Menopause – Finding the right balance

All women, at least those in North America, are very familiar with the most common menopausal symptoms, which include hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, memory loss and mood swings. Although these are common symptoms, they are just those … symptoms! Common doesn’t mean you have to accept them as normal. The great thing is that all of these symptoms are within your control, and I’m not talking about using medication. Although I can understand that taking a pill to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms may seem like the easiest option, there are natural and more effective ways to deal with and prevent menopausal discomfort, without the possible side effects of drugs.

When Jennifer,* 54, came to me three years ago, she could barely crawl out of bed. She was a busy professional with a high-stress job who was suffering from insomnia, hot flashes and emotional breakdowns “at very inconvenient times.” Having tried a number of prescribed meds, as well as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), she was frustrated that nothing was helping and it was now affecting her work and personal life.

Like many people, Jennifer never considered that her diet and lifestyle were contributing to her menopausal woes. Together we reviewed her food journal and I helped her to really see what “food” she was eating and how it was having a negative effect on her body. Jennifer basically relied on three to four coffees to carry her through the day. With no sleep, no breakfast and a lack of energy, she needed the boost that caffeine offered. Her lunches were often eaten at her desk and consisted of a microwaveable frozen meal or fast food fare. She often visited the vending machine during her mid-afternoon slump and loved her cookies and chocolate. Dinner wasn’t any better: frozen pizza, takeout, mac and cheese or a deli sandwich. Jennifer and fruits and veggies hadn’t seen each other in years. For her, it was all about convenience — she was too busy and tired to take the time to cook a proper meal. Needless to say, we had a lot of work to do, but Jennifer was up for the challenge.

We cut back her coffee intake and replaced it with herbal teas and plenty of water. I provided her with an individualized sample menu plan that consisted of tons of fresh fruit and veggies, especially leafy greens. Fruits and veggies are not only full of fibre, but they are rich in vitamins and minerals, and are alkalinizing. During menopause, there is a decline in estrogen and progesterone production, which can contribute to bone loss and increase the risk of osteoporosis. This makes it especially important to consume a diet high in alkaline foods, which are essential for maintaining strong bones. This is also why it was important for Jennifer to limit her intake of pop and refined carbohydrates/sugar, as these are acidic foods and can leach calcium from the bones. Jennifer’s high consumption of soda, cookies and white-flour products were also contributing to her menopausal symptoms, creating blood sugar imbalances and overloading her liver. An unhappy liver meant an unhappy Jennifer. I also had her eating plenty of foods rich in phytosterols. These steroid-like molecules are similar to estrogen and naturally exist in a variety of foods, including alfalfa, olives, parsley, whole grains, apples, legumes, cherries, flax, peas and soy. The benefit of eating foods high in phytosterols is that they can gently mimic estrogen in the body, thereby helping to alleviate menopausal symptoms.

It was also essential for Jennifer to begin with some supplementation, as her high consumption of cooked foods, trans fats and sugar, and overall nutrient-void diet, left her with imbalanced
gut flora and nutrient deficiencies. She began by taking probiotics, fish oil and a B-complex. These helped to bring balance back to her body. A few lifestyle habits that were important for Jennifer to adopt included daily physical activity, exposure to natural sunlight and stress reduction. Stress management is crucial, as adrenal glands are responsible for producing hormones, so it is important to keep them healthy and functioning well. Meditation, deep breathing and yoga were very effective relaxation techniques for Jennifer.

As we gradually made these changes to Jennifer’s diet, within weeks she began to notice a significant difference in the way she felt. She was ecstatic that her hot flashes began to drastically diminish and she was finally getting her energy back. She soon began to sleep through the night again. Not only did Jennifer feel better, but she looked better, too! Her dark under-eye circles cleared up, she lost weight and her bloated belly was a thing of the past. Today, Jennifer is happy and loves eating good food.

Jennifer’s story is only one of many. With dietary and lifestyle changes like these, you too can improve your overall health and have a positive menopausal experience.

*Name has been changed to protect
the privacy of the patient.

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Debora Palmieri

Debora Palmieri