Food to Fight Menopause
The menopause occurs when women reach a certain age, often around the early 50’s, when oestrogen and progesterone hormone levels start to drop, the ovaries stop releasing eggs, and the menstrual cycle stops.
The menopause effects women differently and to vary degrees of severity, however common symptoms include hot flushes, anxiety, sweating, insomnia, high blood pressure, weight gain and memory loss. In the longer term, the reduction in oestrogen caused by the menopause can increase the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis (weakened bone strength).
Scientific studies, and anecdotal evidence show that dietary changes can help women as they go through the menopause, by reducing symptoms and protecting against associated disease risks.
Soy contains compounds called isoflavones that exert a mild oestrogen-like effect. It has been suggested that eating soy-based foods could help to reduce the symptoms associated with the menopause. Although the scientific evidence to support this claim is fairy inconclusive, several studies now suggest that regular consumption of soy may reduce frequency and severity of hot flushes by anything up to 20-25%, and may help to moderate other undesirable symptoms of the menopause1,2.
Protecting bone health
The decreasing oestrogen levels that occur during menopause have been directly associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Bone mass naturally starts to decline after the age of around 30, and the drop in oestrogen during the menopause can lead to a period of accelerated bone loss3. It is important for women to eat increased amounts of calcium and vitamin D at this time. Calcium can be found in food such as dairy products, fish with edible bones, broccoli and leafy greens. Vitamin D can be found in foods such as oily fish and eggs.
Minimising heart disease risk
While menopause does not cause heart disease, menopausal women are at higher risk of developing heart disease due to falling oestrogen levels and other related physiological changes4. To lower the risk of heart disease it is advised that women reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diets, especially those from animal sources. Removing refined sugar from the diet, and including plenty of wholegrains, fish, pulses, fruit, vegetables and olive oil will also help to lower the risk of heart disease.
Avoiding hot flushes
The exact cause of hot flushes is unknown, however it is believed that hormonal changes cause the body to become much more sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and circulation. It is advisable to avoid spicy food, hot drinks and caffeine which could aggravate hot flushes. Heat and stress should also be avoided if possible. Smoking and drinking alcohol may further exacerbate the symptoms of the menopause, as well as increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Food to fight menopause summary
A healthy, balanced diet can help to support women going through the menopause. Refined sugar and saturated fats should be avoided, and the diet should include plenty of wholegrains, pulses, fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, oily fish, eggs, olive oil and soy.