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Menopause: 5 Strategies To Ease Your Symptoms

Menopause occurs when the ovaries - the female glands in which eggs form - stop producing estrogen. Estrogen is a hormone that plays a role in sexual and reproductive development, in addition to other functions. As the name suggests: your MENstrual cycle PAUSEs - for good. It’s not a disease to be treated, but rather a normal stage of life. Menopause “officially” starts 12 months after your last period. That happens, on average, around the age of 51.


Hormonal changes related to menopause not only may result in many uncomfortable symptoms, but they also increase some health risks after menopause, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. In order to reduce the health risks and symptoms, it is crucial to adapt your eating habits and lifestyle to the changes that are happening in your body. A few simple changes can make a significant difference!


These changes don't happen overnight, though. There are usually a few years of the menopausal transition, called “perimenopause.” Perimenopause often starts in the early- to mid-40s (sometimes even sooner!). This is when you may start feeling symptoms like:

  • Menstrual cycle changes (cycle length, cycle frequency, and/or blood flow)

  • Hot flashes and night sweats

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Urinary tract changes

  • Weight gain, especially around the midsection

  • Changes in mood

Once perimenopause finishes and menopause officially begins, your risks for heart disease and osteoporosis rise. Why does this even happen? Some of the reasons behind include your changing hormones, metabolism, stress levels, and lifestyle.


Heart disease

Estrogen helps protect against heart-related conditions such as stroke and heart attacks. As the female body produces less estrogen, the risk for heart disease increases. In addition, at this time in a woman’s life, the risks for other conditions that affect heart health such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a sedentary lifestyle are more common.


Osteoporosis

While both men and women lose bone mass throughout the aging process, bone loss in women accelerates in the 4 to 8 years after menopause due to the body’s decreased production of estrogen. As bone loss occurs, the risk for osteoporosis increases.


However, menopause doesn't have to feel excruciating and there are proven nutrition and lifestyle strategies that can reduce health risks as well as uncomfortable symptoms significantly.


 

5 Strategies to feel great during Menopause



# 1 - Drink enough fluids

Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, or bladder infections may be improved by proper hydration. Try drinking at least 2-3 L a day (or 8-10 glasses) and choose unsweetened beverages, such as water or herbal tea. Water-rich fruits and vegetables can also help with hydration, good sources are cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, bell pepper, zucchini, watermelon, berries, pineapple, orange, and pears.


# 2 - Avoid alcohol

Drinking excessive alcohol over a long period of time may aggravate hot flashes, disturb sleep, and worsen health conditions (including osteoporosis, high blood pressure, stroke, ulcers, memory loss, and mood disorders). Plus, it has nutrient-free calories that can contribute to weight gain. Try limiting your drinks or avoid them completely.


# 3 - Limit or avoid spicy foods, caffeine and sugar

Spicy foods and caffeine-containing drinks and foods may aggravate hot flashes in some women. Instead of using heat-containing ingredients, flavour food with herbs, sweet spices, alliums, mild peppers, and citrus juice. To cut back on caffeine, focus on getting proper sleep, taper off caffeine consumption gradually, and choose decaffeinated coffee and herbal tea.


Cutting down on sugar may be especially challenging for anyone. However, it is worth considering it: a recent study showed that menopausal women who ate more sweets, fats, and snacks suffered from menopausal symptoms more than those who ate more fruits and vegetables. We’re talking hot flashes, night sweats, muscle and joint problems, and bladder issues were all worse for the dessert-lovers.


I have published an article on how to reduce sweet cravings with plenty of ideas for healthy replacements you can read through here.


# 4 - Manage weight gain

Did you know that at 50 years old you need about 200 fewer calories per day than you did during your 30s and 40s? That’s assuming you were a healthy weight and you want to maintain a healthy weight as you get older.


This means that by continuing to eat the same amount of food as you did in your 30s and 40s, you’ll start gaining weight. Weight gain is a common symptom of perimenopause and menopause.


If weight loss or maintenance is your goal, the following strategies support weight management:

  • Avoid restrictive diets, cleanses, or extreme exercise plans.

  • Choose meals and snacks with a balance of macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates).

  • Protein helps contribute to fullness in-between meals.

  • Focus on an eating pattern with nutrient-dense wholefoods.

  • Fibre in plant foods helps contribute to fullness in between meals.

  • Avoid ultra-processed foods that contain excess calories from saturated fat, added sugar, etc.

  • Practice regular physical activity that includes strength training.

  • Avoid or limit alcohol.

  • Get adequate sleep (7-9 hours).

  • Engage in stress management techniques (e.g. mindfulness, yoga, meditation)

Managing your weight during menopause can be very challenging as your body goes through many changes and you always need to make sure that you get enough from the most important nutrients (and this is where a nutritionist can really help you establish the right strategies for you).


# 5 - Focus on quality over quantity

Eating less food doesn’t mean you need less nutrition, though. That’s why it’s really important to eat quality foods with a lot of nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods are foods with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytochemicals. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and lean proteins such as fish and poultry. Eating more nutrient-dense foods supports overall health during perimenopause and menopause - a recent study showed that menopausal women who ate the most greens had the fewest complaints about typical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.


How to eat more nutrient-dense foods:

  • Plan meals in advance. Planning out nutrient-dense meals allows you to be more successful in serving them.

  • Consider healthy convenience foods such as bagged leafy greens, canned beans, and frozen berries.

  • Add plant foods (e.g. spinach, kale) to mixed dishes such as stir-fries, whole grain pasta dishes, and smoothies.

  • Boost flavour with other ingredients and methods of preparation. Season foods with herbs, spices, citrus, and alliums for delicious meals. Experiment with different cooking methods such as steaming, roasting, and braising for a diversity of flavors.

 

Key nutrients for Menopause


Unsaturated fats

Also known as heart-healthy fats, eating rich in unsaturated fats - as opposed to saturated fats- is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Best sources are: olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines).


Calcium

Calcium is a mineral that the body uses to build and maintain bone health, in addition to other functions. Calcium is found in dairy products, canned fish with bones, dark green leafy vegetables, tofu made with calcium sulfate, and fortified beverages.



Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone health because it helps the body absorb calcium. Our body can make vitamin D from sun exposure, and there are also some food sources of vitamin D, including fortified milk (dairy and some non-dairy products), fortified cereals, egg yolks, and fatty fish.


 

Bottom Line


On average, the transition into menopause is about 7 years, but can be as long as 14 years. Living through an extensive period of change is difficult for many women. While hormonal changes are inevitable, we can take control of our lifestyle habits and support our overall health with the right strategies.


If you suffer from menopausal symptoms and need some guidance on how to manage it better, book an appointment with me and let's discuss how I can help you!










 

Sources & Further Reading


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2018, December). The Menopause Years. Retrieved from


Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle Women’s Health (2016, April 21). Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread. Retrieved from


Medscape. (2018, July 27). Weight Effects of Plant-Estrogens May Vary After Menopause. Retrieved from


Medscape. (2018, March 19). Mediterranean Diet May Help Protect Bones in Postmenopausal Women. Retrieved from


Medscape. (2018, November 6). Diet Rich in Fruits and Vegetables Tied to Fewer Menopause Symptoms. Retrieved from


Medscape. (2017, October 10). Docs Call Attention to Women Piling on Pounds in Midlife. Retrieved from


Medscape. (2017, June 8). Heavy Drinking Increases Postmenopausal Sarcopenia Risk. Retrieved from


NIH National Institute on Aging. (n.d.). Menopause: Tips for a Healthy Transition. Retrieved from


NIH National Institute on Aging. (2017, June 27). What is menopause? Retrieved from


NIH National Institute on Aging. (2017, June 16). What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Menopause? Retrieved from


NIH National Institute on Aging. (2017, June 26). Hot Flashes: What Can I Do? Retrieved from


NIH National Institute on Aging. (2017, May 13). Sleep Problems and Menopause: What Can I Do? Retrieved from


NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2017, March). Treatment for Bladder Infection (Urinary Tract Infection—UTI) in Adults. Retrieved from


NIH National Institute on Aging. (2017, May 16). Facts About Aging and Alcohol. Retrieved from


NIH National Institute on Aging. (2019, April 29). Choosing Healthy Meals As You Get Older. Retrieved from


NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Clinical Digest. (2016, February). Menopausal Symptoms and Complementary Health Practices:

What the Science Says. Retrieved from



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