Shana Tatum, RD LD

Shana Tatum, RD LD

Hot flashes, difficulty concentrating, changes in libido or unexpected weight gain? Do these symptoms sound like something you are experiencing? Menopause is often feared for these and other symptoms. Most women hope to avoid them when they cross that threshold of life change.

It can be brought on early due to surgical procedures or predisposition from genetics. The Mayo Clinic reports average age of menopause is 51. However you arrive there, nutrition and lifestyle factors can play a role in minimizing the negative side effects.

Estrogen is the primary female hormone that promotes the growth of the female reproductive organs. It begins to decline in irregular patterns as women move into perimenopause. Along with testosterone and progesterone, these falling hormone levels can bring about many uncomfortable symptoms for women.

Hot flashes

This is what we call a vasomotor reaction. It comes seemingly from nowhere and can cause great discomfort.

- A diet high in fiber can be helpful here. A large observational study published in the journal Menopause found that consuming more soluble and insoluble fiber as part of a dietary intervention to achieve weight loss reduced hot flashes by nearly 20 percent in women in menopause. One medium apple with skin has 4 grams of fiber, ¼ cup serving of oats has 5 grams and ½ cup pinto beans or 1 tablespoon chia seeds also has 5 grams.

- Botanicals such as black cohosh have also been shown to reduce hot flashes. Medicinal uses date back to the 1800s and perhaps even before. Native American tribes were reported to use black cohosh in an alcohol extract to support the female reproductive system during menopause and reduce inflammation.

- Studies are mixed for reduction in hot flashes with the consumption of phytoestrogens like soy. Consuming foods high in phytoestrogens as part of a varied, colorful, plant-based diet most likely will not pose a risk and may have benefits for those experiencing menopause symptoms.

Sleep disturbances

Waking during the night is common, especially with hot flashes. 

- Creating the right environment for good sleep with cool temperatures, dark environment (no blue screens from electronics) and a quiet room can make a big difference.

- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol late in the day (refraining from drinking caffeinated beverages four to six hours before bedtime and alcohol within three hours of bedtime) can also help to reduce sleep interruptions.

- Botanicals like Vitex, also known as Chaste Tree Berry, were shown in a 2017 Nutrients journal to improve sleep quality in menopause.

Bone health

Risk for osteoporosis increase as women age.

- A systemic review in Nutrients showed isoflavone supplements in menopausal women, tempered bone mineral density (BMD) loss in the lumbar spine and demonstrated potential benefits for blood pressure and blood sugar control.

- Certain medications like proton pump inhibitors taken for acid reflux, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for depression, and some diabetes and breast cancer medications can deplete bone density. Be sure to speak to your healthcare provider if you take these medications and are in menopause.

- Optimize Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2. Consider a formulation that includes these together. Eggs and fatty fish for Vitamin D and dairy, fermented foods and animal products for Vitamin K2.

- Increase good fats in the diet with a focus on Omega 3 fatty acids such as those found in SMASH fish - salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. They're also found in walnuts and flax seed.

Nutrient needs change across the life cycle and attention given to those that can help reduce symptoms during menopause can be especially useful. Staying active, ensuring good sleep and eating a whole foods diet rich in protein, phytonutrients and vitamins and minerals can help women live a happy and healthy life at every stage.

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