which need to be addressed such as overactive (hyperthyroid) or hyperprolactin (elevated prolactin levels), both of which cause many of the same perimenopausal symptoms listed above.
What can we do to mitigate the symptoms?
Well it stands to reason that if we focus on our health in our early 40s in terms of eating an optimal diet, regular exercise, together with good sleep and stress management we are likely to have a “better” experience of perimenopause as we will be much better placed hormonally for what is about to happen.
However for a lot of women this has either not been on their agenda and / or it is an incredibly busy life phase which includes managing careers, children, ageing parents etc.
A lot of women will therefore enter into their perimenopause unprepared, hoping for the best experience, fearing the worst and looking for help in easing the transition.
There are a number of areas we can look at which can help provide relief from symptoms including:
Phytoestrogens which are compounds mainly found in plant foods can help at menopause particularly with hot flushes and include linseeds, sesame seeds, oats, beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, soy beans, pith of citrus fruits so include these in your daily diet.
Getting more sleep can be challenging (especially for women who struggle night sweats) but sleep supports progesterone production and this is a precursor to GABA an inhibitory neurotransmitter which helps reduce anxiety, improve mood and feelings of calm. So actively focusing on your sleep hygiene, making small changes in this area such as a sleep mask, cold & dark bedroom, air purifier, avoiding late night phone scrolling etc can be very beneficial.
If your exercise routine includes mainly cardio and interval training at perimenopause this is the time to switch to more strength and resistance training (weights) in order to promote muscle and lean tissue. Strength and resistance training will help us build muscle strength which helps promote fat burning which declines at perimenopause due to lowering oestrogen levels.
Restorative exercise should also be included in your weekly exercise schedule such as Yoga, Pilates, stretching, inversions and or breath work to support our brain neurotransmitters and feelings of calm.
Indeed, any movement will support hormone balance at this time (as hormones are messengers that travel through the blood stream) so any of the above but also massage, acupuncture, lymphatic or chiropractic will help promote and restore hormone balance.
Gut health and hormone balance are inextricably linked (the gut brain axis) so improving your gut health can be key to levelling out those fluctuating hormone levels especially in regard to mood changes we experience around the menopause.
The Vagus nerve runs from our gut to our brain and is constantly sending signals from our digestive system to our brain. Eating a variety of colourful vegetables and fruit, and focussing on prebiotic foods (Leeks, onions, garlic, oats, rye, beans, lentils, chickpeas, bananas, asparagus, sweet potato, chicory) and probiotic foods (Yoghurt, kefir, miso, organic tofu, fermented cabbage, olives) can be a key step at this time.
Scheduling time for yourself in your day to ensure a bit of “me time” may come unnaturally to a lot of women but by doing so and giving your body a chance to step off the “ rollercoaster” can be enormously beneficial to you (and those around you!).
This may take some practise but by including time for laughter, reading a book, talking to girlfriends, taking a walk, a luxurious bath with the door closed and setting boundaries with your family may help you transition through the perimenopause more easily.
Googling “Supplements for the menopause” will bring up a vast array of supplements promising to rid you of your symptoms!
There are a number which can prove very beneficial but my advice is to focus on the above 5 key areas first and to seek professional advice for a tailored supplementation programme which addresses your individual symptoms as these can vary widely depending on your individual health status.
Is there anything more that can be done if your symptoms continue to rage such as your body thermostat continuing to have its own agenda or your mood swings seriously impacting your ability to function?
Yes! There are a number of excellent Functional tests which can provide a greater insight into hormonal imbalances at this critical time of change and allow for individual and targeted programmes to help you manage your transition through the menopause and beyond.
Typically these are urine and saliva tests which have the benefit of being able to be completed at home and provide a wealth of information and actionable steps that will more quickly enable you to get back on with your life!
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