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Understanding the Relationship Between Nutrition and Menopause

May 20, 2022

By: Vasundhara Dambal, Nutrition Intern from North Carolina Central University and the Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Center Nutrition Team

What is Menopause?

Menopause is a normal process of aging that happens 12 months after monthly menstruation ceases altogether. Ovaries produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which regulate the menstrual cycle. A hormonal imbalance occurs due to a decrease in the production of estrogen and progesterone. Women frequently suffer perimenopause, a transition period preceding menopause in which there is a substantial reduction in estrogen and progesterone levels. Perimenopause can last between eight and ten years. It is not necessary for all women to go through the unpleasant experience that we frequently hear about from others. Many of the effects of menopause can be eased with diet and lifestyle changes.

Woman sitting in living room with a worried face expression.

Nutrition might help to reduce menopause symptoms and maintain hormonal health.

When does it begin?

It usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55. According to research reports, the average age is 51. However, a variety of variables can either accelerate or delay the onset. Factors such as smoking, radiation exposure, chemotherapy, and removal of one or both ovaries can trigger earlier menopause, whereas overweight persons are likely to have menopause with adverse symptoms later in life.

What are the most common symptoms?

Irregular periods

This stage is most commonly seen in the perimenopausal stage, when women may experience heavy bleeding, periods lasting more than 7 days, and a short interval between the previous cycle and the commencement of the next spotting.

Hot flashes

These can be observed as an increase in skin temperature, rapid sweat, and increased heart rate while being in well-ventilated and air-conditioned areas. Red spots can form anywhere on the body. This is caused by a drop in estrogen levels. This type of symptom is most common during the perimenopausal stage or just before the last few periods of a woman’s cycle.

Insomnia

Night perspiration may irritate the skin, making it difficult to fall asleep again.

Loss of bladder control

Due to a hormone drop, urine incontinence is frequent in menopausal women. Coughing, sneezing, or lifting something heavy can cause a leak. A decrease in hormones causes the vaginal and urethral tissues to dry up. This can result in recurring urinary tract infections and painful sexual intercourse.

Mood swings

Women in this stage may experience crankiness, anxiety, depression, and anxiousness due to low energy and insomnia. Other changes in this stage of life, such as stress, growing children, empty nesting, caring for elderly parents, and retirement, can also have a psychological impact.

Cardiovascular risk

One of the main functions of estrogen is to act as a cardioprotective. When subjected to increased stress levels, the decrease in estrogen might result in a fast heartbeat, numbness or prickling feeling, and dizziness.

Weight gain

Fat accumulates around the abdomen as a result of hormonal changes. Muscle mass typically declines with age as the body goes through numerous metabolic changes, resulting in a lower rate of calorie use and an increased rate of fat storage.

Hair fall and thinning

Hair growth is aided by estrogen and progesterone, and women with hormonal imbalances lose hair or experience thinning in the center area of the head.

Osteoporosis

Estrogen is essential for bone mass maintenance. Women lose 25% of their body mass during menopause. You may suffer from osteoporosis “brittle bone disease” causing fragile bones if your diet consists of an insufficient amount of calcium and Vitamin D.

How can I know if I am going through menopause?

Aside from the symptoms listed above, your doctor may also test your blood levels for:

  • FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) (FSH). This frequently increases as you approach menopause.
  • Estradiol. This informs your doctor about the amount of estrogen produced by your ovaries.
  • Thyroid hormones. This indicates thyroid gland issues, which can alter your cycle and trigger symptoms similar to menopause.

How does diet help in reducing the symptoms?

Several studies have found that nutrition is important in controlling hormones. So, if you are in the perimenopausal or menopausal stage, it is critical that you begin thinking about how nutrition might help to reduce those symptoms and maintain hormonal health. A study of 400 menopausal women published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information on Dietary Patterns and their Association with Menopausal Symptoms discovered that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables daily helps to reduce aggressive menopausal symptoms. A four-year study published in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health included 914 menopausal women aged 40 to 65 years. This study indicated that a diet strong in oily fish, fresh legumes, and folate-rich foods helps to ease symptoms and age at natural menopause, whereas a diet rich in refined carbs such as rice, pasta, and processed foods is known to induce the beginning of menopause to occur earlier.

Foods to include in your diet

  • Foods rich in vitamin D and calcium sources (tofu, sardines, beans, fortified cereals and orange juice, cow milk or plant-based milk, and green leafy vegetables like kale, collard greens, and spinach).
  • Diet rich in like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Include Omega 3 fatty acids foods such as tuna, mackerel, or plant-sourced flax seeds.
  • Meeting daily protein requirements.
  • Estrogen mimicking agents such as broccoli and soybeans.
  • Include all colors of fruits and vegetables to get essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Foods to avoid in your diet

  • Highly processed foods (All packaged and ready-to-eat foods).
  • Added sugar.
  • Refined carbohydrates (pasta, rice, or potatoes).
  • Alcohol above the recommended limits.
  • Spicy foods.
  • Menopausal symptoms trigger foods such as tea and coffee.
  • Foods high in saturated fat.

Weight gain has been attributed to both biological aging and the menopause transition in midlife women. It has been proven that a 5% reduction in body weight relative to the initial weight results in a range of health benefits, including reduced total cholesterol and triglyceride level. During and after menopause, a healthy lifestyle intervention is critical, and it should include dietary changes based on the needs of the patients.

References

Dietary patterns and their association with menopausal symptoms: a cross-sectional study.

Dietary intake and age at natural menopause: results from the UK Women’s Cohort Study.

 

About the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center

At Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center, the emphasis is on the patient’s entire health rather than just their weight in pounds. The Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center’s registered dietitians assist the patients in achieving a healthy weight, which can help ease post-menopausal symptoms. Practices such as healthy eating plans, portion sizes, how to include regular exercise into daily routines, mindful eating, and appropriate meal replacement program recommendations based on the patients’ needs are shown to get better results. Menopause symptoms can be reduced with the correct treatment, and dietary patterns, allowing you to experience this shift of life in a positive way.

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