The menopause is a natural and normal life stage that happens for every woman when her menstrual cycles come to an end. Characterised by changing levels of the female hormone oestrogen, it can trigger huge changes in the body, including hot flushes, vaginal dryness, sleep disturbances and mood swings. Before a woman enters the menopause itself, the transition stage is known as perimenopause, essentially the time when the body is preparing for the end of the reproductive years. As with the menopause itself, perimenopause can happen at different ages and can present itself with different symptoms. Although it’s an individual thing, one way to manage those symptoms, and ease the transition, is through your diet. We sat down with naturopathic nutrition specialist Jessica Shand to find out more.
Does your diet need to differ if you’re perimenopausal vs going through the menopause?
As with most things, prevention is better than cure, so it’s a good idea to start any dietary changes during perimenopause to give yourself the best chance to adapt and deal with further changes you might experience during the transition itself. “Establishing these healthy habits during perimenopause is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Instead of fearing this new chapter in your life lean into it and work with your body, not against it,” advises Jessica. “This mindset will really help cement these new habits into your lifestyle and will help you to feel balanced and energised at a time when you need it most.”
What foods reduce menopausal symptoms?
Although symptoms are different for every woman, there are changes you can make in your diet that will help alleviate the issues. Key above all is to make sure you’re eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, healthy fats, quality protein and fibre. In other words, the foundations of a healthy, balanced diet. “These foods will not only provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to function optionally but will also help to regulate blood sugar levels and promote hormone equilibrium as much as possible as hormones become out of whack,” says Jessica. “Maintaining a stable blood sugar level can be highly beneficial as it prevents dips in energy linked to sugar cravings, low mood, loss of concentration, low energy and generally fatigued all of which are counterproductive when it comes to supporting your body during the menopause.”
One important food group not to overlook is phytoestrogens. Otherwise known as plant oestrogens, they act as weak oestrogens in the body and can help compensate for the declining levels experienced during menopause. “Foods that naturally contain phytoestrogens include soybeans, tofu, tempeh, miso, flax seeds, chickpeas, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and green beans,” says Jessica. You can also support the skin with topical application of phytoestrogens. Venn Effect’s Anti-Ageing Intensive Moisturiser contains molecules which mimic the effects of oestrogen and can replenish lost elasticity in the skin.
What’s the best way to incorporate these healthy eating habits?
“Food should always come first, and supplements should never replace real food in terms of getting the essential vitamins and minerals in our diets, however due to lower nutrient levels in the soil that our vegetables are grown in and intense farming techniques, (as well as stress, medication, antibiotic use and environmental pollutants, supplements help bridge the gap when it comes to subtle nutrient imbalances,” says Jessica.
To ease your way into any dietary changes and best support your body, combining a healthy diet with supplements such as Manifesto vitamin gummies is a great option. As well as being loaded with powerhouse ingredients to counteract the effects of menopausal symptoms, Manifesto gummies are specially formulated to support immunity and promote healthy and strong hair, skin and nails, all areas that can suffer during this time. As well as being a great source of Biotin for healthy nails and hair, as well as immune-boosting Vitamin C and Zinc for lustrous hair, Manifesto gummies contain a potent dose of Astaxanthin. Derived from micro-algae, it’s known to improve skin texture and elasticity and helps to smooth fine lines, all of which can be affected.
What foods can help with specific menopausal symptoms?
Bad news; the major hormonal changes that occur during menopause are also responsible for skin ageing and hair loss. As well as having a direct impact on hair density through declining oestrogen levels, the trauma experienced by the body during this time also exacerbates the problem. Introducing a density boosting scalp serum into your hair care regime can help encourage the growth of thicker, fuller and healthier hair, but eating well and regularly is another way to negate these issues. “Avocados are great for healthy fats to nourish and hydrate skin from within, while eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Not only are they an excellent source of quality protein (and ensuring you’re eating enough protein in your diet is integral for healthy and strong hair and skin), but they also contain biotin, another key nutrient to encourage normal hair growth,” says Jessica. “Oily fish are great for their high omega-3 content to help reduce inflammation which is super important to help slow down the ageing process.”
Thanks to a lack of oestrogen during menopause, the onset of osteoporosis and a reduction in bone density and mass is also common. “Make sure you’re getting enough food sources of calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K in your diet to maintain good bone health during this integral time. Dairy foods and cabbage, kale, bok choy are all good choices,” advises Jessica. “High amounts of phosphorous which is found in processed foods and red meat should also be avoided and only eaten in limited amounts, this is because too much phosphorous can speed up the loss of minerals such as calcium and magnesium from the bone which is what you want to be avoiding. Reducing sodium, caffeine and eating too much protein from animal products can also help the body maintain calcium stores.”
Any foods to specifically avoid during the menopause?
While being aware of what you’re putting on your body is key, it’s equally as important to understand what foods to steer clear of that could make your symptoms worse. The list to avoid reads as you might expect, so processed foods that are high in salt, saturated fats and refined sugar, but also others that may be harder to give up. “Avoid or limit stimulants in your diet such as caffeine and alcohol as it can trigger hot flushes,” says Jessica. “Spicy foods also tend to contribute to hot flushes and body sweats too so be conscious of this when cooking at home and ordering food when eating out. These foods can contribute to inflammation relating to common menopause symptoms including hot flushes, weight-gain and sleep issues and will contribute to hormone imbalance.”