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Hot flushes, memory loss, insomnia, anxiety, loss of sex drive...Many women fear the onset of the menopause. However, the menopause varies for every woman. Some women seem to get hardly a single hot-flush from the start of the perimenopause (the few months or years before your periods stop), while others have severe symptoms for a decade or more.
To make things worse, experts can't agree on the benefits and risks of HRT, the most common medication prescribed to ease menopause symptoms, with some experts citing it as an increased risk factor in blood-clots and breast cancer. One thing that is known is that HRT is not suitable for women who have already had breast cancer.
Concerns about HRT are driving more women to find more natural methods to control their symptoms. Here, we look at how you can eat to ease your menopause symptoms.
Symptom: Hot flushes
A.K.A. "Hot flashes"
For many women, this is the most noticeable symptom. Hot flushes get you running out of rooms, throwing open windows and doors, and fanning yourself with any piece of paper that comes to hand.
There are several things you can eat to control hot flushes:
Green leafy vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables (such as watercress, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli) are packed with phytochemicals, and healthy fibre. The fibre is great for your gut, helping eliminate waste products so they don't sit in your body and become toxins. This reduces your number of hot flushes.
Studies have shown that oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel) reduce the number of hot flushes but not the severity. It's thought this is due to the anti-inflammatory component EPA. You should eat 2-3 portions per week, or take a 1g fish oil supplement daily.
Seeds (linseeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds) are full of phytoestrogens, which are similar to your own natural oestrogen. These will reduce your hot flushes, and revive a waning sexual libido.
Wholegrains (such as brown rice, barley and wholewheat pasta) can prevent hot flushes due to the lignan they contain. Lignans mimic naturally-occurring oestrogen in the body. They are also high in fibre, which prevent spikes in blood glucose levels, which occur as oestrogen dips in the body.
Cut these triggers:
Spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
Symptom: Mood Changes and Anxiety
Anxiety and mood changes (most typically depression and irritability) are a common part of the menopause. To beat these symptoms, try these foods:
Such as legumes, cottage-cheese, oats and turkey. Tryptophan converts into the happy neurotransmitter serotonin, making it essential for a balanced mood.
Many women have the physically and emotionally-draining experience of being tired throughout the menopause. If this is you, practice good sleep hygiene, and try this:
Caffeine and sugary-foods. These will give you a short-term boost, but the uneven effect on your blood glucose levels will leave you feeling more tired in the long-term.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet with lots of nutrients. Snack on fresh fruits and nuts to keep your blood glucose levels stable in a healthy way throughout the day.
Menopausal women with insomnia are in a bad situation: exhausted all day, can't sleep all night. Tossing and turning, throwing back the covers. If that's you, take a look at these foods that can help you beat insomnia:
Beans, chickpeas, and lentils are chockfull of healthy magnesium. Magnesium can soothe racing thoughts when you can't sleep. It's also essential for GABA function. GABA function is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that binds to neurons, controlling anxiety experienced when neurons are excited. This helps calm you down and relax.
Warm milk and oatcakes
Dairy and oats are full of the amino acid tryptophan, which converts into the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Try this combination before bed to help you settle down at night. Also eat plenty of tryptophan-rich foods throughout the day, like chicken, nuts and seeds.