Menopause, the rollercoaster ride no one signed up for – where estrogen takes a nosedive and your body decides to play tricks on you. Picture this: your temperature soaring, weight inching up, and mood swings hitting you like a storm. How do you navigate this wild journey? Brace yourself, because it’s time to decode the secrets hidden in your diet…
The Menopausal Score: Hormonal Changes Unveiled
Hot Flashes Center Stage: A dazzling spectacle, hot flashes steal the limelight in menopause. Sudden spikes in body temperature make for a common yet unique experience. About 75% of women partake in this fiery dance, with variations in frequency and intensity.
GSM – A Tale of Intimate Changes: Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM) casts its shadow, affecting the realms of the vagina, bladder, urethra, and pelvic floor tissue. Diminished estrogen levels weaken pelvic muscles, leaving vaginal walls thinner, drier, and less elastic. The stage is set for discomfort during intimacy, and the risk of urinary tract infections rises.
Bladder Ballet: Menopause introduces various bladder performances – frequency-, urgency-, nocturia-, and stress incontinence. Vaginal estrogen creams and pelvic floor exercises take center stage to combat GSM symptoms. Bid farewell to caffeine’s supporting role, known to contribute to urinary frequency.
Weighty Matters: The natural script of aging unfolds, ushering in muscle loss and metabolic shifts. Hormonal fluctuations add a plot twist, contributing to weight gain. Obesity becomes a risk factor for incontinence, challenging your script. Enter the protagonists – physical activity and a mindful diet, guarding against the unseen antagonist, unwanted pounds.
Bones in the Spotlight: Declining estrogen orchestrates changes in bone density, making them vulnerable to fractures. Vitamin D supplements, exercise, and calcium-rich foods take their positions, fortifying the skeletal ensemble.
Fear not, for your knight in shining armor may come in the form of food. Dr. Lynn Pattimakiel, a maestro of women’s health, unveils the culinary magic that can help you conquer the menopausal dragon.
The Culinary Symphony: How Food Impacts Symptoms
In the grand orchestra of life, a well-balanced diet takes center stage, but during menopause, your body demands a little extra TLC. Dr. Pattimakiel recommends a diet that’s not just a meal plan but a lifestyle – enter the Mediterranean diet, a tantalizing fusion of lean proteins, whole grains, and a parade of plant-based delights.
But hold your horses; extreme diets are a no-go. Dr. Pattimakiel urges a realistic approach, “We want changes that you can make now and continue going forward.” This totally makes sense because the average woman going through menopause already has enough to deal with if she’s experiencing symptoms. Any dietary changes need to be made slowly so they are sustainable. It is non-negotiable to part ways with processed foods and any refined carbohydrates which wreck havoc on blood sugar. That’s critical for menopause when the decrease in estrogen makes metabolizing carbs more difficult.
The Culinary Canvas: Foods to Navigate Menopause
Now, let’s unveil the culinary tapestry that can weave through the intricate dance of menopause.
Calcium-rich Marvels: Menopause might be stealthily weakening your bones. Enter calcium-rich wonders to the rescue:
- Cow’s milk
- Full fat cheese
NOTE: In terms of calcium rich dairy, aim for raw full fat dairy if possible because pasteurized dairy is linked to inflammation like arthritis and auto-immune issues. The process of pasteurization kills all the live bacteria and enzymes which are essential for a healthy microbiome. In many instances of dairy allergies or sensitivities people are reacting to the beta casein A1 compared to the beta casein A2. To really know if you have a dairy allergy or sensitivity would require testing. I recommend the Carroll Blood Test. For a New York based naturopath who does this test you can contact Dr. Saul Marcus. Many doctors will do telemedicine if you are not local.
Here is a quote from the Westin A Price Foundation, “raw milk is better than pasteurized milk in promoting growth and calcium absorption (Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 518, p 8, 1933); that a substance present in raw cream (but not in pasteurized cream) prevents joint stiffness and the pain of arthritis (Annual Review of Biochemistry, 18:435, 1944), children who drink raw milk have fewer allergic skin problems and far less asthma than children who drink pasteurized milk (Clinical & Experimental Allergy. 2007 May; 35(5) 627-630).”
Aim for 1,200-1,500 milligrams a day, and if dairy isn’t your jam, weave a calcium tapestry through a high quality supplement from holistic pharmacist, Suzy Cohen – Calcium/Magnesium.
Veggies to the Rescue but With a Bit of Caution: Your plate should be a vibrant canvas of greens, not just for weight management but also to fortify those bones. Spinach, turnips, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and kale are your allies. However, if you are sensitive to oxalates but do not want to eliminate all veggies, aim for no more than 50-100 mg of oxalate containing veggies. I’ve done a blog post on this before and with menopause joint pain can increase, so you may want to consider choosing low oxalate vegetables. Beans are part of the oxalate family with some being lower than others. Vegetables and legumes contain lectins or anti-nutrients which means they are hard on the gut to break down and can cause a plethora of issues from leaky gut to digestive issues. Yes you heard that right. Soy, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, veggies and night shades have something called “protease inhibitors” which means they inhibit the breakdown of protein. When you eat, you need to have the enzyme “protease.” If you are a vegetarian and consume a lot of soy for example, then your body is not able to break down the protein (due to the protease inhibitor in soy) and use it for energy and other functions such as growth, repair, immunity, hormone formation and other metabolic processes.
The organ in greatest danger is the pancreas. When protease inhibitors keep the pancreas from producing enough trypsin (an enzyme that helps to break down protein) and proteases, the body compensates by increasing the number of pancreatic cells (hyperplasia) and their size (hypertrophy). If this happens here and there, the pancreas rises to the challenge and then recovers. However, when the pancreas is stressed day after day, pancreatitis and even cancer become distinct possibilities. In the 1970s and 1980s, researchers studying protease-inhibitor damage to the pancreas noted that pancreatic cancer had moved up to fifth place as a cause of cancer death among humans, and wondered whether there might be a soybean-protease inhibitors connection
Protein Emissaries: Grass fed and grass finished fatty beef, pasture raised chicken, grass fed and grass finished organ meats, wild fatty fish such as salmon and pasture raised whole eggs, and low oxalate beans such as lentils are not just your protein posse; they are the guardians of your weight, bone strength,hormonal health and muscle mass.
Grains of Resilience That Are Properly Prepared : When it comes to whole grains, it’s a tightrope walk because most people do not properly prepare them and the consumption over time can cause chronic disease. Although many grains do contain a nice concentration of vitamins and minerals, they must be soaked, sprouted and/or fermented for the human digestive system to break down and benefit from the nutrients.
Fruitful Symphony: Fruits and vegetables compose a symphony of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Not only do they champion general health, but for some, they may even dim the intensity of hot flashes. Fruit does contain sugar (natural fructose) and even too much of a good thing can backfire. Aim for fruits lower in sugar, especially if you are menopausal where there is a greater sensitivity to metabolizing carbohydrates and balancing blood sugar.
The Supplement Arsenal: When Food Falls Short
Calcium Pills: Lactose intolerant or vegan? Calcium pills to the rescue, but remember, moderation is key.
Vitamin D3: A daily dose for bone structure improvement – a perfect dance partner to calcium.
Zinc: One mineral imbalance that’s notorious for stirring up hormonal problems is the zinc to copper ratio. When copper is present in the proper amounts, it supports vital enzymes and biological processes, but rising copper levels paired with falling zinc levels set you up for estrogen dominance. Copper imbalance is highly prevalent, affecting nearly 80 percent of all men, women and children. Symptoms of copper excess include fatigue, obsessive thoughts, poor memory, sleeplessness, depression and mood swings, Candida overgrowth, low thyroid and migraine headaches. If you are a vegetarian, you will need to supplement with zinc, since vegan and vegetarian diets contain very little zinc compared to those who consume beef.
Black Cohosh: Black Cohosh is a popular herb that’s been used to help menopausal women decrease the events of hot flashes. In the study, “Black cohosh and fluoxetine in the treatment of postmenopausal symptoms: a prospective, randomized trial,” Compared with fluoxetine, black cohosh is more effective for treating hot flushes and night sweats.Fluoxetine is also called Prozac which most people are familiar with for the treatment of depression. This was used in the study.
Ashwaganda: In a double blind, randomized, placebo controlled clinical study on the effects of the adaptogen, Ashwaganda, this herb showed to improve sleep, stress and cortisol levels. You can read the study here – Adaptogenic and Anxiolytic Effects of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Healthy Adults. Many menopausal women experience sleep disturbances, anxiety and stress and Ashwaganda can be effective at curbing those symptoms. Always consult with a healthcare provider who is well versed in the study of herbs and their effect upon the body, before taking something new.
Maca: A superfood for energy, stamina and libido. Maca is a root vegetable belonging to the Brassica family. In postmenopausal women, it’s been found to reduce psychological symptoms, including anxiety and depression, and improve libido. Maca stimulates the hypothalamus and pituitary glands which in turn regulate the other glands in the body, and can bring balance to the adrenal, thyroid, pancreatic, ovarian and testicular glands. As with the other herbs/adaptogens mentioned above, it’s a good idea to consult with an herbalist or naturopath who is well versed in the use of herbs/plant medicine.
The Culinary Maze: Foods to Tread Lightly
As the culinary narrative unfolds, certain foods demand a curtain call, urging you to step back.
Carb Conundrum: Menopause might change the carb game. Processed carbs, sugars, pasta, white bread, potatoes, and rice could be the culprits behind unwanted weight gain.
Trans Fats Drama: Bacon, potato chips, margarine – the villains of trans fats increase the risk of weight gain and heart disease. Time to bid adieu and embrace a lighter you. Avoid processed foods.
Sugar Sonata: Choose carbohydrates wisely, steering clear of fast, processed options destabilizing blood glucose. A sweet farewell to sugary indulgences that disrupt your metabolic harmony.
Artificial Sweetener Saga: Aspartame and its kin take a back seat. Water emerges as the reigning champion, offering a thirst-quenching alternative to diet sodas and chewing gum. Avoid at all costs. Food scientists who create these products make it a point to make fake food taste as close to sugar as possible giving you a dopamine hit that has you wanting for more. More fake food equals digestive problems and disrupts your body’s biochemistry. Fake food does not belong in your body or anywhere.
Caffeine and Alcohol Drama: Your morning coffee might be fueling those hot flashes. The sleep sanctuary may be disturbed by even modest amounts of alcohol, impacting your recovery process and inviting unwelcome calories. Trim down on caffeine, and consider shelving that evening wine to soothe intense symptoms.
Spicy Symphony: Hot flashes and spicy foods? Not the best duet. Bid farewell to cayenne pepper, salsa, and jalapeno peppers; opt for thyme and basil for flavor kicks.
Harmony for Adrenal Glands: A Stress-Reducing Encore
Menopause may bring stress to the stage, with hormonal changes causing mood swings and disrupted sleep. Adrenal glands, produce the stress hormone, cortisol and shoulder the burden. B-vitamins, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins C and D offer support, allowing the glands to harmonize.
Menopause and Incontinence: Unveiling the Connection
As estrogen exits the scene during menopause, the pelvic floor muscles can lose their elasticity and strength. Dryer, thinner vaginal and urinary tract tissues join the narrative, which may pave the way for incontinence. In this delicate phase, maintaining good skin health, pelvic floor exercises and exercise in general helps to strengthen muscles, preventing the unwanted encore of incontinence. Also a diet that is higher in healthy saturated fats will help improve the delicate tissues of the pelvic floor and provide more integrity. A good book to read up on this is “Good Fat is Good for Women-Menopause,” by Dr. Elizabeth Bright.
As the curtain falls on the menopausal saga, remember, each woman’s journey is unique. The culinary choices you make can be the notes that accompany you on this transformative odyssey. Consult your healthcare provider, the maestro of your well-being, to compose a dietary score that resonates with your individual needs. It’s time to savor the flavors of menopause, where every bite is a step towards harmony and well-being!
In the whirlwind of menopausal changes, your diet might just be the compass you need. Whether battling hot flashes or fortifying bones, your plate holds the key. Remember, consult your healthcare provider or dietitian before embarking on any dietary revolution. It’s time to savor the flavors of menopause – one bite at a time!