With Women’s Health Week just passed, it couldn't be more timely to talk about something as women we will all experience at some stage in our lives; menopause.
What is menopause?
Menopause is often referred to as the ‘change of life’ and is defined by the cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The age at which menopause occurs can vary widely from woman to woman, ranging anywhere from 45 to 55 years of age and even earlier in some cases.
Symptoms of menopause
This change of life brings with it a host of symptoms commonly experienced including hot flushes, night sweats, mood disturbances and body and joint aches and pains - like us women don't already go through enough, right?
In addition to this it’s common that many women will also experience undesirable and equally hard to shift weight gain, predominantly around the midsection. These not so fun sounding symptoms are largely caused by a fluctuation in our hormone levels during menopause, particularly a decline in estrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels.
The decline in hormone levels during menopause can cause a number of physiological changes including a reduced metabolism, increased fluid retention, loss of muscle mass and increased fat mass, an increased appetite resulting in increased food intake and reduced physical activity due to discomfort causing menopausal symptoms. The increase in weight gain around the middle section can not only cause distress to many women, but is also a risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
As part of the aging process we slowly experience a loss of bone mass and during menopause this loss occurs more rapidly due to a decline in estrogen levels, which may ultimately lead to osteoporosis. Calcium, vitamin D and protein are important nutrients for maintaining healthy and strong bones and reducing the loss of bone mass during menopause.
A healthy lifestyle to manage menopause
The physiological changes that take place during menopause can be daunting, distressing and leave you feeling hopeless. The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices including maintaining a healthy diet and staying physically active can make the experience and transition through menopause that little bit easier to manage, prevent excess weight gain and reduce your risk of chronic disease along the way.
Our top tips for managing menopause in a healthy way:
Don’t skip meals.
Skipping meals can cause a drop in our blood sugar levels, sending the body into starvation mode, slowing our metabolism and potential muscle loss. It can also cause us to binge on more food than we would normally have eaten and therefore consume more calories than may be needed, leading to weight gain. 5-6 smaller meals, spread across the day and in appropriate portions can help to manage blood sugar levels, maintain a healthy metabolism and body weight and aid in weight loss over the long term.
Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Aim for 3 to 4 servings of calcium rich foods per day, including low fat dairy products, canned fish with bones, nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables, tofu, calcium-fortified soymilk and legumes including chickpeas or kidney beans. Vitamin D increases the amount of calcium that we can absorb from food. As well as oily fish, eggs and a safe amount of sun exposure is a good way to get some vitamin D in your day.
Limit your caffeine intake.
This may help to ease some of those menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes as caffeine may aggravate these. Excessive intake of caffeine has also been shown to reduce the absorption of calcium, so maintain a moderate intake and avoid drinking caffeine with calcium-containing meals.
Fill up on fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are full of essential vitamins and minerals, high in fibre and low in calories. To get the most out of your fruits and veggies, eat the rainbow by having a variety of different coloured vegetables.
Increase your protein intake
By including a protein source such as lean meat, fish, eggs, low fat dairy foods or vegetarian alternatives at each meal. Protein keeps you fuller for longer, maintains muscle mass and is important for the production of hormones.
Eat more healthy fats.
To benefit heart health choose oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocado and vegetable oils and be sure to avoid unhealthy saturated fats by steering clear of butter, coconut and palm oils, choosing lean cuts of meats and limiting processed foods. Be aware of your portion sizes if trying to lose weight, as too much fat in your diet can make it hard to maintain your weight.
Keep physically active.
Keeping physically active during menopause can help to maintain a healthy weight and prevent unwanted weight gain, maintain muscle mass and prevent bone loss, as well as helping with mood disturbances and other menopausal symptoms like hot flushes. Next time you have the option of the stairs or the lift, take the stairs!
What about phytoestrogen-containing foods?
Studies have looked at the effectiveness of phytoestrogen-rich foods such as soy products, linseeds and wholegrain cereals in reducing symptoms (such as hot flushes) commonly associated with menopause. It is thought that if eaten regularly they can help to reduce menopausal symptoms; however there is yet to be any concrete evidence showing that phytoestrogens can actually ward off symptoms.
Now wondering how to put that all together and have someone who understands your individual requirements along the way? We have helped MANY menopausal women, including our own beautiful mothers.
Don't Dr. Google yourself into an anxious heap.
Don't go through this alone.
Don't hesitate to give us a call to book in
Healthy ageing and lifestyle, Australian Menopause Society.