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Interestingly, besides humans, orcas and pilot whales are the only other species where the females live significantly beyond their reproductive age. The average age of menopause hovers around 50, and most women can expect to live another 30 years or so. That indicates its importance. It wouldn’t have been uniquely established and preserved in just a couple species if it didn’t provide huge benefits to those species. And sure enough:

·    The presence of grandmothers in a population enhances maternal survival during childbirth.

·    They provide childcare so parents can be more productive, whether it’s going back to work in the office or foraging for nuts and tubers in the bush.

·    They impart wisdom to the youngsters—and to the community as a whole.

·    And, though parents probably wouldn’t count this as a positive, they spoil grandkids rotten.

To boot, many women I know say menopause ushers in the most focused, creative time of their lives. If their reproductive years (particularly perimenopausal ones) were characterized by hormonal chaos, they often find themselves grateful to be free of the perpetual fluctuation. But mostly they say they’ve entered a time of life when they feel more confident and self-aware. 

Post-menopausal women say they felt like they’ve entered a new phase of their life. Perhaps after a busy time with career / child rearing, followed by a whole host of mood swings, weight gain, hot flushes etc, settling into a new chapter free from these pressures can feel liberating with some saying that they’ve started to feel more confident and more able to explore their own needs. (as an aside, NEVER wait to address your own needs!)

That said there can be a whole host of physical changes that come along too and it’s not an easy time for some. Let’s look at those changes and how diet can support your body through this time. 

Weight Gain
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This might be the most common complaint women have during and after menopause: Weight goes on more easily and is harder than ever to scale back. Nothing seems to work, even the dietary interventions that previously did.

“Why is weight loss so hard after menopause?”

·    Energy expenditure and basal metabolic rate both drop with menopause.

·    Lower levels of estrogen (steroid related hormone that occurs naturally in the body)  increase appetite and reduce satiety. 

·    Lower levels of estrogen reduce activation of brown fat, the metabolically-active body fat which burns energy.

·    If you’re experiencing another common side effect of menopause—insomnia—your sleep-deprived brain’s reward system will be more susceptible to the allure of junk food.

·    You’re older. As we age, weight becomes easier to put on and harder to remove for both men and women.

 

Carbohydrates
 Many studies find that the glycemic load of a postmenopausal woman’s diet is a strong predictor of her fat mass. Remember that glycemic load is often a roundabout way of indicting carbohydrates without saying “carbohydrates.”

What really does seem to work is the classic paleolithic diet: lean meat, fruit, nuts, vegetables, eggs, berries, and fish with no grains, legumes, sugar, dairy, potatoes, or added salt. 40% of energy from fat, 30% from protein, 30% from carbohydrate. Over 24 months, menopausal women on a paleo diet lost more fat, more waist circumference, and more triglycerides than those on a standard “healthy” diet.

Protein
Another study found that postmenopausal women who ate the least protein had the most body fat and were physically weak. Those who ate the most had the least body fat and were more physically capable. This makes sense as protein helps build and repair exercised muscles.

What’s clear is that weight loss has beneficial effects on menopause symptoms. It reduces inflammationimproves cancer biomarkersregulates sex hormones, and improves endothelial function (the cells that line the inside of blood vessels)—to name a few. What’s also clear is that weight loss can have negative second-order effects in menopausal women, like bone mineral loss and loss of lean mass. So, it’s worth doing, and doing right. You have to strike a fine balance between losing weight and avoiding muscle loss. As your satiety signalling is likely thrown off, you might have to make a more conscious effort to track your food intake and make sure you’re not overdoing it.

 

Heart Diseasefemale-cardio.jpg.af30c1d5670e2e04f49f9a8338b4854c.jpg

 

Before menopause, most women are protected against heart disease, at least compared to men. Once menopause sets in, a woman’s heart disease risk goes way up. A good diet for menopause, then, would have to reduce heart disease risk. What does the evidence say?

In overweight post-menopausal women, high-fat diets (where the fat came from cheese or meatimproved atherogenic biomarkers (the tendency to promote the formation of fatty acids in the arteries) compared to a high-carb diet. Both the cheese-based and meat-based diets increased HDL (‘good’ cholesterol )and Apo-A1; the high-carb diet did not.

Meanwhile, high-carb diets were persistently linked to chronic low-grade inflammation and an elevated risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women.

“Are there any specific foods or nutrients that play an outsized role in menopausal women’s heart health?”

Dark chocolate may help with reduced endothelial function, another risk factor for heart disease. Postmenopausal women who consumed high-cacao chocolate saw their endothelial function improve in one study.

Green tea appears to help postmenopausal women reduce fasting insulin, a major but underappreciated risk factor for heart disease (and a host of other bad conditions).

 

Bone Loss
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As estrogen plays a big role in the maintenance of bone mineral density and overall bone health, bones get weaker and lose density during menopause. A woman’s risk of osteoporosis, fractures, and other bone-related incidents skyrocket during and after the transition.

Intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, shellfish, and fish oil supplements) is associated with higher bone mineral density at the hips and spine (the most crucial parts for aging people) in osteopenic women. Osteopenia is lower than normal bone mineral density. It isn’t quite osteoporosis, but osteopenia can often progress into it.

Glucose loading actively impairs bone remodeling in postmenopausal women. The problem doesn’t go away just because you exercise, either. And it gets worse the higher your postprandial blood glucose goes.

The normal bone-relevant nutrients become even more relevant after menopause:

·    One study in postmenopausal women found that yogurt fortified with vitamin D3 improved bone mineral density, while regular yogurt without the vitamin D3 worsened it.

·    Another found that a gram of calcium a day wasn’t enough to stave off bone mineral loss in menopausal women during weight loss; they needed at least 1.7 grams per day.

·    Another study found that a collagen supplement increased bone mineral density in post menopausal women.

 

 

Brain Fog
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Everyone’s heard of “pregnancy brain.” There’s also “menopause brain.” It’s characterized by brain fog, memory loss, lack of focus, and other cognitive symptoms.

Postmenopausal women who ate low-glycemic breakfasts had better cognitive function than those eating high-glycemic breakfasts.

Some research also suggests a role for micronutrient supplementation in menopausal cognitive symptoms:

·    Vitamin C can help. In one study, postmenopausal women who took 500 mg of vitamin C a day improved verbal recall, naming, and repetition. These improvements were accompanied by reductions in beta-amyloids linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

·    Resveratrol may help. In one study, it increased cerebral blood flow and improved overall cognitive performance during a series of tests, particularly in verbal memory.

 

Hot Flashes

Flashes or Flushes, both have you feeling like your body is on fire and you are melting. Fish oil and soy isoflavones have been shown to reduce hot flash occurrence, with soy acting faster on severe hot flashes and fish oil doing a better, but slower job of targeting both moderate and severe hot flashes.

Folic acid supplementation reduced the severity, duration, and frequency of hot flashes. A better source for folic acid are folate-rich foods, like leafy greens or liver.

 

Breast CancerRCCA-signs-symptoms-breast-cancer.jpg.05654e82d7ae17dcbde70386e8f1e080.jpg

 

A woman’s risk of breast cancer rises after menopause. After menopause, the inflammatory status of the breast goes up almost as a general rule. This explains at least part of the elevated risk for breast cancer postmenopausal women exhibit, and it’s true whether or not the woman is overweight or not. Menopausal breast fat is inflammatory fat.

Among Japanese women, those who ate the most noodles and other carbohydrates had higher levels of estradiol, which other studies have found correspond to a higher risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Those who ate the most fish, fish fat, and saturated fat had lower levels, which correspond to a lower risk. 

 

Oxidative Stress
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Menopause is generally inflammatory; along with waist circumference, menopause status is an independent predictor of low-level inflammation and elevated hs-CRP (one of the most fundamental markers of inflammation). There’s a low level simmer going on, and it can cause a lot of problems. What you eat can make it worse, or make it better.

High-glycemic diets—also known as diets high refined carbohydrates—are associated with more oxidative stress in pre, peri AND post-menopausal women. Intakes of insoluble fibre and PUFA, including omega-3sand healthy sources of omega-6s like nuts, were linked to lower levels of oxidative stress.

Paleolithic diets, on the other hand, reverse inflammatory markers in postmenopausal women.

Folate supplementation reduces oxidative stress and normalizes blood pressure in postmenopausal women. High-folate foods include asparagus, avocados, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens like spinach and lettuce.

 

Genetics matter, of course. A growing body of evidence indicates that various genetic variants can influence the effects of some of these dietary interventions on the symptoms and risks associated with menopause.

There’s more to managing menopause than just diet, of course. Lifestyle decisions matter too. 

Menopause isn’t easy for most women. Things are changing, hormones are in flux, and eating strategies you once employed may no longer work the same way. There’s no magic diet that fixes everything, but there are lots of little changes that can tilt the scales in your favour.

Try them out and let me know what you think. 

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