Most women experience the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. It’s the point at which oestrogen (the female sex hormone) levels decrease and menstruation stops…
This means a woman’s ovaries no longer produce eggs and it’s unlikely she’ll fall pregnant. It’s a massive adjustment – not just physically, but psychologically, too.The menopause also brings several other symptoms into the mix – but that’s not to say you’ll experience all of them. The list includes high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels, weakening of the bones (osteoporosis), weight gain, hot flushes, insomnia, mood changes and irritability, poor concentration, headaches and loss of libido, and they can last anything from a few months up to several years.
But there are ways to make the experience easier to manage…
1 Boost your mood
There’s some evidence to show eating oily fish can reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body. Make sure you eat at least one portion of oily fish a week, or consider taking a fish oil supplement to tackle those irritable feelings.
Increasing the amount of the ‘feel good’ hormone serotonin in your brain could also help to temper your mood. One way to boost levels is to eat foods rich in tryptophan, the amino acid needed to make serotonin. Good sources include bananas, walnuts, turkey, eggs and dairy products.
Make sure you eat regularly, too. Going for long periods without food will cause your blood glucose level to drop – and your good mood will go with it.
2 Get active
During and after the menopause, muscle mass reduces so you burn fewer calories. Find exercise inspiration here.
3 Catch some Zzzzs
As well as helping to calm us down, serotonin, along with another hormone called melatonin, are really important for sleep regulation. Eat a meal containing tryptophan-rich foods (see above) and carbohydrates, which help to transport tryptophan to the brain, at least two hours before you go to bed to boost the production of these hormones.
A glass of warm milk is often recommended when you’re having trouble sleeping – and it seems to work. It’s likely this is because it’s warm, comforting and gives you a sense of calm – all very important for a good night’s sleep. Dairy products contain calcium, which is also good for helping the brain to make melatonin.
4 Keep your cool
If you’re experiencing hot flushes, it may be helpful to keep a food diary and see if you notice any triggers, such as spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol – then avoid them.
A study of over 6,000 women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013, found that a Mediterranean-style diet or a diet high in fruit reduced hot flushes and night sweats. By contrast, a diet high in fat and sugar increased the rate of hot flushes and night sweats. So getting your five-a-day and cutting down on processed foods that are high in fat and sugar may ease your symptoms. Read more about the Mediterranean diet.
And while more research is needed, there is evidence to suggest consuming plant-based oestrogens, such as those found in soya products such as soya milk and tofu, may help to alleviate hot flushes.
5 Eat to beat headache
Aim to eat three balanced meals and 2–3 healthy snacks each day, and leave no longer than 3–4 hours between each feed to keep blood sugar levels stable. It’s important to drink plenty of water, too (at least 1.5 to 2 litres a day) to avoid dehydration. If you’re reducing your caffeine intake due to hot flushes, do so gradually as too rapid a change can trigger headaches. Read more about headache prevention.