By Jackie Lynch
The media spotlight is very much on the menopause in October – not only is it Menopause Month, but World Menopause Day is on 18th October. But the menopause isn’t seasonal – if you’re one of the 13 million women currently going through this hormonal transition, you’re going to need support all year round. This is why I wrote my new book The Happy Menopause: Smart Nutrition to Help You Flourish, because there simply isn’t enough information out there about the multiple ways that the right nutrition and lifestyle can help to support women achieve a healthy and happy menopause.
It’s important to remember that the menopause isn’t a medical condition; it’s a natural life stage that women have been experiencing for millennia, so of course our very clever body has a back-up plan. As oestrogen production in the ovaries starts to decline, our adrenal glands are programmed to take over, producing the small amounts of oestrogen we need to keep fit and well post-menopause. The problem is that the adrenal glands also produce the stress response and when we’re in stress overload, oestrogen production simply doesn’t get a look in and this is when menopause symptoms start to become more frequent and severe.
A midlife woman is typically a very busy woman, juggling far too many things and usually thinking about everything and everyone except herself. If that sounds familiar, then it’s time to make some drastic changes, because it’s important to be kind to yourself during the menopause. Take the time to manage your schedule properly so you don’t overload yourself; dare to say ‘no’; factor in time for fresh air and exercise every day; prioritise ‘me’ time, where you focus on relaxing, enjoyable activities and surround yourself with positive people who make you feel happy. All of this will actively help to reduce stress and support the correct balance of hormones, to help you manage your symptoms.
In parallel to that, the right diet will help to support those busy adrenal glands and regulate the body’s response to stress, so that you feel better equipped to cope with the challenges of daily life. Here are three simple changes you can make to you diet which will make a material difference to you and your menopause symptoms:
- Eat protein with every meal and snack.
You can do this by adding chopped nuts or seeds to your morning cereal; have a protein-rich lentil or chicken soup at lunchtime and make sure that protein represents ¼ of the overall meal at lunch and dinner. The benefits of doing this are multiple – we need protein to build strong bones and to support muscle tone, because we lose up to 40% of muscle mass by the time we’ve gone through the menopause. Protein helps to maintain blood sugar balance and support adrenal function, by avoiding the blood sugar crashes that lead to the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It will also keep you going for longer and reduce instances of sugar and carb cravings. We need protein for growth and repair of cells, to build neurotransmitters that support mood, memory and motivation, as well as for great skin, hair and nails, so it’s an all-round winner for the midlife woman. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, pulses, soya, quinoa, nuts and seeds, so keep yourself nicely topped up and you’ll reap the benefits.
- Eat 2 handfuls of leafy green vegetables every day
Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, cabbage or rocket are all packed with magnesium which is every menopausal woman’s best friend. This marvellous mineral does a whole range of important jobs in the body! It’s nature’s calmer, helping to support the nervous system and regulate the body’s response to stress so that you feel more resilient. It also helps to relieve aching muscles and joints – an Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) bath is the perfect antidote after a tiring and stressful day. Magnesium also helps to support energy levels, because it acts as our ignition key, kick-starting the energy production process in the body. If you feel as if you’re clinging on by your fingertips and just keeping going through sheer willpower, then you’re probably low in magnesium. Menstrual headaches are often associated with a deficiency in magnesium. Leafy greens have plenty of other benefits too, because they’re packed with vitamin C, a powerful immune support which also promotes collagen production, keeping our skin plump and flexible; they’re a great source of calcium which is important for bone health and they’re also a great plant source of iron.
- Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your breakfast cereal, porridge or smoothie
This is an excellent way of balancing your blood sugar at the start of the day, because flaxseed is a great source of protein and fibre so it will set you up well for the day and help you avoid a mid-morning blood sugar crash. Flaxseed is also packed with the essential fatty acid omega 3, which plays a key role in heart, brain and hormone health, as well as supporting the integrity of our skin. It has the added benefit of containing phytoestrogens called lignans, which are plant compounds that mimic the action oestrogen in the body and some studies suggest that they may help to reduce symptoms of hot flushes and night sweats.
Jackie Lynch is a Registered Nutritional Therapist and host of the popular diet & lifestyle podcast, The Happy Menopause. Her new book The Happy Menopause: Smart Nutrition to Help You Flourish is out now. Follow her on social media at @WellWellWellUK or visit her website www.well-well-well.co.uk.