When you think back to your biology class or your health class at school, can you remember how the cycle was taught? For many it was probably pitched around reproductive capacity and birth control. And that was where it stopped! Whilst for sure this is important, we are not taught that there is so much more to the cycle that extends to ourself-care and self-worth.
In my early 40’s I was perplexed about the changes going on in my body and to be honest I had no idea what was happening. I put it down to a rebalancing of hormones, after having my last child at 39, so it actually never occurred to me to look any closer. Fast forward to a career change, older children and a big refocus on my health and I discover this is actually a thing! This was the start of Perimenopause. A natural biological change that happens to a woman’s body in you guessed it, their early 40’s, I felt comforted to know it had a name. I now needed to educate myself on how to embrace it, because it wasn’t going away.
We are educated at school in the biology of starting our reproductive life with regular menstrual cycles, but where was the compassionate and well meaning discussion around perimenopause, menopause and post menopause? My scenario is a similar one experienced by loads of women and it has driven me and my business partner Natalie Moore, to change the conversation in this space both individually and also in the workspace because well, it’s time. It’s time to kick start conversation around perimenopause and menopause because it’s hard to navigate.
Perimenopause is the time during which a woman’s body makes the natural transition to menopause and can occur for up to ten years before menopause. Dr Christiane Northrup calls this time the mother of all wake up calls (and that it is!). Menopause occurs on average around the age of 51 and is that one particular day which signifies the absence of a period for twelve months. After this, women effectively start the post menopausal phase of their biological life cycle.
Women experience symptoms in the lead up to menopause very differently from one to another. These can include (but not limited to!) hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety, skin and hair changes, brain fog, and blood sugar imbalances. Bone and hormonal health become super important at this time too.
At Own Your Health Collective, our five pillars framework provides the perfect base for the myriad of lifestyle options that we use when coaching women through perimenopause and beyond. Invariably, nutrition health is usually one of the first lifestyle options given the change in dietary needs a woman’s body experiences at this time. A well balanced nourishing diet assists with the hormonal changes and above symptoms, whilst maintaining good bone, brain, heart, liver and gut health. Here are our top five nutrient recommendations to support and provide a multitude of benefits to women at this phase in their life.
Calcium & Magnesium
Bone density peaks in our late twenties and starts to decline around the age of 35. During menopause, the loss of estrogen increases the risk of osteoporosis which is why bone health becomes a big concern. Luckily, minerals like calcium and magnesium can help prevent bone loss during this phase of life and they are a super duo for bone health. Calcium builds healthy bones and magnesium ensures that calcium ends up in the right place. Sources of calcium are plentiful and include:
Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach and bok choi
Dairy products (if not dairy intolerant) like cheese and milk
Sardines and canned salmon
Soy products like fermented miso, tofu and tempeh
Nuts and seeds
As we age, our protein needs increase. For some women transitioning into menopause, they can often experience sudden, rapid weight gain and have difficulty controlling their blood sugar. Eating high quality protein with each meal will play an important role in healthy weight maintenance and can help improve blood sugar control. Sources of protein are plentiful and can include chicken, turkey, red meat, eggs, fish, cottage cheese and greek yoghurt or plant based options like lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, chia and hemp seeds.
One of the most common complaints from menopausal clients is hot flashes. Research has found that phytoestrogens may help reduce hot flashes and can also assist with mood and energy dips, improve cognitive function and memory. Found in a wider range of plant foods, most notably soy, you can also find it in fruit and vegetables (in particular green leafy vegetables) berries, nuts and seeds and legumes.
Fat is an important factor for blood sugar control and satiety. Good quality fats are also associated with a lower risk of heart disease and breast cancer, both of which affect the menopausal population. Healthy fats are needed for energy, to help absorb vitamins and protect your heart, brain and bones. Some healthy fat sources to consider adding to your nutrition plans include avocado, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, salmon, chia and flax seeds, tahini, sunflower and sesame seeds.
Eating adequate fibre is essential to keeping your digestive system healthy, your good gut bacteria thriving, assisting with weight management and with other menopausal symptoms like constipation, flatulence and bloating. It’s also a superstar for balancing blood sugar levels and keeping you full for longer. Obtain fibre from fruit, vegetables, lentils, chickpeas and wholegrains like oats, barley nuts and seeds. Boost your intake by leaving the skin on fruit or vegetables or adding lentils and beans to stews or curries.
By actively focussing on a variety of lifestyle choices, including your nutrition, it can be a game changer for the conversation around a woman’s transition into perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause.