Nutrition and Menopause

Article by
Anna Collins.

Anna Collins is an experienced nutrition consultant. She has a foundation degree in nutritional therapy from the University of Bedfordshire and the Institute of Optimum Nutrition. In this article she explains how unpleasant symptoms show us that all is not right with our bodies and she explains how to make changes to diet and lifestyle to help with these menopause symptoms.

Why consult a nutritional therapist?

As a nutritionist I am often amazed by just how few changes to eating and lifestyle habits it takes to massively improve your health. I believe no one needs to suffer simply because of being a woman whether it's from menopausal symptoms, or from PMS or period pain as a younger woman.  Women are conditioned to believe that feeling awful every month or at menopause is normal. If you have unpleasant symptoms then all is not right with your body. You can change this.

My job is to design individualised eating and lifestyle plans to help your health and wellbeing. As part of the consultation process I will assess your current habits, symptoms and health history and will outline for you what specific factors in your life may be affecting your particular symptoms. It's possible that I may recommend some further investigations based on this.

Your tailored programme is not a one-size fits all approach but one that takes account of where you are at now. For example, you might love or hate cooking, you might have lots of time to prepare food, or just a little. You might travel a lot and not be able to prepare your own food. Or you might be stressed, in which case she would teach you about foods and lifestyle techniques that reduce stress. I will make sure you get  a realistic programme you can follow, and help and support you to implement it.

I meet clients on a one to one basis in a private consultation. During this meeting I assess your current habits, take a detailed case history, and outline the various factors which may be holding you back from enjoying 100% health.

Are you stressed?

Stress makes the connections between the brain cells (neurones) less efficient. That’s why when you’re having a stressful day you might lose your keys, or forget something you usually remember. Stress also temporarily switches off the digestive system, impeding our ability to absorb the nutrients in our food. We need these nutrients for energy, relaxation and good cognitive function as well as for keeping the skin moisturised and lubricated from within.  Bereavement, financial pressures, depression all cause stress which can be unacknowledged. After following my nutritional and lifestyle programme, patients often say, "it takes a lot more to make me feel stressed now". Chronic poorly managed stress will contribute to gaining weight around your middle.

Is your digestive system working well?

As we age, our ability to make digestive juices (e.g. hydrochloric acid in the stomach) usually declines. At age 50, about 50% of people will have impaired digestion due to inadequate digestive juices in the stomach. This causes difficulty digesting minerals like magnesium, manganese, zinc and selenium from our food. If these nutrients are low (and they often are), then your whole body will struggle. Gallbladder problems due to highly refined or low fibre diets will also contribute to an inability to extract all the nutrients from your food. The digestive system can be tuned up using diet and lifestyle change.

Are your adrenal glands in good shape?

Magnesium, manganese and zinc are minerals needed for healthy adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are important for energy, and for having good resilience to stress. If they are functioning erratically you can have problems sleeping and thinking clearly too. The adrenal glands need lots of vitamin C rich foods from your diet in order to function well. Night sweats, hot flushes and a feeling of "being all over the place" can be signs that your adrenal glands are struggling. Women who still have “menopausal” symptoms 2 years after their final period may have adrenal problems that have not been addressed.

Is your thyroid in tiptop shape?

Symptoms of even a slightly under-functioning thyroid can include thinning hair, dry skin, declining brain power and feeling tired all the time. The problem may not be severe enough for a doctor to give you el-troxin, but could be severe enough to make you feel awful.  The adrenal glands need to function well to support your thyroid function properly. In Ireland, there is what I call an epidemic of hypothyroidism. In my opinion, this is at least in part due to widespread iodine deficiency.  We don’t eat many iodine rich foods in our diets, plus we put fluoride in the water, which suppresses the body’s ability to use iodine. Low iodine is a risk factor for hypothyroidism as well as for breast cancer and benign fibrocystic breast disease. Many of your “menopausal symptoms” could in fact be due to low thyroid function. You also need selenium, zinc and vitamin E in your daily diet to keep your thyroid healthy. Nutrition can have a massive impact on helping get you back to feeling like yourself.

Are you eating enough selective oestrogen receptor modulator (SERM) foods?

Certain foods are rich in substances that can reduce your risk of an unpleasant menopause experience. These substances produce a gentle, safe yet powerful effect on our health.  Beans, pulses, miso, flax and rye are some of the foods that contain these oestrogen receptor modulators.  Cells in your body have docking stations (receptors) for oestrogens. When oestrogen-type hormones come along, they fit neatly into the docking station and can then have an effect on the cell. Selective oestrogen receptor modulator (SERM) foods have a VERY mild oestrogenic effect when they lock onto the docking stations. When your own oestrogen levels decline these type of foods act like a very gentle (and safe!!) HRT. Their action is at least 1000 times weaker than your own oestrogens, or oestrogens from HRT. These SERMs are everywhere – in vegetables, green tea, fruit and rye but the most scientifically researched SERM foods are fermented soya products, and flax, which also reduce the risk of certain cancers (breast, ovarian).

Do you have a blood sugar imbalance?

If you have peaks and troughs in energy over the course of the day, or rely on coffee or packet snack foods to get you through the day, you probably have blood sugar imbalance (also called reactive hypoglycaemia).  Over 80% of the patients I see have this problem on their first visit and it has a major impact on how they feel. Blood sugar imbalance stresses your body, interfering with the balance of adrenal, thyroid and sex hormones. It is a major contributor to tiredness, weight gain, menopausal symptoms and feeling low or irritable. In order to regulate blood sugar properly, you need regular intake of essential fats, regular high-quality protein in your meals, and a natural, varied diet not too high in starchy carbohydrates.  Refined or highly processed foods and excessive stimulants or rob your body of vitamins and minerals needed for health. Vitamins and minerals your body needs to help you sail peacefully through the menopause into what can be the most creative and liberated time of your life.

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