Menopause is considered a natural, biological change that occurs in a woman’s body as she ages. While the symptoms associated with menopause may sound daunting, these hormonal changes don’t have to wreak havoc on your body. Fortunately, there are simple dietary changes you can implement to ease into this new phase of life.
What happens during menopause?
Menopause is a natural transition that occurs in a woman’s life to mark the end of her reproductive years. While 12 months since your last period confirms menopause, the symptoms associated with this transition can last for several years. In the years leading up to menopause, frequently called perimenopause, women may experience a variety of symptoms including changes in their cycle, hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, and mood swings. Menopause may also negatively affect metabolism, and bone mineral density.
During this time, which often begins between ages 45 and 55, the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones produced by the ovaries, can vary greatly. These hormonal changes, specifically declining estrogen, can cause metabolic changes that may lead to changes in body composition, alterations in cholesterol levels, and an increased risk for several chronic diseases.
But there is good news: Food can play a powerful role in mitigating these symptoms, thus providing some relief during such a pivotal transition.
What foods support this phase of life?
Declines in estrogen levels during menopause can increase a woman’s risk for bone fractures, increasing the need for bone-supporting nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin K. Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D, important for healthy bones, as well as a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce incidence of night sweats and the risk of breast cancer. In addition to being an essential nutrient for bone health, vitamin D plays an important role in immune health, cancer prevention, and reduced risk of early onset of menopause.
Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens and swiss chard are rich in calcium—a mineral needed to maintain strong bones and prevent osteoporosis, which is common during menopause. In fact, according to the North American Menopause Study, 1 in 2 women over the age of 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime. Since your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, try combining dark leafy greens with vitamin D-rich foods like salmon, mackerel, or eggs.
While there may be a perception that soy is “bad” for you, quite the opposite is true during menopausal times. Soy and soy-based foods contain phytoestrogens—plant-based compounds that have weak estrogenic activity in the body. Essentially, phytoestrogens can mimic estrogen in the body to help reduce the symptoms of menopause. Plus, Breast Cancer Awareness Partners recognize soy as effective for reducing breast cancer risk and risk of recurrence. When choosing phytoestrogen-rich foods, opt for the less processed varieties like edamame, tempeh, tofu, and soy-based dairy alternatives.
Small, but mighty, flax seeds pack a nutritional punch, serving as excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, B vitamins, and phytoestrogens. One study conducted in a group of 140 women showed that those who supplemented with flax seed for three months had decreased symptoms of menopause and increased quality of life. Try adding ground flax seeds to smoothies, your favorite baked goods, or sprinkled over yogurt or oatmeal.
In addition to these nutritional recommendations, it is important to prioritize movement and stress management as well as good sleep hygiene. Putting this into practice will lead to a seamless transition to this new phase of life.