Nutrition Tips for Healthy Menopause Transition

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During menopause or menopause transition, changes in reproductive hormones (as well as other hormones) impact metabolism, body composition, bone health, and general well-being. Common symptoms associated with menopause include hot flushes, night sweats, irregular or absent periods, mood changes, hair loss, and weight gain, among others. While these symptoms are unpleasant, lifestyle modifications, including changes in diet, can greatly assist in managing these unwanted symptoms. 

 

Why Does Weight Gain Happen in Menopausal Women?

Studies have shown that on average most women gain between 5 to 8% of their baseline body weight within the first two years of their last period. There is no single reason for weight gain during menopause, but rather several. These include hormonal changes, age-related muscle loss, sleep disturbances, and lifestyle factors. 

Hormone Fluctuations

Fluctuations and changes in reproductive hormones such as oestrogen have a negative effect on metabolism, muscle mass (sarcopenia), and body fat distribution. A decline in oestrogen is also associated with an increase in abdominal or visceral fat. Visceral fat is different to subcutaneous fat in that it surrounds vital organs such as the liver, stomach, and intestines. Visceral fat is associated with several health issues including heart disease, diabetes type 2, and stroke. 

 

Age-Related

Age-related muscle mass loss is also likely to occur around the time of menopause and postmenopause. Basal metabolic rate, i.e. the amount of energy the body requires to perform all life-sustaining functions at rest, is largely determined by total lean body mass. A decrease in muscle mass is therefore associated with a drop in basal metabolic rate. Since caloric needs decrease with a drop in BMR, if dietary adjustments are not adequate, this can lead to weight gain. 

 

Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle factors are also associated with weight gain during menopause. These include, but are not limited to, changes in sleeping patterns and increased levels of stress. The relationship between sleep, menopause, and weight gain is an intricate one.  Sleep deprivation, due to menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, and insomnia, can cause fatigue, making it harder to exercise and stick to a healthy eating plan. Furthermore, unhealthy sleep patterns and stress cause a spike in the hormone cortisol (stress hormone) which promotes weight gain. 

 

What Foods Alleviate Menopausal Symptoms?

The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on whole-based foods, healthy fats, and plant-based foods is particularly beneficial. These foods can alleviate menopause symptoms due to their nutritional content and impact on hormonal regulation. Phytoestrogen-rich foods (also known as plant-derived oestrogens) can mimic oestrogen in that they are able to bind oestrogen receptors and subsequently induce an oestrogenic response/anti-oestrogenic response in target tissues. These foods may help with menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. Examples of phytoestrogen-rich foods are flax seeds, chickpeas, tofu, edamame, and soy products, as well as certain fruits (i.e. plums, apples, pears, grapes, and berries)  and vegetables (beans, sprouts, spinach, carrots, grains, onion, and cabbage). Omega-3s (found in fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, and mackerel) can help alleviate mood swings and assist in cognitive function. Foods rich in vitamin B (i.e. brown rice, quinoa, and oats) can support energy levels and also improve mood. Lastly, vitamin D and calcium are essential in supporting bone health. Sources of calcium include dairy products (i.e. yoghurt, milk, and cheese) as well as non-dairy products such as leafy greens (i.e. spinach and kale). 

 

How Does Hydration Impact Menopause?

Adequate hydration is extremely important in menopause as it plays numerous roles in alleviating menopause symptoms. For example, staying well-hydrated can help manage hot flushes and night sweats by assisting in body temperature regulation. Furthermore, proper hydration also supports mucous membrane health which can lessen vaginal dryness, a common complaint in menopause, as well as reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and maintain bladder health. Proper hydration also assists with general overall well-being. Drinking enough water aids in digestion, thus preventing constipation. It also supports skin elasticity and moisture.     

As a general guideline, women should aim to drink between 8 to 10 glasses of water per day. Furthermore, it is important to limit foods and beverages that may contribute to dehydration, such as caffeine and alcohol. In these instances, moderation is key. 

 

What Nutrients are Important During Menopause?

Calcium and vitamin D are vital for bone health. Before menopause, women require about 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Menopausal and postmenopausal women require about 1,200 mg of calcium per day. Vitamin D is imperative for calcium homeostasis and bone formation. The benefits of vitamin D supplementation go beyond bone health in that it has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties. Other key nutrients include omega-3s (to support cardiovascular  health, and cognitive function, and alleviate mood swings), magnesium (to support bone health, and muscle function, and alleviate cramps and sleep disturbances),  and vitamin B12 (for energy production and nervous system health.)

It is important to note that a healthy, balanced diet should provide all the key nutrients for managing menopausal symptoms; However, in some cases, additional supplementation may be required. It is always best to consult a health professional or nutritional expert for guidance as this will differ between individuals. 

 

Can Weight Be Managed Through Nutrition During Menopause?

There are numerous steps that can be taken to manage weight gain through nutrition during menopause. Firstly, it is important to focus on portion control, practise mindful eating, and pay attention to hunger cues to avoid overeating. Meals should be balanced with nutrient-dense and fibre-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Protein is important as it supports lean muscle mass and metabolism. It also promotes satiety and aids in weight loss. 

 

What Foods Should Be Avoided in Menopause?

There are certain trigger foods that can exacerbate menopause symptoms. These foods can differ between individuals, and keeping a food diary may help individuals identify which foods negatively impact symptoms. Examples of foods that may exacerbate hot flashes, night sweats, and disrupt sleep are spicy foods, foods containing caffeine, and alcohol. 

Other foods that should be avoided include processed foods as well as sugary snacks and beverages. Processed foods are high in saturated fats and added sugars, but offer little nutritional benefit. Foods and drinks high in sugar can contribute to weight gain and long-term health problems such as type 2 diabetes. 

 

Conclusion

Eating a healthy, balanced, nutrient-rich diet is important for overall health, but will also play a huge role in alleviating unwelcome menopause symptoms. It is important to focus on eating whole foods that are rich in key nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, phytoestrogens, omega-3s, as well as other essential vitamins and minerals. Hydration is also important, and individuals should ensure an adequate intake of water. Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar-laden beverages should be consumed in moderation (or completely eliminated if possible.) Furthermore, certain foods should be avoided as these could worsen symptoms or affect overall long-term health in general.  It is best to consult a healthcare professional and/or nutritional expert for guidance on which foods to eat, which foods to limit/avoid, and whether supplementation is necessary. 



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