Menopause is an uncomfortable subject for most women to talk about, but it is very important for women of all ages to educate themselves on how to prevent early onset and how to make their experience through menopause more comfortable. Menopause is a time of drastic hormonal changes in a female’s life, typically occurring around the age of 51. It can be experienced at an earlier age though, if certain aspects of a women’s lifestyle promote early onset, such as smoking and poor diet. The start of menopause is identified by the decrease in the production of estrogen and progesterone, and the absence of a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months. This time period is commonly accompanied by hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, dry skin, headaches, depression, irritability, and other not so pleasant side effects; however, there are ways to combat and prevent these symptoms through proper nutrition and exercise practices.
When it pertains to nutrition, consuming phytoestrogens during menopause can be beneficial because it is a compound that has an “estrogen-like” action in the body. These can be found in high concentration in fruits and vegetables, specifically soybeans, oat bran, lentils, black beans, carrots, onions, apples, pears, cherries, garlic, olive oil, and green/black tea. As stated previously, during menopause there is a decline of estrogen in the body, by incorporating these foods into your daily diet, you may be able to slow the decline and buffer some of the side effects associated. Daily soy supplementation itself has proven to decrease the frequency of hot flashes drastically. Soy contains isoflavones, which are estrogen like phytochemicals, that cause estrogen like activities in the body to occur as well. Other things that you can do to minimize hot flashes is avoid spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol. If you are experiencing nausea during menopause, or in general, try to avoid acidic foods like tomatoes and OJ. If you are experiencing mood swings then try reducing your intake of sugar. When we consume high amounts of sugar, especially in the morning, our body has an instant increase in blood sugar, followed by a rapid decrease in blood sugar. This will cause a dramatic fluctuation in mood and energy throughout the day. If you are experiencing headaches during menopause then avoid alcohol, especially red wine and beer, and caffeine as they are common triggers for headaches.
There are two common diseases associated with menopause including osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Osteoporosis is directly related to the decline of estrogen that occurs during menopause. Bones contain receptors for estrogen that increase bone mineral density. After the estrogen in the body drops due to menopause, bone mineral density drops in response. To help slow the loss of bone mineral density, it is recommended that women take 500 mg of a calcium supplement in the am and 500 mg in the pm. Taking a dose, two times a day, promises better absorption and utilization in the body. Magnesium also helps bones absorb calcium and may reduce irritability, mood swings, insomnia, and anxiety. Vitamin D is a promoter of calcium absorption as well, which can be absorbed from the sun or can be taken as a supplement. Overconsumption of protein, phosphorus, caffeine, sodas, tea, and chocolate can cause our bodies to push out calcium through urination, rather than absorb it. Becoming more food conscious as women get older, is exceedingly important to ensure that adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals are consumed to support good health.
“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women, especially postmenopausal women” (Volpe, S., 2007.). This is especially true in postmentopausal women because their blood LDL-Cs increase as they get older. LDL-C, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, are considered to be the bad cholesterol in our bodies because they cause plaque build up in the blood vessels and arteries. HDL-C’s, or high density lipoprotein cholesterol, aka the good cholesterol, helps to eliminate LDL-Cs in the blood. Isoflavones in soy, omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed, and flaxseed oil also help to promote the increase of HDL-C’s in the blood, leading to lower LDL-C levels. A decreased consumption of saturated fats will help promote the same action.
Changing or modifying one’s diet may be very beneficial for women going through menopause, but the combination of both improved diet and increased physical activity is proven to be even more effective. Exercise has been demonstrated to alleviate stress, which is directly associated with diminished LDL-C levels in the body. Weight gain and a slower metabolism is usually related to the process of going through menopause, both of which can be countered with the use of exercise. Aerobic exercise and resistance training are both beneficial to the older females, before, during, and after menopause. They both decrease stress levels, increase muscle mass, increase your resting metabolism, and hinder the loss of bone mineral density. Both also improve blood pressure, blood lipid levels, blood glucose levels, reaction time, self esteem, and enhance one’s mood. Participating in moderate intensity exercise, for 30 minutes, most days of the week is recommended for women in menopause.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle, that includes a balanced diet and frequent physical activity can be beneficial for everyone, especially women who are reaching the age of menopause and beyond. Diet modification and exercise are proven to be very helpful in combating the sometimes terrible symptoms of menopause. Your lifestyle choices are the controllable factors that can prevent you from developing osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, which are the two main killers of women over the age of 50. Don’t take your health and body for granted. Make some of the above small changes listed above now before it’s too late. Need some help, reach out to us at 210.495.3131.