There is a common misconception around menopause that it has to be miserable for many women. The weight gain, hot flashes, headaches, insomnia, lowered sex drive, loss of hair, thinning, drying skin are just a few symptoms that women are told are quite normal during menopause. They are not uncommon by any means; but they also don’t have to be suffered through in such intensity as some women experience.
There are things you can do to help the body as it goes through this hormonal change. Ensuring your diet is filled with nutrient dense meals, exercise and movement, stress-reducing activities and acupuncture and herbs, are things that can affect your “change” for the better.
Every body is different. There is no one size fits all approach in specifics that will help all women going through menopause. However, the biochemical changes due to the drop in hormone levels are pretty consistent. Fat storage, insulin sensitivity, and bone density loss are the most noticed. At the menopausal years is when women start to hear their doctors mention more things about cardiovascular risks, metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis. Although these can be concerns, there are many preventative and useful things that menopausal women can do starting today.
Your Diet Has a Big Effect!
Your diet has a very big effect on the way you feel, that’s for sure, before, during and post menopause. If you are already noticing some symptoms due to a decrease in hormone production, there are foods that have biochemical reactions on the estrogen receptor sites of cells. This means they have a very mild estrogenic effect on the cell when they fit into the receptor site. Legumes- like lentils, black beans, peas and chicpeas, miso and soy, flax, sesame seeds, rye, yams, apricots, and olives are just a few. Again, a very mild effect, but worth adding into the diet daily if menopausal symptoms are noticed. (Please note that if estrogen related cancers are of concern, these foods should be eaten sparingly.)
Foods to Eliminate or Reduce…
While adding these foods into the diet can help relieve menopausal symptoms, sugar and carbohydrate balance should be limited as well. Things like soda and sugary soft drinks, concentrated juices, cookies, cakes, candies, and processed sugar items are obvious. But it might be time to really examine what you are eating that may contain hidden sugars. Foods like yogurts, cereals, and snacks like crackers and popcorns and the “healthy” nut milks and vegetable juices can contain a high amount of sugar.
Do yourself a favor and record everything you eat, everything, even drinks, for 3 days and see where improvements can be made. Plug it into a phone app that will count grams of carbohydrates and sugars to see where you really fall. If you are around 50 grams of sugar per day, and not near 20 grams of fiber, your diet needs a makeover.
So What Should I Eat?
Focus on vegetables as the main part of your meal. Vegetables contain of ton of nutrients; especially the nutrients that doctors are worried about during menopause and in aging women: fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and antioxidants. Be sure to have at least one vegetable at every meal- that can easily include breakfast too… yam hash browns are delicious!
Use fruits as a snack, especially if you find that sugar is not as controlled in your diet as you think it could be. Having protein with at least two meals a day is a good idea as well. This can help to lessen the hair loss and thinning skin that is particularly noticed during menopause.
Protein can be from healthy animals or from legumes; in fact it is a good idea to have both on a weekly basis. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) help to build hormones. Even though hormone production decreases, some is still necessary. Healthy fats like olives and olive oil, coconut products, fish, nuts and seeds and some from cultured dairy products are excellent choices.
What Else Can I Do Besides Revising My Diet?
This is the perfect time to develop an exercise or movement routine if you have not done so already. Due to decreased hormone production, fat is stored differently. Most of the stored fat becomes subcutaneous and visceral fat. Therefore, if you are eating a diet in which there is not a balance of energy being consumed and energy being used (calories) then the “extra” energy is stored as fat. If you are not use to moving your body much, you will find that at first it can ache and be uncomfortable. And of course as we mature, our bodies have years of built up injuries, “kinks and quirks”. But the more you move it, the better you start feeling.
This is not a hint that you need to become a marathon runner or an Olympic swimmer. This is recommending that any movement is helpful. Chair yoga, walking around your house, dancing during commercial breaks, grocery shopping, mall walking, chasing your kids and grandkids, and running up and down the stairs to finish laundry can all count! The goal is to just move more and don’t be sedentary all day. This will help to ensure that fat storage is limited and your bones, muscles and joints remain strong, toned and limber.
What About Herbs and Supplements?
If you are experiencing menopausal discomfort, you may have already learned of a few common herbs that help many women experiencing the same things. Black cohosh, chaste tree (or vitex), lemon balm, motherwart, rhubarb, yam root, American ginseng and evening primrose oil have all been recommended for issues associated with menopause like hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, lack of libido and vaginal dryness. You can find tinctures and combinations already made with these herbs. You can also make a tea out of many of these helpers as well. In any case, starting an herbal routine should be discussed with a health care practitioner that is experienced in using these herbs. They can contain side effects, interact with medications, or contraindicated for those with certain diseases or chronic health issues.
Stress has it’s own negative symptoms and chemical reactions on the body. Chronic stress and intense menopausal symptoms are not a friendly duo. Everyone has stress in their lives. This is the time to limit it, find ways to remove it, avoid it, or simply find other outlets to manage the effects it has on your body. Exercise and moving your body can help. Being out in nature, even if it is outback filling your bird feeder can help. Meditation or devoting ten minutes to prayer will help. Adult coloring books or breathing exercises will help. The point is, when your nervous systems are calmer, the better they send and receive messages, the better your body feels. If menopausal symptoms are stressing you out, look into some of these activities.
Sometimes, through all of these practices and healthy habits, symptoms still persist. Acupuncture is a medical practice that is centered on balancing the body. Did you know that menopausal symptoms are one of the most common health issues that acupuncturists alleviate and balance? If you experiencing any of the symptoms of menopause and would like to try a natural approach with Traditional Chinese Medicine, you have come to the right place. Give us a call today and schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced acupuncture physicians. We are confident that we can help you achieve optimal wellness.
Amy Carlson is a Holistic Nutritionist who practices a whole-foods based approach in helping the body to heal and thrive. She has a strong interest in sharing what she has learned so that everyone has the opportunity to live in a healthy body. “Each body has the ability to heal if it is given what it needs and the understanding of why it is hurting is discovered and nurtured as well.” Learn more about her approach to wellness by visiting her website.