Most women, even those in their 20s or 30s, have heard of menopause and have a general idea of what it entails; they've heard the horror stories. Still, when menopausal symptoms appear in their mid-40s to early 50s, they might not have a clue at first what is happening, or why. Perhaps their periods start changing, or they're not sleeping well at night, or they experience hot flashes and notice some weight gain around the middle. All this, even though they haven't changed their lifestyle or dietary habits. It can be scary. Menopause, which also goes by names such as change of life, is a normal part of a woman's life and typically comes on between the ages of 45 and 55. The menopausal transition, which is the time during which the symptoms appear, can last a few years, culminating in the woman's last menstrual cycle, her last period. The menopausal transition occurs at a time in a woman's reproductive life when the production of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones made by the ovaries, may vary dramatically and unpredictably. Most of the menopausal symptoms experienced by women, which can also include irritability, mood swings, inability to focus, headaches and joint pain (per indi.ie), are linked to falling estrogen levels inside her body. Because of this loss of estrogen, post-menopausal women run a higher risk of heart disease and bone weakness. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been used by women for years to help alleviate menopausal symptoms, although other health issues might rule out HRT for some women, while others choose to skip it when hearing that it has been linked to higher risk of some cancers.
Good Nutrition Is Its Own Great TherapyMenopause might be inevitable for all women, but eating the right foods that provide the right nutrients can make for a healthy and therefore more tolerable menopausal transition. There is no one tidy, easy-to-fix nutritional menu that is going to make menopausal symptoms magically disappear; rather, it is more an overarching collection of eating strategies that can make a menopausal woman's life that much healthier and, well, productive:
- Eat plenty of fruit. OK, where have you heard that one before, right? Start with bananas, which are rich in potassium and help support healthy fluid retention, which in turns helps with maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
- Eat lots of fresh vegetables, primarily the dark and leafy variety that contain micronutrients. The idea here is to consume nutrients that are high in fiber and protein – nutrient-dense foods – while closely watching the calories (not to consume too many, that is).
- Nuts and seeds. These are a great source of omega oils, calcium and fiber, per womens-health-concern.org. Again, moderation is key. Most nuts have relatively high fat content – a little goes a long way.
- Calcium, accompanied by vitamin D. The calcium is for bone health – menopausal women are also at an age they are looking at bone loss, via osteoporosis. The vitamin D is to help in the body's absorption of calcium. Foods rich in calcium include kale, sardines, yogurt, kefir, broccoli and cheese. For vitamin D, spend some time in the sun, and for food turn to fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna.
- Fiber. Besides fruit and vegetables, a good change of pace are wholegrains such as oats, brown rice, bulgur wheat and quinoa. Fiber promotes healthy digestion and can help with healthy cholesterol and blood-sugar levels.
- Filtered water. To help with hydration and help keep your body temperature at a nice 98.6 degrees F. Other good drinks include soya milk and freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, but in moderation.
- Supplements with vitamins and minerals, specially formulated for women, are good. Some supplements contain plant estrogens that can help relieve symptoms.
- Steer clear as much as you can from salt (which can cause high blood pressure and bloating), saturated fat (not good for the arteries/heart health), stimulants such as coffee, tea or alcohol (hinder absorption of nutrients and produce heat in the body), spicy/hot foods and sugary/junk foods.
- Choose skimmed or reduced-fat dairy products.
- Grill foods instead of frying them, a handy tip from indie.ie.
- When eating meat, choose the leaner cuts and cut off the excess fat.
- When eating out – and this is where it can get painful as you want to enjoy your meal – be disciplined and choose lower-calorie menu options. Think veggies, fruits and whole-grains.