Did you know that there are over 30 symptoms associated with menopause? Thankfully, not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. The symptoms we actually experience is very individual. For many, menopausal symptoms can have a huge impact on day-to-day life.
A key cause of menopausal symptoms is the natural drop in oestrogen levels. Luckily, there are a number of different treatment options women can utilise to help manage their symptoms, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT may resolve a lot of the symptoms women experience, but we can also use lifestyle changes alongside medications to manage symptoms.
One of the most well-known symptoms of menopause is hot flushes. There may be particular triggers that bring on hot flushes which will vary from individual-to-individual. Trying to identify these triggers are the first step in trying to manage and avoid them, as well as reduce the occurrence of hot flushes. Although triggers will be different for everyone, identified triggers include spicy food, caffeine, smoking, alcohol and stress.
Menopause is also associated with an increased risk of heart disease, namely due to the protective effects of oestrogen, which of course start to decline as oestrogen levels fall during menopause. We can reduce the risk of heart disease by making small changes to our diet – reducing our saturated fat intake, increasing our fibre intake etc. Small swaps in food can make all the difference, for instance, switching butter for olive oil, or swapping out red meat for some oily fish!
Post-menopausal women are also at an increased risk of osteoporosis, again due to the protective effect that oestrogen has on our bones. During peri-menopause, we are still able to lay down extra bone mass, whereas post-menopause bone mass will start to steadily decline. Therefore, consumption of calcium and vitamin D prior to menopause and during peri-menopause is really important to strengthen our bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Try to include foods such as dairy, fortified dairy alternatives, fish eaten with bones, cooked leafy greens, beans, and tofu. And don’t forget – everyone in the UK is recommended to take a 10µg during the autumn and winter months, and those at risk of low vitamin D all year round. Weight-bearing exercise also helps to strengthen our bones. This doesn’t just mean weight-lifting! Any exercise that uses weight counts, including body weight exercises or using resistance bands.
Protein turnover in our bodies is faster post-menopause, which means that proteins are broken down faster than they are replaced. In order to maintain protein and muscle mass in the body, we need to replace the protein that is broken down – we can achieve this by including a good protein source in at least 2 meals a day.
Phytoestrogens are plant oestrogens. They are not the same as human oestrogen, and although the scientific research is inconclusive, large quantities of phytoestrogens may help to alleviate some menopausal symptoms. If you would like to try increasing your intake of phytoestrogens, good sources include soya products, chickpeas and houmous. However, please bear in mind that it is not guaranteed to improve symptoms.
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Written By May Robertson (Specialist Mental Health Weight Management Practitioner)