Women will often look at various types of therapies and ‘treatments’ to help with the health and well-being challenges they face during menopause.
While options such as HRT can provide a medical solution, other approaches such as refining your diet and taking more exercise can also be useful. Nutritional therapy offers a wide range of benefits, particularly for women who are either pre-menopausal or going through menopause itself.
Here we take a look at what nutritional therapy involves and how simple dietary changes can make a big difference.
What is Nutritional Therapy?
Nutritional therapy is considered a part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and uses food, dietary supplements and lifestyle changes to improve health. In more recent times, research has begun to unravel the truth of how the foods we eat can have a significant impact on our overall health and well-being.
When it comes to diet, everyone is different and it’s important to provide a tailored solution that takes into account an individual’s medical and dietary history as well as their lifestyle habits. Nutritional therapy can be used to help with a variety of health issues including weight loss and diabetes as well as menopause.
One of the common symptoms of menopause, hot flashes, are likely to occur without much warning. Some food and drink options that are known to increase their severity are caffeine and spicy foods. Including important nutrients such as phytoestrogens can help reduce the symptoms too. There are also underlying issues with menopause, most notably the decrease in bone mass that women experience
Another major issue during menopause can be low energy levels and mood swings which in turn often lead to weight gain. Paying more attention to diet including when you eat, can make a big difference to how your support body and mind.
Several different things are going on during this period in a woman’s life. It’s not just a lowering of oestrogen levels that can cause loss of muscle mass and affect bone density. From a dietary point of view, introducing more protein into the diet (along with effective exercise) and boosting calcium for bone health can help with this. But there are also increased risks around cardiovascular disease and a higher instance of urinary tract infections as well as the mental health challenges that accompany menopause.
Common Nutrients That Can Reduce the Impact of the Menopause
Our understanding of how diet plays a role in managing menopause is evolving and there’s now a common consensus that what we put into our bodies and lifestyle changes can play a significant part. In most cases, nowadays, medical interventions such as HRT are combined with nutritional advice that allows the individual to take more control and make a difference.
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that have a similar effect to oestrogen. In menopausal women, they can help reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. These nutrients are important to add to your diet. Research has shown that they not only help reduce the impact of menopause but are beneficial for weight loss and are protective against cardiovascular disease.
Good sources of these phytoestrogens include soy products, flaxseeds, and legumes so adding more to your diet should make a difference.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that play a role in good heart, brain and joint health. When it comes to menopause, they are also a good option to include in your diet because they can reduce the main symptoms. They can combat issues such as joint and menstrual pain in perimenopausal women.
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include oily fish, nuts, and seeds but you can also boost levels by taking a supplement.
Vitamin D plays an essential role in bone health and there is some evidence that it can also help regulate mood. Both calcium and vitamin D work together to maintain bone health which can be a big issue for those going through menopause.
The biggest source of natural vitamin D is sunlight but it is also present in oily fish and some fortified foods as well as supplements.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a crucial role in muscle and nerve function. There have been a few studies that show it is involved in a wide range of different biological processes. Low levels of magnesium can cause reduced energy and contribute to poor sleep.
Good sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds as well as supplements.
We all know that Calcium is essential for bone health. It is also important for muscle and nerve function. During menopause, the lowering of oestrogen levels has an impact and women can lose as much as 10-20% of their bone mass in the five years following onset.
Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods.
Are There Foods You Should Avoid?
We’ve already mentioned spicy foods and caffeine that can exacerbate hot flashes and night sweats. Alcohol can also have a detrimental effect and fatty and processed meats such as bacon can lower serotonin levels making you more irritable.
Why Work with a Nutritional Therapist
Food can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to coping with menopause and it’s a good idea to work directly with a qualified nutritional therapist if your symptoms are problematic. Everyone is different and tailoring your diet is critical if you want to reduce the impact of menopause.
A therapist will be able to work with you, understand your current lifestyle and eating and exercise habits and make informed suggestions about what you can change to make a difference. With menopause, it’s not just about the observable symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats but the ongoing impact on the body, particularly concerning bone density and heart health.
Want to find out more about diet and the menopause? I’m a qualified naturopath and nutritional therapist specialising in women’s health. Contact me today to find out how I can help.