Perhaps you’ve heard the stories about menopause and postmenopause or you’ve experienced them first hand: Hot flashes, weight gain, unbearable fatigue, crying jags, insomnia, panic attacks, dryness, mood swings, depression, bloating, and more.
For 85% of women, these stories are true. However, don’t despair because there is hope and help.
I know first-hand how you feel, because I’m right there with you,
As a Nutritionist, co-creator of a website dedicated to menopause (WeareMorphus.com), and a woman who has been through perimenopause (the months or years leading up to menopause) and who is in menopause and looking forward (yes!) to many vibrant years in postmenopause, I have done endless research, spoken with countless numbers of women, interviewed hundreds of experts, and lived my menopause talk.
Knowledge is power
Among the many things I’ve learned since beginning my menopause journey (which began at 42, right after I had my third child), is that there isn’t just one way to manage the changes you will go through. Every woman and every menopause journey is different, and unique to you. If someone or some ad tells you they have the one pill or diet or supplement or whatever else they are pushing that will take care of all your menopause woes, please run the other way.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make your journey smoother. You will go through many changes—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual—so don’t fight them. Embrace them, learn about them, work with them, and you will be rewarded.
First things first
Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on inside your body. Perimenopause is the time span during which your hormones begin to fluctuate. The symptoms can creep up on you. Progesterone and testosterone levels decline and you may begin to experience bloating, headache, mood swings, anxiety, etc. Soon estrogen levels drop as well, and other symptoms can manifest. I already mentioned a few at the beginning, but my research over the last five years has shown the menopause signs and symptoms list to include 85+ possibilities. I have the full list on my website here.
I know. That’s a lot!
Chances are you’re not going to experience all of them, but it’s good to know that your symptoms may be associated with menopause (take itchy ears for example. This one is a surprise to many women. It’s due to estrogen levels dropping and as a result our skin and mucus membranes become thinner and dryer).
After months or years—depending on the individual—you reach that magic day: Menopause. It is technically one day and occurs on the 365th consecutive day you have not menstruated. Every day after that is considered postmenopause.
And once you’re in menopause, you’re in menopause for the rest of your life.
The most important thing to remember about perimenopause and beyond is that your lifestyle choices have a tremendous impact on the rest of your life. The hormonal changes affect every organ and system in your body. (Note: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are not the only hormones that are affected; thyroid hormones, stress hormones such as cortisol, and insulin are just a few of the others that are impacted as well.)
So, as you make lifestyle changes to help manage your menopause, listen to your body. Notice how you now respond to foods, supplements, physical activity, stress, and relationships and make adjustments accordingly. With some trial and error and patience, you will find balance.
Here are a few tips and guidelines to help you along your journey:
Protein: Our bodies become less responsive to protein (amino acids) as we get older, which means we need to ingest more to maintain health and optimal function. Protein is also essential because your body is going through so many changes such as bone loss, hormonal fluctuations, and muscle loss, which can be as much as a 3 percent loss per year after age 60. That’s why it’s critical to include quality protein at every meal: plant protein sources are recommended. How much do you need? Experts recommend between 1.2 and 2.0 grams per kilogram per day (g/kg/day) or more for older adults. To help customize your individual protein needs, you can use a protein calculator. Some rich sources of protein include firm organic tofu and tempeh (a couple times a week), legumes (in moderation), and Greek yogurt.
Good quality fats: Fats in this category include monounsaturated fats and omega-3 essential fatty acids. The latter are especially important in menopause, as women are at increased risk of depression and heart disease. It’s been shown that individuals who consume omega-3s often are less likely to be depressed. These fats also help reduce triglyceride levels, which at high levels are a risk factor for heart disease. When cooking, use olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil as your fat sources. Avoid seed oils, which have been proven to increase oxidative stress, and as a result, increase inflammation in the body. Examples of seed oils include: canola, soy, sunflower, safflower, corn and grapeseed oil. You can learn more about seed oils from Dr. Cate Shanahan who is the lead researcher on their negative effects (www.drcate.com).
Fiber: Eating foods high in fiber such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds is important because fiber helps keep your digestive tract functioning well and also works to remove toxins from the body. Strive for 25 to 30 grams daily. You can also add soluble fiber as a supplement if you need extra fiber.
Lifestyle: It’s time to revamp some of your lifestyle habits so you can live your life to the fullest. Consider these:
•Sleep: Fatigue, insomnia, and sleep disturbances are common in menopause and can take a huge toll on your health. Adopt a consistent sleep routine and establish healthy sleep habits, such as avoiding electronic devices at least 1 hour before retiring, relaxing before going to bed, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and sleeping in complete darkness.
•Exercise: Daily physical activity is essential for reducing symptoms such as stress, weight gain, digestive problems, and bone loss and boosting heart health, metabolism, and mood. Find and participate in exercises that you enjoy! Also aim to do strength bearing exercises to build muscle as we tend to lose muscle as we age.
•Self-care: Stress, anxiety, and panic attacks disrupt the lives of many women in menopause. Incorporate self-care practices into your daily routine that allow you to destress and refocus your life. Journaling, yoga, meditation, affirmations, reading, deep breathing, walking in nature, hanging out with friends and family, watching funny movies and engaging in hobbies are some suggestions.
•Supplements: Taking supplements can go a long way toward improving symptoms. Among those most important for women in menopause are vitamin D, magnesium, omega-3s, probiotics, and digestive enzymes (if you’re experiencing gas and bloating after eating). Always check with your healthcare provider to identify any deficiencies and the optimal dosing for your needs. Herbal supplements such as turmeric for pain management, ginger for digestive issues, and aged garlic for blood pressure, among others, may be helpful as well.
Remember: There are many tools you can use to make your perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause years enjoyable from nutrition, lifestyle, supplements, and/or hormones. Try different approaches, speak to qualified menopause health care providers and/or practitioners, listen to your body, and take charge of your journey. And most of all, be gentle with yourself during the process.
Baum JI et al. Protein consumption and the elderly: What is the optimal level of intake? Nutrients 2016 Jun 8; 8(6):359.
Grosso G et al. Omega-3 fatty acids and depression: scientific evidence and biological mechanisms. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity 2014; 2014:313570.
Shidfar F et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on serum lipids, apolipoproteins and malondialdehyde in type 2 diabetes patients. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal 2008 Mar-Apr; 14(2):305-13.
If you enjoyed this article check out Menopause: Natural part of life but social taboo.
Her expertise as a Nutritionist and an Entrepreneur to educate the public on living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Andrea inspires people to make healthier choices through her businesses, media appearances, podcast, books, articles, videos, and speaking engagements.