Here are a few facts on how diet and lifestyle specifically influence the symptoms of menopause:
• Alcohol, caffeine, sugar, excess salt, nicotine and a sedentary lifestyle all increase the rate at which minerals are lost from bone and excreted in urine. These minerals include calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc, and vitamins A, C and the B complex, which contribute to maintaining bone density, the immune system, healthy skin, hormone metabolism and balance, and emotional/psychological state.
• Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, sugar and stress all contribute to increased levels of a hormone called cortisol in the body. Cortisol competes with progesterone and can increase oestrogen dominance, which can exacerbate menopausal symptoms.
• Nicotine decreases oestrogen production and increases oestrogen breakdown. Post-menopausal women who smoke, fracture bones more often than women who do not smoke.
• Smoking also hugely increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
• Endorphins (feel-good hormones) are lowered by stress, boosted by exercise.
• Foods containing substances called phyto-oestrogens can help reduce menopausal symptoms including hot flushes, aka hot flashes, vaginal dryness and low bone density. Phyto-oestrogens are found in soy products* including tofu and tempeh, legumes (beans, peas & lentils), many nuts, seeds (particularly flaxseed), grains, berries and other fruits. Soy is particularly recommended for improving bone mineral density (bone strength).
• The body’s response to hormones is controlled by prostaglandins, which are derived from essential fats in the diet. The best dietary sources of essential fat are seeds, seed oils and fish.
• Menopausal women have an increased risk of osteoporosis, but dietary and lifestyle factors can do a lot to reduce this risk. These include eating more seeds, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables for calcium** and other minerals, instead of dairy produce, which is high in oestrogenic hormones*** (and can contribute to oestrogen dominance). A heaped tablespoon of ground seeds a day provides plenty of calcium, magnesium and other essential nutrients.
• Regular weight-bearing exercise is important for maintaining bone density. Just walking for 15 minutes a day can make a difference. Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes/flashes. It’s also a great way to relieve stress and boost mood.
* There has been conflicting advice about the beneficial, and/or detrimental, effects of soy-based foodstuffs, with regard to menopause. The most recent research suggests that soy products are beneficial.
** Cow’s milk and other dairy products from cow, are not necessarily the best sources of calcium. Milk is low in the magnesium needed to assimilate calcium, and there are other food sources that are higher. For example:
Calcium-rich foods per 100g
Kelp (seaweed) - 1093mg
Blackstrap molasses - 579mg
Sardines - 550mg
Dried figs - 280mg
Almonds - 250mg
Watercress - 220mg
Tofu - 128mg
Sunflower seeds - 100mg
Comparison with dairy food per 100ml/g
Cheddar cheese - 800mg
Yoghurt - 180mg
Cow milk - 120mg
NB: Goat milk contains more calcium and magnesium than cow milk. It is also rich in phosphorus and vitamin D, which are needed for calcium absorption and boosting bone mass.
The RDA of calcium pre-menopause is 1000mg per day; post-menopause 1500mg per day.
*** There is a group of chemicals found in the environment that mimic the oestrogen that is produced in our bodies. These chemicals, which are collectively known as xeno-oestrogens, can be absorbed into our bodies and have been linked to many reproductive disorders, including breast cancer. These chemicals are found in many man-made products, including plastics, insecticides and animal growth promoters, and they are also released into the air during manufacturing processes. Xeno-oestrogens are stored in animal fat, for example meat and dairy products. Eating organically grown and reared food, avoiding foodstuffs that are wrapped in plastic etc, can help reduce your exposure to xeno-oestrogens.
NB: Phyto-oestrogens found in plants and foodstuffs are also xeno-oestrogens, but these are ‘healthy’ ones that have a beneficial effect on our reproductive system.
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