“The first wealth is health” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is boring, but timeless and true that to make an impact on your health you must address both diet and exercise. You can take all the supplements and pills in the world but if your foundation lacks these two basic building blocks then you are just pouring well-intentioned sand into a sieve with very large holes.
I am a true believer that food can change our lives. Research shows, a diet full of nutritionally vacant, ultra-processed foods will lead to obesity, depression, slowed cognitive function, and a host of chronic pain and disease. Short-term pleasure with long-term damage. However, a varied, whole-food diet can provide the energy and resources we need to live vibrant lives and ward off illness.
In a previous blog, I mentioned the CARDIA study (2015) which concluded that lifestyle changes made later in life can still have great impacts on longevity, health, and happiness in our later years. So, it is never too late to start.
Perimenopause and Menopause can be the tipping points in our lives that help determine our quality of life as we age. Looking at how we fuel our bodies, and making the necessary changes to our eating habits, can be some of the most foundational steps we can take to improve the odds that those years are spent with health and vibrancy.
The changes that occur to our bodies and brains during the Perimenopause and Menopause transition beg for us to take a closer look at what we put into our bodies, not only for our basic nutritional needs but to support and sometimes mitigate the changes that result from the (often) wild hormone fluctuations we experience during this period.
There are many, many things I can include in this article regarding nutrition, food recommendations, supplements, herbs, etc. Some recommendations are research-based, some anecdotal (which I believe still makes them valid), and others are just pure snake oil and false advertising. I acknowledge the foods and food groups I have chosen to write about and recommend here are highly debatable and there are many I have left out for the sake of brevity. In addition, broad diet recommendations are often very difficult to dispense, for everybody has different needs and requirements so it is always best to seek individualized guidance. However, I have chosen to focus on some basic food groups that I feel cover a large ground, are relatively easy to incorporate, and have some scientific basis backing them up. In my opinion, any change, no matter how small, is still a good change so here we go…..
Are weak estrogen receptors which means circulating estrogen will “bind up” to these molecules, removing excess estrogen from the bloodstream. Reduced estrogen in the bloodstream maintains a more steady hormonal level, leading to (hopefully) reduced estrogen-related side effects such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. For more about Estrogen, see my previous post (here).
Many phytoestrogens are soy-based. Soy has historically received a bad rap from some poorly dispensed research information that suggested an increased risk of breast cancer in women following a diet high in soy or soy products. Since then, that research study has been broadly disputed and the most current, general consensus indicates that for most women, high quality, organic soy products do not pose a risk for increasing the incidence of cancer (Chen, 2018). However, women with a history of breast cancer or a genetic predisposition to cancer should proceed with more caution and discuss this with an experienced medical professional.
In some well-documented research studies, soy has actually been shown to have the most positive effect on hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and heavy periods compared to other foods
Sources: plants, beans, soy and flaxseed
Are the building blocks of muscles, bones, skin, and blood. We experience a steady and significant loss of muscle mass and bone strength as we age, but we can greatly slow this process down with exercise and good nutritional habits, which include adequate protein intake.
Helps with tissue repair, healing, and the regulation of hormone levels. May help reduce weight gain and feelings of bloat.
Recommended amount per day: .8-1.0 g per kg body weight (roughly 55g for 150lb woman). Recent studies suggest higher numbers, up to 1.2-2.6g/kg may be most beneficial (Phillips, 2016).
Sources: chicken, pork, fish, soy, beans, legumes, eggs, fermented foods (tempeh, kefir)
Not only helps to keep bones strong but also aids in maintaining cognitive function. It is involved in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, diabetes, bone loss and depression, to name a few (Lerchbaum, 2016).
Recommended dosage: 700-800IU / day has been shown to reduce fracture risk and is generally recommended for women in the menopause years. Doctors often recommend even higher dosages, up to 2,000 IU/ day, but this is on a case by case basis so be sure to consult your medical provider before beginning a high dose regimen.
Sources: Sunlight (15 min a day), dairy products, salmon, tuna. This is one of the few nutrients where a supplement (outside of getting it from sunlight) is sometimes preferred.
helps regulate cortisol, supports your thyroid, and assists in the production of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.
best overall (compared to other forms of magnesium) to aid in sleep and mood, while also being gentle on the GI system.
Emerging evidence that it can help with hot flashes (source).
Sources: broccoli, bananas, nuts, seeds, spinach, black beans
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fats help the body produce and properly absorb hormones and are good for overall brain health due to their ability to help with neuron synthesis.
Other benefits include: decreased overall inflammation, prevention of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. For all of which, the risk increases with menopause.
Recommended dosage: 1100mg, at minimum (source). This can vary with certain medical conditions.
Sources: sardines, salmon, tuna, flaxseed (oil), chia, walnuts (oil), eggs, soybeans, olive oil
Vegetables (of course!)
Cruciferous vegetables provide fiber, which is important for healthy elimination and bowel function. They can also help optimize thyroid function and contain antioxidants that can help fight against cancer.
High in iron and calcium, important to maintain strong, healthy bones and they are a good source of mood and energy regulating Vit B and Magnesium.
There is some evidence that these foods help with hormone regulation (Fowke, 2000). Broccoli especially has been shown to balance the amount of “good” estrogen vs “bad” (the type that increases risk of cancer in some women) estrogen in the bloodstream.
Sources: cauliflower, kale, bok choy, collard greens, arugula, brussel sprouts
Other Important micronutrients to consider:
- Vit B-6, B-12, E, Zinc
With any lifestyle change I often encourage my clients to take small steps to avoid overwhelm and shut down. Add (or take away) 1-2 new foods a week. Always consult your trusted medical provider before making any drastic changes to your diet especially if you are experiencing or are at risk for significant illness or disease. Be patient and kind to yourself along this journey and don’t forget to enjoy your food. It can and should be a source of both need and pleasure. I am here to help, go to www.elainemele.com to sign up for a free 20 min consultation to discuss your wellness needs.
Disclaimer: the recommendations in this article are not intended to substitute for direct and individualized medical care. Please consult a trusted healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet.
Chen M, et al. Association between soy isoflavone intake and breast cancer risk for pre- and post-menopausal women: A meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. PLOS One. 2014;9:e89288. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089288. Accessed Oct. 10, 2018.
Phillips, S. M., Chevalier, S., & Leidy, H. J. (2016). Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(5), 565–572. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2015-0550
Lerchbaum E. Vitamin D and menopause--a narrative review. Maturitas. 2014 Sep;79(1):3-7. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.06.003. Epub 2014 Jun 13. PMID: 24993517.
Fowke JH, Longcope C, Hebert JR. Brassica vegetable consumption shifts estrogen metabolism in healthy postmenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2000 Aug;9(8):773-9. PMID: 10952093.