Understanding menopause is important for us all to be able to support women to manage their symptoms. During this life change, the production of the hormone oestrogen reduces, and, in the end, periods will stop. Other hormones are also impacted and can cause a wide range of effects. Menopause is when your periods stop for 12 consecutive months, usually occurring between the ages of 45 to 55 years. However, 1 in 100 women may experience premature menopause where their periods stop before the age of 40 years.
Oestrogen has an important role in the normal sexual and reproductive development of women, and it also plays a role in our bones, heart, and brain health. The loss of this hormone can have an impact on our health and quality of life when menopausal symptoms occur such as hot flushes, night sweats, sleep problems, joint and muscle pain, and low mood. In the longer term, postmenopausal women have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis.
During this period some evidence suggests that following a Mediterranean diet may improve some of the short-term menopausal symptoms (eg hot flushes and night sweats) and could support cognitive symptoms (eg low mood and depression). A Mediterranean-style diet includes a moderate consumption of dairy, unsaturated fats and a high intake of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, seafood, nuts, seeds, and pulses. It is recommended to eat lower intakes of fatty and processed meats, reduced intake of sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and consume low salt and saturated fat intakes.
Some foods can trigger or worsen symptoms, which may include caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods. If these foods are a trigger, it may be useful to limit intake of caffeinated drinks and choose decaffeinated versions or herbal teas instead. Alcohol can trigger symptoms and if a high consumption is consumed, it may increase risk of osteoporosis and risk of heart disease. Adults of all ages are recommended to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, and to include alcohol-free days each week.
Some individuals may choose to eat soya foods during the menopause to relieve symptoms. However, there is uncertain evidence to support that it has an impact. Soy is a source of the plant compounds phytoestrogens, which have a similar structure to the human hormone oestrogen, but phytoestrogens have much weaker effects. The European food safety authority reviewed studies on the benefits and concluded that the evidence was not sufficient. Therefore, no authorised health claims can be made on soy in foods and food supplements for relief of menopausal symptoms in the UK or European Union. However, soy and soy-based foods such as tofu and edamame can be included in a healthy and sustainable diet.
Nutrients that have authorised health claims that can be related to menopausal health include.
- Vitamin B6 – supports the regulation of hormonal activity. Found in meat, poultry, fish, fortified breakfast cereals, egg yolks, soya beans, yeast extract, bananas and avocados.
- Calcium and vitamin D- helps reduce the loss of bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. Low bone mineral is a risk factor for osteoporotic bone fractures. Found in oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals, canned fish and diary products.
- Zinc- contributes to healthy skin, hair and nails. Found in meat, poultry, cheese shellfish, seeds, wholegrain cereals and seeded breads.
- Magnesium- contributes to the reduction of fatigue. Found in nuts, seeds, wholegrain breakfast cereals, seeded breads, brown rice and quinoa.
Further information can be found at British Nutrition Foundation, Menopause.
If you have any concerns, please contact your GP.
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