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While a few women will sail through the menopause, most of us experience symptoms that can be quite severe and have a significant impact on everyday life.
These can begin months or even years before your periods stop and last around four years after your last period, although some women suffer them for much longer.
Hot flushes and night sweats are high profile, but other common problems include reduced libido, vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex, low mood or anxiety, as well as weight gain, sluggishness and problems with concentration.
The drop in oestrogen that occurs during the menopause can cause you to age more rapidly. “While men tend to age at a steady rate from their thirties, women often age 50% faster for five years after the menopause,” says Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London.
This could have serious knock-on effects on your health as well as your looks. But don’t worry – a few simple dietary tweaks, and some helpful vitamins and supplements, could help you emerge unscathed and feeling strong.
Eating the right foods could help you manage the life stage better, and give your body the best tools to deal with what can be some testing symptoms. A range of vitamins and supplements are also available to help you cope with the menopause – discover the truth about them below…
The following foods are healthy and beneficial for all stages of your life, but could be particularly helpful with tackling some of the symptoms of the menopause.
Foods for menopause:
Use coconut oil to fry your foods with or include in a smoothie, as studies suggest it helps to banish the harmful abdominal fat which tends to accumulate around the time of the menopause. However, it needs to be ‘pure’ or ‘virgin’ coconut oil, the unrefined kind, to see the benefits. It also makes a great moisturiser for dry menopausal skin.
Radishes have a high silica content, boosts collagen production, and is essential for maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails during the menopause – a great bonus, given that women can often suffer with menopausal acne and lacklustre skin during the life stage.
Edamame beans, linseeds, sesame seeds, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage
These foods are all naturally high in phytoestrogens, which mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body. Women experience low oestrogen during the menopause, and it is what causes things like vaginal dryness (and so, painful sex), hot flushes, and mood swings. Replacing the oestrogen via food and can useful – although food won’t be a cure all, so it’s key to look at things like HRT too.
Berries are packed with antioxidants, thought to help combat degenerative neural conditions, memory loss and poor concentration. Women can often suffer ‘mental blips’ in the menopause, so brain healthy food is always welcome.
Complex carbohydrates like wholegrains and green veg help to prevent hair thinning and loss of condition. Avoid extreme low-carb diets, says trichologist Anabel Kingsley: “An energy deficit affects the production of hair cells before it affects any other cells in the body.”
Essential fatty acids
Oily fish, avocados, whole olives, nuts and seeds. These can help regulate your serotonin levels, which can often go haywire in the menopause causing those dreaded mood swings.
A rainbow of vegetables
The more colourful the better. These foods support growth and repair, reduce sugar cravings, keep you full and support your skin healthy with a cocktail of anti-ageing nutrients. Always good – whether you’re going through the menopause or not!
And foods for menopause to avoid:
Often full of added salts and sugars, these zap our energy levels, add to weight gain, and contribute to feeling sluggish tired. And so, just like at any other stage of your life, these are best avoided.
Also, you’ll benefit from cutting back on the sugar, particularly in processed forms. It leads to glycation, which is damaging to the skin, and can increase weight gain. Eat lots of sugar and refined carbs and blood sugar soars. Glycation is where sugar molecules bond to proteins (that includes collagen in the skin) making it stiff and inflexible. Hello premature ageing and wrinkles!
Vitamins for menopause:
Vitamins for menopause can vary depending on where you are in the entire process.
“You need to focus on strengthening the adrenals – the glands that will continue to make progesterone and oestrogen after the ovaries have retired,” says nutritionist Sarah Bowles-Flannery. Get started with vitamins C, B5 and B complex – try Life Extension Fast-C, £30 for 120 tablets; and Viridian High Five, £14.30 for 60 capsules.
Try a multivitamin with a high level of Bs and vitamin C, like Nutri Advanced AdrenoMax, £26.28 for 90 capsules. Vitamin D3 with added K2 encourages calcium uptake in the bone; try Nutri Advanced D3 Drops with K2, £14.95 for 30ml. If you’re suffering from anxiety and a lack of sleep, boost your magnesium (a natural muscle relaxer) levels with Nutri Advanced MegaMag Calmeze, £29.90 for 262g.
“Maca is super for helping balance hormones, particularly during the menopause,” says herbalist Tipper Lewis. “It also helps to build vitality and energy, contains calcium and even has aphrodisiac properties.” Use it straight – up to one teaspoon a day in smoothies or drinks. Find it at nealsyardremedies.com from £2 for 50g.
Dr Marilyn Glenville suggests a good maintenance programme, including a multivitamin and mineral with antioxidants for a healthy heart, B vitamins for energy plus calcium and vitamin D for bone health. Try Healthy Woman Support by NHP, £22.97 for 60.
Omega 3 fish oils “have an anti-inflammatory effect. Control inflammation and you also control the ageing process from the inside out,” says Dr. Glenville. Try Viridian 100% Organic Scandinavian Rainbow Trout Oil, £24.70 for 200ml.
Herbal remedies for menopause:
Before going on, it is important to note that the effects of herbal remedies for menopause symptoms are largely unknown. Not enough research has been done into each specific remedy, meaning there could be repercussions that we don’t yet know about.
If you want to take herbal remedies for menopause, it is advised that you proceed with extreme caution and get information from your doctor as a first port of call.
According to menopause.org, this flowering plant has been discussed for its impact on hot flushes, and is actually widely used.
However, studies testing it have reported varying degrees of effectiveness for women during the menopause. But three scientific trials found it to be beneficial to women and their menopause symptoms – although three others found that it provided no significant positives alongside the placebo. Holland & Barrett currently sell Black Cohosh tablets (£9.89) for women going through the life stage.
But it’s important to be aware that taking it does carry risks of certain ailments, including headaches, dizziness, liver toxicity and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Evening primrose oil:
Evening primrose oil has long been taken by menopausal women, and is considered a viable cure for its symptoms. But the NHS is keen to state that its effects are as yet unknown, and it’s impact on menopause symptoms proving underwhelming in recent studies.
One placebo-controlled randomised trial, surveying 56 women, actually found that the capsules did not have any more of an impact of the physical symptoms of menopause than a placebo.
They also noted that if taken with phenothiazines (antipsychotics) they could increase symptoms such as hot flushes.
Like all other herbal remedies for menopause, the positive effects of red clover are highly debatable. The NHS states, ‘A systematic review of products containing phytoestrogen has previously been carried out, involving 30 randomised trials and 2,730 subjects.
‘This included seven trials of red clover extract, five of which had their results combined in meta-analysis.
‘This showed no benefit of red clover over placebo in reducing symptoms of hot flush. However, many of the trials were said to be underpowered, and some trials had high numbers of participants who dropped out.’
To find out more about the safety of herbal remedies, visit the NHS page here.
So how have you taken steps to relieve the symptoms of the menopause?