Nutritional Approach to menopause

Menopause – this use to be a rather awkward subject to discuss until recently and it is wonderful to see that the BBC ran a campaign in the mornings ‘Wake up to Menopause’.  

For some the menopause is a time when a woman is transitioning into a new phase of her life, a time for liberation, change and celebration.  However, for many it can be a difficult period that can be painfully drawn out due to a number of lifestyle and emotional factors. As society has changed and more and more women are working till well into their sixties, and now late sixties with the change in the start date for the state pension, the issues surrounding the menopause are becoming more relevant to employers, industry and the general working environment.  I know from my own personal experience previous generations didn’t talk about their experiences of the menopause.  My grandmother certainly wouldn’t have discussed it and for my own mother she had a hysterectomy in her early 40’s and was put on HRT immediately so never really experienced many of the symptoms.  What is ahead for me and my sisters is a little unknown but as all three of us are either peri, or are fully fledged menopausal we are talking about our experiences and they have similarities but also differences.  

It seems that the symptoms of menopause are very varied and everyone seems to experience it in different ways.  There is also a lot of information available to help support women through what could be many years of the change.  To know which bit of information is best for you is not easy, but understanding what is going on in your body during this period and how our lifestyles and diet can impact on this may be the best way to find the solution that suits you. 

Biologically, the menopause is the time when the ovaries are retiring from the relentless task of producing the main female hormone Oestrogen.  This baton is passed to the adrenal glands and fat tissue which take over the role of hormone production. If these adrenals have had a lifetime of stress with little time for R&R then it will be a difficult transition for the body to make as they will not be able to manage the extra burden.  This can lead to fatigue and exhaustion which has bludgeoning impact on the body’s ability to cope emotionally and psychologically through an important time in a woman’s life.  My advice to any woman is start taking care of your adrenal glands well before you become peri-menopausal as you are going to need them in tip top shape.  If the adrenals are busy making the stress hormone cortisol then sex hormone production is by definition going to be reduced. (A factor we see in young stressed professionals with fertility issues).   During a woman’s life Oestrogen production will fluctuate and for a variety of reasons (too, many to go into detail now) but for many they will have an over production or be Oestrogen dominant.  The body’s biological process is to remove any excess Oestrogen and this is done through the liver and so long as the diet contains good levels of fibre will be excreted via the bowel.  However, if transit and elimination processes are poor the Oestrogen can be recycled back into the blood stream where the body will store it in the fat cells for later use and as a protection mechanism.  

The main symptoms of Oestrogen Dominance are:

    • Excessive menstrual bleeding & Clotts
    • Headaches/migraines
    • Gall Bladder dysfunction, due to thickened bile.
    • Breast tenderness, Fibrous cysts 
    • Thyroid dysfunction
    • PCOS
    • Endometriosis
    • Infertility

Conversely, the main symptoms of low Oestrogen production are:

    • Poor Memory
    • Mood swings, emotional instability
    • Mental fogginess
    • Vaginal problems
    • Decreased Libido
    • Poor Skin health
    • Reduced Breast size
    • Loss of motivation

Adopting a nutritional approach to supporting someone through the menopause will focus on supporting the HPA axis, which is the closely integrated functions between the Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal glands.  As well as this the support program would involve ensuring good blood glucose balance, liver function, digestive health and of course mental well being.  Conventional options, such as HRT are not for everyone and perhaps mask the real issues, but a discussion with your GP should still be considered if your symptoms are severe.  However, with a good well balanced diet and maybe a few select supplements it is possible to be equipped for the changes.   Below are a few headline things to consider, but a personalised approach is likely to be more beneficial.  

A balanced diet jam packed with as many of the following is a good starting point:

    • Magnesium helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue, reduces hot flashes and promotes relaxation.  Also important for liver function.
    • Phytoestrogens such as red clover, sage, celery seed and alfalfa help to reduce hot flashes and vaginal atrophy.  They also improve sleep and have a positive effect on bone health.
    • Vitamin E an antioxidant, reduces symptoms relating to the constriction of blood vessels such as hot flashes, palpitation and poor circulation.  A good supply of colourful fruit and veg will everyday will provide a bountiful of antioxidants which are also needed to support the Adrenal glands.
    • Omega 3 from fish oils help to reverse oxidative stress.
    • B vitamins vital for liver and adrenal function as well as the production of the brains neurotransmitters and mental well being.  
    • Protein to provide the necessary amino acids to support, liver and adrenal functions and production of neurotransmitters for mental well being.
    • Indole-3-carbinol found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, actively promote the breakdown of excess damaging Oestrogen.
    • Iodine to support the Thyroid

There are many herbs that can also help with some of the symptoms of menopause and these include:

    • Licorice contains isoflavones and beta sitosterol, which potentiates cortisol by reducing its breakdown, reduces body fat mass, especially in women and exerts oestrogen-like activity.
    • Ashwaganda to support the HPA axis
    • Echinacea to support the immune system as this is reduced during the menopause as Oestrogen helps to support it.
    • Chastetree also supports the HPA axis
    • Sage relieves Night Sweats

All supplements recommended can be bought via The Natural Dispensary which is an online supplement company. Set up an account and put Eatwell2livewell as your practitioner and use discount code DJS05 to get a 5% discount off the RRP.