The BBC Breakfast recently highlighted and brought to the forefront everything to do with menopause and peri-menopause. A much needed advance which hopefully puts an end to a subject that women have previously felt a little isolated and/or ashamed to talk about.
Menopause begins in the late 40’s or early 50’s for most women and usually lasts for a few years. During this time, at least two-thirds of women experience quite horrendous symptoms of menopause These include hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irritability and tiredness. In addition, menopausal women are at a higher risk of several diseases including osteoporosis, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Many women become sad, depressed and totally lose their confidence.
It’s important to understand that we’re all going to experience this life change differently, due to genetics, current lifestyle, stress levels and other factors. The good news is that we have a choice on which route we decide to take and how we manage this. For the record, next to genetics, lifestyle habits are the biggest shapers of the human body. This is a pretty profound statement!
As a health and fitness consultant I’ve chosen to go the natural route and am excited to share with you a strategy that has worked incredibly well for me and many of my clients. However, I would like to stress that I am not a doctor but rather an expert in my field as a fitness and nutrition consultant, with many years of experience. This post is largely aimed at women who are approaching menopause, but I feel it’s imperative for women in their 30’s to start understanding the importance of their hormone health and avoid the inevitable ‘hormone havoc’ so many women encounter in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond.
Your hormones control most of your basic bodily functions and serve as an internal communication system between cells throughout the body. They co-ordinate everything from digestion and growth to your appetite, mood, libido and so much more. So when these babies are even slightly out of whack, it can impact your health and well-being in a big way! We can however, completely nail these hormones down to work in our favour by making a few simple lifestyle changes! Menopause is best managed with what’s easiest and natural because prevention is always the smartest medication
IT’S ALL ABOUT CHEMISTRY BABY!
HOW TO EAT FOR MENOPAUSE
Those of you that know me well will agree that I’m very balanced in my approach to eating and therefore not going to get all bossy and tell you that you should never drink wine or have a yummy chocolate muffin. Whoever tells you they don’t veer off track - it’s not true! However, when it comes to the menopause, it’s important to start thinking about what your body and mind need to thrive optimally. And yes, whether we like to admit it or not, our weight can be a huge factor in how we feel about ourselves. When you eat well most of the time, you feel better and I can assure you ~ when you feel better the weight loss always follows!
Avoid these foods: The main foods to avoid are refined carbs, sugar, salt, caffeine, alcohol and trans fats. Ladies, this is a biggy when it comes to hormone imbalances, so you have to make the effort to cut out the crap! There is plenty of evidence confirming that these types of foods are not good for menopausal symptoms - both mental and physical. Eating too many of these foods will cause unstable blood sugar levels and increase both cortisol and insulin levels - two hormones we do not want out of balance, as they cause weight gain and emotional instability. Stable blood sugar levels = fast and permanent weight loss. I personally have no more than 2 caffeine drinks per day (before midday) and I might have a few glasses of white wine on the weekend with a meal (if I feel like it). I avoid sugar (in all forms) as much as possible!.
Phytoestrogens, Omega 3 and green teas - all have amazing benefits before and during the onset of menopause. Phytoestrogens are plant-based components that mimic estrogen in the body. They have been found to be beneficial in combating symptoms caused by estrogen deficiency. These foods are all high in phytoestrogens; nuts, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds and walnuts, apples, carrots, pomegranates, strawberries, cranberries, yams, lentils, alfalfa, sprouts, mung beans, sprouts, red clover, licorice root, olive oil, oats, barley, wheat germ.
To ensure you get your daily dose of Omega 3 eat plenty of oily fish, salmon, sardines, nuts, linseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, eggs and of course my favourite - avocados! I would also recommend taking a good quality Omega 3 supplement. Good fats are very important as they are needed for joint health, brain function (especially memory) and beautiful skin.
Protein is essential for building muscle, burning fat, metabolism, concentration, to make brain chemicals that help calm us down and eliminate stress, reduce foggy brain, boost energy levels, to support your muscles and bones and the absorption of important nutrients. Protein from foods are used by every single part of the body to develop, grow and function properly and our organs, muscles, tissues and hormones are all made from proteins.
Suffice to say protein is involved in just about every bodily function and a deficiency can wreak havoc with your body and menopausal symptoms. Eat plenty of good quality protein daily.
Carbohyrdates have certainly had a bad rap over the past few years! And whilst I agree with cutting out all refined carbs, I am very much in favour of eating wholegrain carbs such as quinoa, millet, brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes and most vegetables. These contain enough fibre which is important to help with digestion and elimination. Constipation or sluggish bowels can make the menopause worse. Also, for many of us who have sleep problems, eating low GI carbs at night can help tremendously with sleep due to the release of serotonin.
Eating for bone health - During the menopause, it’s especially important to look after your bones to minimize the risk of developing osteoporosis, and ensure you’re getting plenty of calcium.
Besides milk and yoghurt, here are some other foods that are rich in calcium, many of which are non-dairy.
Seeds - quite simply tiny powerhouses.
Cheese - most cheeses provide an excellent source of calcium.
Sardines and canned salmon.
Beans and lentils
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LIVER IN MENOPAUSE
The liver is often referred to as the master gland in the body and in Chinese medicine it is the undisputed king! The liver regulates hormones - so ladies with hormone havoc look to your liver. It also has to deal with all the chemicals you are exposed to (perfume, chlorine in tap water, medications, and household products). In addition, the liver also has to filter excess estrogen produced through the western world, due to rampant stress, environmental toxins, pesticides and hormones in the foods we eat.
WATER AND THE MENOPAUSE
Since our bodies are at least 75% water, if we neglect our intake this can cause an array of nasty symptoms; joint inflammation and pain, wrinkly, ageing skin, mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks, stress palpitations, fuzzy brain and forgetfulness, headaches, constipation/bloating and fatigue.
Hot flushes are triggered by the nervous system, caused from dehydration. If you sweat a lot, then you will be further dehydrated, causing a vicious cycle, including night palpitations.
All these bad-ass nasties caused from dehydration are not worth it. Drink at least 2 litres of filtered water per day.
EXERCISE AND THE MENOPAUSE
One very good reason to exercise is the profound impact it has in increasing two powerful hormones - testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH). Both reputable “youth and lean” hormones which help to keep all the other hormones balanced and in check - especially cortisol and insulin. Both testosterone and HGH will also help improve your libido.
Having a strong, lean body gives you a sense of empowerment and will improve your confidence and you’ll always look younger than your age!
Exercise does not have to be a time consumer, in fact less is more if your’re smart about your training. Strength training comes up tops because lean tissue is so tightly coupled to your metabolism, it creates stronger bones, eliminating the chances of developing osteoporosis and releases an abundance of testosterone and Human growth hormone. Cardiovascular exercise is also great for the endorphin release and short bursts of exercise are a good time-efficient way to train.
So start moving, find your own pace, then push it up a notch…..You will truly begin to see and feel the difference.
For me personally, exercise has been a lifesaver! The best alternative to HRT - in fact I don’t ever recall having one symptom of peri-menopause or menopause at all! However, when I don’t exercise I feel terrible, anxious and very low. My sleep is also affected! So I guess I’m gonna be exercising forever!
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY WEIGHT
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight may also help alleviate menopause symptoms. One study of 17,473 menopausal women found that those who lost at least 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of weight or 10% of their body weight over a year were more likely to eliminate hot flashes and night sweats
STRESS AND MENOPAUSE
Well functioning adrenals make essential hormones - including DHEA, estorogen, testosterone, progesterone and pregnenolene The menopause complication! The effects of chronic stress and adrenal fatigue can literally empty our tanks and throw us way off balance. For women going through menopause this is especially true because not only are our bodies changing, but the stress that comes from all that change, plus the weight of the daily grind and stress can wreak havoc in our systems. Equally when our cortisol (stress) hormones are up, testosterone levels are down, since they act in a sea-saw like manner. Although we can’t avoid stress in our lives, it’s how you deal with that stress and manage it through lifestyle changes, that matters. And it’s clear to see how exercise and eating healthily can have a very positive effect on stress and the menopause.
SLEEP AND MENOPAUSE
Sleep, in my opinion, should be at the top of everyone’s health list. Medical researchers now have substantial evidence to prove that how much you sleep and quite possibly the quality of your sleep may silently orchestrate a symphony of hormonal activity tied to your appetite. Studies show that production of the hormones leptin and ghrelin may be influenced by how much or how little we sleep.
Here's the connection! When you don't get enough sleep it drives leptin levels down, which means you don't feel as satisfied after you eat. Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise, which means your appetite is stimulated, so you want more food. This double whammy can certainly set the stage for overeating and lead to weight gain.
Since sleep affects every aspect of life, it’s important to be aware of the fact that sleep duration not only enhances your weight and your weight loss efforts, it also benefits the quality of your sleep. It’s a two-way street. It may not take a lot to improve your sleep. In fact, as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day can boost sleep quality by nearly 30 percent. Couple that with eating healthy carbs at night (to release serotonin), and you are on your way to weight loss!
VITAMIN D AND THE MENOPAUSE
Hormonal changes during menopause can cause bones to weaken, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D are linked to good bone health, so it's important to get enough of these nutrients in your diet. Adequate vitamin D intake in postmenopausal women is also associated with a lower risk of hip fractures due to weak bones.
Vitamin D is also good for your libido so try and get as much natural sunlight as you safely can; or take an oral vitamin D spray - works really well. Eat plenty of oily fish, egg yolks and red meat; all great sources of vitamin D.
OXYTOCIN - THE LOVE HORMONE
Oxytocin is the powerful hormone of love, bonding, and connection. It’s the hormone we release in abundance during childbirth that overflows as we look into the eyes of our newborn. It’s also released in abundance with orgasm, laughter, play, hugging, giving, and even when stroking your pets. It’s the hormone responsible for the twinkle in your eyes and the smile on your face.
Unfortunately, if you are like many women who are in perimenopause or menopause, being hormonally imbalanced (both with cortisol-adrenaline-oxytocin and estrogen) can further complicate things.
So, to create more oxytocin in your life try and do more of this; hug/cuddle, laugh, play, orgasm, give gratitude and thanks, play with a pet and try to stay in the present moment. Manage your thoughts and control your stress.
AND FINALLY …… HRT OR BIO-IDENTICAL HORMONES
First and foremost I strongly believe that a lifestyle change (with or without hormone treatment) will have the biggest impact on your menopause journey, and I’d like to feel that I’ve had enough experience of working with women to justify that statement.
I personally chose to go the Bio-identical hormone route when I started with peri-menopause and it has worked tremendously well for me. Whether or not they would have worked so well without my healthy eating and exercise plan - I doubt it!
I agree there’s a lot to think about in this post, and you may be feeling a little daunted. So, I’m going to sum up my top three tips to beat the menopause and balance your hormones and once you’ve mastered these, you’ll feel the difference and be able to tackle the others in your own time!
Exercise every single day - even fifteen minutes a day will make a huge difference. Exercise releases happy endorphins, as well as testosterone and human growth hormone. Both powerful ‘lean and youth’ hormones.
Sleep - make this a big priority and aim to get 6 - 8 hours sleep every night! Without sleep everything will be out of whack and you’ll find it difficult to function!
Cut out sugar and refined carbohydrates, and radically reduce your your caffeine and alcohol consumption! This will carve the pathway to eating healthier foods.
HAPPY HORMONES ~ HAPPY YOU