During the menopausal stage of a woman's life, certain recommendations, including a menopause diet, are beneficial for general health, well-being, and the management of the many side effects that accompany this change in a woman's body.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is when the female body no longer supports the release of an egg from the ovary, thus no uterine activity is necessary. This happens because the ovaries stop producing enough estrogen and progesterone to support the reproductive events that occur over a month's time. Hence, menopause marks the end of a woman's reproductive years.
When menstruation does not occur for a full year, menopause has fully been reached. The time leading up to this one year mark is called perimenopause. Perimenopause can last for less than a year to a few years or more, depending on the individual. During this initial stage, monthly menstruation ceases, although intermittent cycles may still occur. Hot flashes, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue are common side effects. This change can occur as young as mid-30's up to mid-50's, again depending on the individual.
Primary Changes Taking Place
Many alterations occur during this stage of the female body. These changes require adaptations and adjustments on the outside in order to support what is happening on the inside. Diet is an important matter for many reasons. Most importantly, since the body no longer requires the energy to support the reproductive system and its events, the total number of calories taken in each day needs to be reduced in order to avoid weight gain. Also, because estrogen is depleted at this time, yet it is a primary component for the absorption of calcium, an increased quantity of dietary calcium is needed to compensate the decreased absorption rate and the prevention of bone loss.
How Can a Menopause Diet Help?
While there is no concrete, spelled-out diet for menopause and the time leading up to it, there are several dietary recommendations to follow during this time. Not only will following a healthy eating plan help with maintaining optimal well-being post-menopause, it will help ease the discomforts that often accompany the changes taking place hormonally prior to full menopause.
Perimenopause Dietary Recommendations:
The following recommendations may help with the symptoms leading up to complete menopause:
- Vitamin E: Often referred to as the "menopause vitamin", it appears to function similarly to estrogen on a chemical level in the body. It may help relieve hot flashes, as well as the emotional symptoms often experienced. It can be found in wheat germ, eggs, dark green vegetables, and almonds.
- Bioflavonoids: These plant components may also help with hot flashes, anxiety and other emotional side effects. Bioflavonoids can be found mainly in the pulp of citrus fruits.
- Isoflavones: This powerful plant estrogen has been found to decrease the number and severity of hot flashes and other symptoms related to fluctuating human hormone levels due to its similar human estrogen structure. It is often referred to as the "natural" hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Since it is accepted by human receptor cells, it can fulfill the body's need for estrogen, and thus eases the discomforts of perimenopause. Isoflavones can be found in soybeans and its products, flax seed, borage oil and red clover.
- Eliminating caffeine and other stimulants: Since insomnia is a major side effect and causes many other problems, such as fatigue, appetite changes, and lethargy, decreasing or avoiding caffeine in coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate can only assist with better sleeping patterns. Any stimulants, including alcohol, are best to be avoided if insomnia is apparent.
- B-complex: Especially needed if hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is prescribed, the B vitamins function to ease the many emotional difficulties associated perimenopause. Stress, fatigue, depression, and irritability can be reduced with adequate B-complex intake. Foods rich in B vitamins include grains, nuts, peas, beans, meat, poultry, fish, and bananas.
Menopause Dietary Recommendations
The following recommendations may help with general health after menopause has been reached:
- Adjust calories: Since basal metabolic rate (BMR) is significantly reduced now, [Diet and Nutrition|calorie requirement]] is decreased as well. Watching portions carefully and eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods provides the basic foundation for consuming appropriate calorie amounts.
- Calcium: This mineral is critical to the maintenance of bone strength. Since absorption rate of calcium is reduced now, dietary intake and/or supplements are necessary to avoid bone loss leading to osteoporosis. Low-fat dairy products, fortified foods and juices, and canned fish with edible bones (sardines and salmon) are primary sources. If you choose to take calcium supplements, split the dose to equal no more than 300-500mg per dose. Your body will not absorb more than that amount at one time.
- Vitamin D: Essential for ongoing strength of bone mass and calcium absorption, vitamin D can be found in the same foods as calcium. Calcium supplements almost always contain vitamin D as well.
- Magnesium: This mineral is noted to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, fatigue, anxiety and depression. Phosphorus and zinc are equally needed for lowering the risk of osteoporosis. Figs, lemons, grapefruit, corn, almonds, soybeans and apples provide adequate amounts of these minerals.
- Vitamin C: This "healing vitamin" is important for collagen production, a function our body does not do as efficiently as before menopause. It is also beneficial for the function of the adrenal glands and immune system, both of which become compensated at this time.
If weight loss is a result of menopause, exercise can be extremely helpful. With exercise, your body will utilize the extra calories that have not been adjusted through food intake. Seeking support from commercial diet plans, such as Weight Watchers, can also offer you guidance toward better eating habits. The services of a nutritionist or similar health professional can also provide specific recommendations just for you.