Menopause and Diet: Can Eating the Right Foods Help?
Menopause and its many symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, memory loss, weight gain, and sleep loss, can make life miserable. What causes these symptoms and what can we do about them? We know that it’s the hormonal changes that occur just before and during menopause that cause these symptoms, (and 29 others according to the website www.34-menopause-symptoms.com), and for many years we felt that we only had two options:
- Tough ‘em out. Not so easy sometimes. Especially if you’re one of the 60+% of women who the National Sleep Foundation claims experience insomnia due to some of these symptoms. Or your libido has dropped and you experience pain during the few times that sex does sound interesting, due to the vaginal dryness many experience. Actually, depending on the severity of the symptom, I don’t think “toughing them out” is a particularly appealing option.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy. According to HealthyWomen.org, there are two types of hormonal replacement treatments (ERT – estrogen only, and HRT — a combination of estrogen and a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone), and both are available in a variety of applications. Unfortunately, both of these treatments are accompanied by some pretty serious health risks. So by using any of them we might just be trading one problem for another, like night sweats and irregular periods for uterine or breast cancer.
Fortunately, it seems that these two are no longer the only options available. An increasing number of health professionals are beginning to recognize that there are certain foods that may help (or make worse), some of the symptoms. Such things as:
- Caffeine and alcohol. Both of these may worsen sleep problems. Caffeine stays in our systems for six hours, and while a small amount of alcohol may help us fall asleep, too much acts as a stimulant. Many professionals suggest moderation and not drinking either one too close to bedtime (no closer than six hours before for caffeine, three for alcohol).
- Plants that are high in phytoestrogens; “chemicals found naturally in certain plants… that can mimic the action of estrogen, a hormone that influences functioning in the female reproductive system” (About.com/Alternative Medicine). Plants high in these chemicals include soybeans and soy products, tempeh, linseed (flax), sesame seeds, oats, barley, beans, lentils, yams, rice, alfalfa, apples, carrots, and pomegranates. (Wikipedia)
- Raw foods. Dr. Oz suggests that raw fruits and vegetable may help battle hot flashes. In addition he recommends limiting refined grains and fatty dairy and meat products as a way to battle the weight gain many of us experience and suggests Greek Yogurt rather than non-Greek varieties because it’s usually higher in protein and lower in fat.*
- Omega 3. Vandana R. Sheth, (Registered Dietician and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), considers a diet that includes sources of Omega 3 fats to be very important.* These can be found in such things as seafood, flaxseed, canola & soybean oils, kidney and pinto beans, walnuts, spinach, and cauliflower.
Is there any way to completely eliminate all of the physical symptoms brought on by menopause? Not really. But there are options other than just dealing with them or starting HRT. We know how important a good diet is for our overall health and well being, but now it seems that certain foods can be beneficial during perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause when the hormones begin to shift) and menopause. So, as mom always said, “eat your veggies.” And tofu. They might just help.