Menopause, nutrition and self-care
The menopause can be extremely challenging in many ways, on a physical and emotional level. Many women experience a variety of symptoms such as hot flushes, anxiety, tiredness, insomnia, and achy muscles to mention just a few.
Because of the fall in oestrogen levels, this can put women at greater risk of heart disease, increased cholesterol levels and osteoporosis. The menopause is complex, but some lifestyle and nutrition changes, as well as self-care practices, can help to alleviate some of the symptoms and reduce health risks.
The concentrations of fat and how it’s stored can be affected by the drop in oestrogen; fat is redistributed towards the middle area (i.e. around the waist). Because of this, there can be a greater risk of heart disease. The drop in oestrogen is also associated with increased cholesterol levels.
Taking part in a balanced exercise programme across the week, which includes resistance training and having a nutritious diet can support a healthy body weight and help to lower cholesterol. Aim to get a minimum of five portions of fruits and vegetables daily, swap refined grains to high fibre foods and wholegrains (e.g. beans, lentils, oats, potatoes), and include some healthy fats with meals such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
It's important to think about bone health too because as we age there is a reduction in bone density. This is more pronounced in women. When it comes to bone health make sure you have optimal vitamin D intake, reduce salt intake if it’s high, and ensure you have calcium-rich foods daily. Calcium is required for bone strength, but vitamin D is also needed for the absorption of calcium.
Calcium-rich foods include milk and dairy and you will also find some calcium in sardines with bones, nuts, and calcium-set tofu. We mainly obtain vitamin D from the action of sunlight on the skin. However, the skin becomes less efficient at making vitamin D as we age. There are few vitamin D food sources such as eggs, oily fish, and some fortified foods. The UK Government recommends taking a vitamin D supplement during the Autumn and Winter months.
Excessive salt intake may increase the risk of bone weakening due to calcium losses in the urine. High salt intakes are also linked to high blood pressure. Try to reduce intakes of salty foods like ready meals and ultra-processed meats such as bacon, sausages, and smoked meats. Herbs and spices are great for adding flavour to meals. They also come with lots of health benefits too.
Self-care is important at all stages of life. However, during the menopause, it can feel like an overwhelming and isolating experience and so it’s especially important to have extra self-care. Self-care can loosely be defined as the things we do to stay mentally, physically and emotionally well. This might include the nutritious foods that we eat, exercising, resting, having fun, getting out in nature, connecting with others, getting enough sleep, meditating etc.
It's important to fit some time in each week and ideally, every single day to take care of yourself. Some ideas include going for a walk in nature, doing a guided meditation for 10 minutes, meeting friends for a cuppa, or having an early night. Ultimately, you are worth it.