I am often asked about food and female health, particularly around the menopause. Essentially, the changes we experience are all about the body’s chemical messengers, hormones. A decline in the levels of the hormone oestrogen is responsible for a great deal of the imbalances we experience during the menopause, but there is lots of other stuff going on too.
It’s not doom and gloom though! The more we know and understand about what is going on, the better able we are to deal with it, and there’s lots of things we can do to improve our experience and help to prevent issues further down the line.
This may seem predictable, but there are good reasons for us girls to focus on a diet that keeps blood sugar levels balanced. Avoiding refined carbohydrates like white flour products, sources of added sugars and starchy white potatoes can help us to tackle the effects caused by changes that occur in our bodies as we approach and move through the menopause.
Hydrogenated/trans fats and processed foods should also be avoided as they are inflammatory to our system and won’t help if you are trying to look after yourself. Wholefoods, plenty of fibre, Omega-3 and a good dose of vitamins from a range of foods is the way to go.
Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by our adrenal glands. It’s the body’s main stress hormone and works to control mood, motivation, and fear. Many clinical studies have found that levels of cortisol rise in some menopausal women and could be related to broken sleep patterns and night sweats.
To put you in the picture, Cortisol plays a role in many things the body does, including:
- Regulating your blood pressure
- Increasing your blood sugar (glucose)
- Controlling your sleep/wake cycle
- Boosting energy so you can handle stress
It’s for this reason that keeping an eye on your sugar intake is key, and you have a REALLY good excuse to indulge in a little more self-care as managing stress to keep those cortisol levels in check is going to be beneficial.
Self-Care and Staying Happy
Increasing your movement can be a huge help with hormone imbalance. Whatever you choose to do; Walking, Pilates, swimming, yoga, Qigong, or a DVD at home, when you are active your body releases feel good hormones called endorphins that reduce pain perception and create positive feelings within the body. Moving more throughout the day will also help in decreasing stress and helping you to enjoy more restful sleep.
Making sure you have time to wind down at the end of day can have a positive effect on reducing cortisol levels. Try a meditation before bed (I use the Headspace app which has lots of 10 minute sleep inducing meditations to try), have a bath before bed, try some breathing exercises or simply turn off the TV, lose your phone and read for a while – Note! Fiction only, not a study book or car manual 😉
Need an excuse to go for a massage, make a hair appointment or have your nails done? This is it! Feel good activities create feel good hormones.
Yes! You read it right, chocolate! Any excuse for me to slip this one in! But seriously, really good quality, dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids or more) is packed with beneficial minerals such as; potassium, zinc and selenium, and a 100g bar of dark chocolate provides 67 per cent of the RDA of iron.
Chocolate also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that stimulates production of serotonin, the brain’s natural anti-depressant. Experts equate the feelings it induces to those we experience when we fall in love. A little square of the really good stuff here and there, will not only serve as a comfort, but it can also provide a nutritional boost.
Key Nutrients In Protecting Your Bone Health
After the menopause, the long-term effects of lower oestrogen levels also increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases (i.e. heart disease and strokes) and osteoporosis (thinning of the bones which increases the risk of breakage).
Two nutrients that are related to bone health are calcium and vitamin D, and both can help to prevent osteoporosis. Calcium is a pretty obvious one, and can be found in dairy, sardines (surprising but true), green leafy veg (kale, watercress, broccoli), almonds, seeds (chia, sesame) and white cannellini beans, to name but a few. Vitamin D is slightly more challenging as it is virtually impossible to get from your diet. Vitamin D regulates genes and calcium balance and, according to Dr Rupy Aujla, is important in depression, bone health and cancer. If you are out and about in the spring and summer you are likely to get it from the sun, but during the winter months it is more of a challenge. Whilst, I am a big believer in getting your nutrients from your diet, Vitamin D is one that could be worth supplementing (I’m going to this year).
Do The Research
This is just a snapshot of things to explore. There really are lots of things you can try and many articles on the subject. Perhaps use this as a starting point and research it further. It’s all about finding the stuff that works for you and combining diet with lifestyle adjustments to get the best outcome.