This great guest post was written by Dr. Serena Goldstein, a naturopathic doctor specializing in natural hormone balance! I encourage you to go check out her website!
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when menses ceases, usually around 45-50 years old, though symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia (sometimes the first sign of menopause), irregular periods, fatigue, dryness (e.g. vagina, skin), and mood changes may begin to appear anywhere from a few years before to even a more than a decade earlier.
These symptoms may also overlap with other concerns, such as weight issues or stress, so it’s important to not just treat the symptom, but to incorporate proper nutrition, amongst other lifestyle techniques, that addresses overall health and equips the body to handle hormonal changes as best as possible.
But First, What’s Really Going on During Menopause?
Physiologically, sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone decline due to a decrease in follicle production in her ovary, and the adrenal glands, two glands that sit on top of each kidney, become the main players in making these hormones. These hormones contribute to our health like bone and muscle mass, elasticity of arteries (reduces risk of cardiovascular events), vaginal lubrication, healthy libido, mood stability, good sleep, healthy energy, and regular, potentially asymptomatic periods.
We have a natural inherent rhythm as evidenced by our sleep/wake cycle, and our body thrives on balance. Similarly, when the hormonal cycle is disrupted, it results in menopausal symptoms. For example, hot flashes are due to blood vessels constricting (drop in estrogen) and dilating, which can also trigger an emotional response of impending doom (further adding to more stress that can affect blood vessels and alter hormone balance).
What Can Worsen Symptoms of Menopause?
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Estrogen is not the only culprit for symptoms. Below are other factors that can compromise overall health and further worsen symptoms:
- Suboptimal liver function i.e. responsible for making and metabolizing hormones
- Poor gut health
- Inadequate thyroid
- Adrenal fatigue
How To Manage Menopause Symptoms Naturally With Diet
Menopausal symptoms, like many current conditions, can occur to any extent and be due to a multitude of reasons, with nutrition being one of the more vital factors (in addition to proper sleep, stress management, exercise, and lifestyle habits).
Here are 20 different foods for the most common symptoms, and just like there’s overlap in the interplay of how organ systems and our emotional well-being affect symptoms, these foods also have highly nutritious benefits that extend beyond our endocrine system.
- Ground flaxseed – mimics estrogen though helps clears it out by promoting good liver and digestive health
- Broccoli – high in vitamin C, which is a great nutrient for the liver, great antioxidant, and rich in fiber to help with digestion and weight control
- Strawberries – also high in vitamin C
- Mushrooms – rich sources of B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and protein, which are all imperative for hormone production. Also helps protect against heart disease
- Garlic – helps to protect against blood clots and cardiovascular events by thinning blood
- Avoid eating spicy foods
- Avocado – high in healthy fats, protein, magnesium (nature’s relaxer) and B vitamins; important for hormone and neurotransmitter production
- Salmon (wild-caught) – high in healthy fats (omega 3’s), anti-inflammatory, and good for brain health
- Eggs (pasteurized, organic) – provides good fats, and rich in B vitamins
- Maca powder – allows for more efficient uptake of hormones into cells, can help improve mood concerns in peri/postmenopausal women
- Coconut oil – contains healthy fats and the medium chain triglycerides help provide a quick boost of sustainable energy
- Kale – high in vitamin C
- Lean protein (organic, grass fed) – important for adrenal/stress health, complete source of amino acids for mechanisms like optimal neurotransmitter synthesis
- Almonds – great blend of protein, fats, and carbohydrates (helps keep us satiated)
- Spinach – high in vitamin E, critical for adrenal and liver health (both important for metabolizing and making hormones), antioxidant
- Tart cherry juice (or cherries)– contain melatonin (our sleep hormone)
- Walnuts – great brain food and contains good fats
- Pumpkin seeds – high amounts of tryptophan, that same ingredient in turkey that sends us off to dreamland (or food coma)
- Halibut (wild-caught) – boosts vitamin B6, like salmon, which is needed to make melatonin
- Chickpeas – good source of fiber, and also rich in B6
- Avoid: alcohol before bed, coffee after noon, eating too close to bedtime; give yourself about 3-4 hours
- Dark chocolate (72% or higher) – makes phenylethylamine, a compound we produce when we are in love. Can also boost serotonin (our happy hormone), protect against heart disease, and increase nitric oxide to promote blood flow
- Shrimp – helps promote nitric oxide release
- Pistachios – contains amino acid, arginine, which promotes increased blood flow, and reduces risk of heart disease
- Watermelon – contains citrulline, which helps relax and dilate blood vessels
- Oysters – one of the most popular foods, and is high in zinc (helps make testosterone)
Overall, Avoid These Foods
- Common allergens – go a few weeks without eating gluten, dairy, soy, egg, sugar, and then add it back in (stop if immediate symptoms)
- Processed foods
- Caffeine (raises cortisol, our stress hormone; also a diuretic and depletes B & C vitamins)
- Alcohol (diuretic; puts extra strain on the liver, metabolized immediately to sugar, and raises cortisol)
- Refined carbohydrates
- Fast food
Finally, A Note on Phytoestrogens
You may have heard of phytoestrogens as a type of food that is beneficial for menopause – these are plant-based foods that act like estrogen as they attach to the receptor and act like a weak estrogen, which is why they help mitigate various declining estrogen-related menopausal concerns like heart disease, hot flashes, insomnia, and anxiety/depression.
Soy products are one of the most well known, though it is also one of most genetically modified, therefore it is important to look for organic and fermented sources such as natto, miso or tempeh. Nutritionally, ground flaxseeds are great because they also provide fiber to clear out extra hormones and feed good gut bacteria. Other foods include, but not limited to, pomegranates, apples, lentils, oats, sesame seeds, coffee, and yams.
That being said, the debate continues if these foods are really beneficial, especially with the prevalence of hormone sensitive cancers, and risk of cognitive decline both correlated to phytoestrogen intake. However, numerous studies have shown that there still isn’t a good answer and it may be best recommended on a per person basis (Chen, Lin, Liu, 2015).
Health is about listening to, and nourishing, your body with various resources, as there usually isn’t one single answer or treatment (natural or pharmaceutical) for why symptoms occur. It is always best to follow an individualized plan that addresses all physiological and emotional origins.
- Chen, M., Lin, C., & Liu, C. (2015). Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Climacteric. 18(2):260-269.
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