By Sushma Hirani, MD | 02/17/2016

Natural Approach To Dealing With Menopause

Menopause occurs in every woman as she ages. Menopause describes the numerous changes a woman undergoes during and after menstruation stops. It marks the end of the reproductive cycle. When a woman is born, she has a predetermined number of eggs that are stored in the ovaries. The ovaries are responsible for making a variety of hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. After the age of 40, the production of these hormones begins to decline.

The Three Stages of Menopause

Perimenopause can last for several years. During this stage, the ovaries begin making less estrogen. Additionally, a perimenopausal woman can experience a variety of symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, sleep problems, weight gain, thinning hair dry skin and a decreased metabolic rate. [1]

Menopause is diagnosed when a woman had not had a menstrual period in a year. This marks the time that the ovaries no longer produced eggs and the body stops making most hormones. During menopause, a woman may experience loss of libido, fatigue, concentration difficulties, incontinence, allergies, irregular heartbeat, headaches, osteoporosis, digestive problems and muscle tension.

Postmenopause is the years following menopause. During this stage, a woman can experience physical changes in their body. Because the body no longer receives estrogen, the bones can begin weakening (osteoporosis) and the risk of cardiovascular problems increases.

Nutrients Needed to Help the Body Deal With Menopause

Because of the changes that occur in the body during menopause, women may need to change the way they eat. Understanding what is happening in the body will help a woman choose natural solutions during this phase of her life. A menopausal woman has a higher risk of developing heart disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, breast cancer and weight gain.

Calcium – As estrogen levels begin to decrease, the body is not able to metabolize and use calcium as well as it once did. For this reason, menopausal women should bulk up on calcium. Thankfully, there are many great sources of calcium. Calcium can be found in a variety of dairy products, including milk, cheese and yogurt. Calcium can be found in a variety of non-dairy products, including sardines, fortified cereals, soybeans, enriched grains and dark leafy greens, such as spinach, turnips and kale. [2]

Calcium is not enough when it comes to protecting bone health and preventing osteoporosis. There are several other nutrients that must be consumed in conjunction with calcium. These nutrients help ensure the body is able to absorb and use calcium properly. They include vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium and phosphorus.

Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium in the blood. Most people get the necessary vitamin D from the sun; however, those who live north of the 40-degree latitude or those who do not spend at least 15 minutes outdoors daily should boost their vitamin D levels by eating eggs, fortified cereals, fortified milk, shrimp, fish, oysters or cheese to ensure their vitamin D levels are adequate.

Vitamin K helps the body form strong bones. This important nutrient can be found in dark leafy vegetables, including kale, collard greens and broccoli.

Magnesium works with calcium to strengthen bones by helping the body absorb and retain calcium. The body has a difficult time storing magnesium, so it is important that women consume magnesium rich foods daily. Foods such as spinach, greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds (sunflower, sesame and flax) are rich in magnesium.

Phosphorus is another nutrient that is needed by the body for the production of bone. However, it is important to not get too much phosphorus because it can actually cause the body to absorb less calcium. The recommended daily allowance of 700 milligrams can be consumed by eating whole grains, poultry, dairy, nuts and fish.

Combat Mood Swings

Mood swings are often experienced by menopausal women; however, there are numerous ways to help decrease the incidence of mood swings. Including vitamin B-rich foods and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet can help improve the mood. Vitamin B-rich foods include lean meats, whole grains and lentils. Flaxseed and oily fish, such as tuna, sardines and salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Balance Hormones

During menopause, a woman’s hormone levels can fluctuate, causing a variety of symptoms, including mood swings and hot flashes. A woman can help lower these symptoms by eating foods such as non-genetically modified soy. Soy contains isoflavones that offer a variety of health benefits, including improving good cholesterol, balancing the hormones, eliminating free radicals and offering antioxidant support.

Another way to help balance the hormones is by eating foods rich in Gamma Linolenic Acid, or G. L. A. This essential fatty acid is found in vegetable oils and helps support menopausal health and regulate hormone levels. Gamma Linolenic Acid can be found in hemp seed oil, blackcurrant seed oil, borage oil and evening primrose oil.

Improve the Immune System

While going through menopause, all the systems of the body can become taxed, including the immune system. There are numerous ways to bolster the immune system, including antioxidants and minerals that work alongside antioxidants.

Antioxidants help destroy free radicals in the body to help protect against diseases. The top antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E. Additionally, the body requires iron, zinc, copper and selenium. Refer to the following list to ensure you are getting ample antioxidants and minerals.

Vitamin A rich foods- liver, broccoli, kale, spinach and pumpkin

Vitamin C rich foods- citrus fruits, berries and peppers

Vitamin E rich foods- nuts, avocados and olive oil

Copper rich foods- liver, cashews and soybeans

Iron rich foods- red meat, spinach and dried fruits

Selenium rich foods- Brazil nuts, oily fish and lentils

Zinc rich foods- shellfish, pumpkin seeds and whole grains

What to Avoid

In addition to foods that can help improve the symptoms of menopause, there are foods that women should avoid while going through menopause. These foods can trigger hot flashes, increase fatigue and increase weight gain. Learning what foods to avoid can help women better cope with the effects of menopause.

Prevent Hot Flashes

When a hot flash occurs, a woman experiences sudden overwhelming heat characterized by sweating and a flushed face. Some women also experience a rapid heart rate. Additionally, many women experience night sweats during menopause. Although the exact cause is not known, researchers believe that these symptoms are related to circulation problems. [3]

There are numerous things that can trigger hot flashes including:

Stress

Smoking

Spicy foods

Alcohol

Caffeine

Tight clothing

Halt Fatigue

Fatigue often plagues menopausal women. Sugary foods should be avoided as they can increase blood glucose levels. Instead of eating three large meals, women should eat several small meals throughout the day to help avoid glucose spikes. The small meals should include lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts. 

Avoid Weight Gain

Menopausal women often experience weight gain. As a woman ages, she requires fewer calories. This can be difficult; however, it is not impossible. Avoiding sugary foods and limiting the amount of unhealthy fat in the diet can help a woman maintain a healthy weight. Menopausal women should eat approximately 200 calories less than premenopausal women. Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain will help a woman feel fuller longer. Additionally, women should seek to get 150 minutes of aerobic activity every week to help control their weight. [4]

Although every woman will go through menopause, there are numerous things she can do to help alleviate the symptoms associated with menopause. Eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, getting plenty of exercise and avoiding foods that trigger menopausal symptoms may help make this transition easier.

References

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/basics/symptoms/con-20019726

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/10-calcium-rich-foods

http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/menopause-hot-flashes

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menopause-weight-gain/art-20046058?pg=2

About Sushma Hirani, MD


Sushma Hirani, MD is the medical director of Rose Wellness Center for Integrative Medicine in Northern Virginia. She specializes in holistic and integrative care to treat a variety of illnesses including hypothyroidism, hormonal imbalances, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue. Sushma believes in combining the best of conventional and alternative medicine for prevention and management of various health conditions.


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