As women transition through the stages of menopause, they commonly experience numerous, distressing symptoms that can affect them from head-to-toe. Brain fog, insomnia, hot flashes, weight gain, joint pain, bone loss, and anxiety are just a few of the 30+, yes, 30+ (!) symptoms women have reported experiencing as they transition through the stages of menopause. At HerMD, many of our patients seek treatment for menopausal symptoms and concerns, as these are often distressing and can impact an individual’s quality of life. We partner with our patients to formulate a treatment plan that addresses each of their unique needs and concerns. In addition to the hormonal and non-hormonal treatment options we prescribe, we also recognize the importance of educating on healthful eating and lifestyle habits, as these habits serve as integral components of the menopausal treatment plan.
As the Fall approaches, we are excited by the promise of a new season and the opportunity to foster healthy habits that support and optimize health. We will be hosting a month-long blog series where we provide you with evidence-based, healthful eating and lifestyle tips you may wish to incorporate into your life to manage symptoms related to a health condition, improve your quality of life, or optimize your overall health.
To kick off our series, we recommend the following eating and lifestyle modifications to alleviate distressing symptoms and optimize health during menopause:
On average, women gain about 1.5 pounds per year during the fifth and sixth decades of their lives, generally when menopause occurs. While weight gained during this time is often attributed to menopause alone, research suggests that aging and changes to lifestyle factors are the driving forces. As such, focusing on healthful eating principles can have a positive impact on weight at menopause. Consuming healthy, balanced meals consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grain carbohydrates, and lean sources of protein, using healthy plant oils, and drinking plenty of water are key nutrition principles that can help to promote weight maintenance throughout all stages of the life cycle. Adhering to these healthy and balanced principles are especially important during menopause, when metabolic rate slows and the propensity for weight gain is higher than at other times in the life cycle. Weight gain during menopause can negatively impact health, and is often associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance later in life.
Alleviating Menopausal Symptoms With Food
If you experience hot flashes, there is some evidence that supports certain foods to alleviate bothersome symptoms. Research has shown that caffeine and alcohol use tend to exacerbate hot flash symptoms, so if you suffer from bothersome hot flashes, cutting back or eliminating caffeine and alcohol may mitigate the intensity of your hot flashes. Recent research has also shown that the combination of a plant-based and whole soybean diet resulted in decreased frequency and severity of hot flashes and improvement in quality of life, with most women free of moderate-severe hot flashes entirely after adopting a plant-based and whole soybean diet.
If you experience sleep disturbances or insomnia, some research suggests high-glycemic index foods such as processed and refined foods (white bread, white rice, soda, fast food, baked goods) may increase the risk of insomnia in menopausal women. Instead of processed and refined foods, consider incorporating low-glycemic index foods, like whole grains and fiber-rich carbohydrates, into meals to possibly reduce the risk of insomnia.
As we age, we tend to be less physically active. During menopause, it is especially important to keep an active lifestyle, as doing so can prevent weight gain, strengthen bones, reduce your risk of disease, and boost your mood. There is also limited data to support that physical activity reduces the frequency and intensity of vasomotor symptoms, although this benefit may be individualized and can vary from person to person. Physical activities that support stability and balance are also important during menopause, as these activities can help to prevent and reduce the risk of falls. If you experience incontinence, working with a pelvic floor therapist to strengthen your core and pelvic floor muscles can help to improve symptoms of urgency, frequency, and incomplete emptying. Incorporating yoga and pilates into your exercise routine are also great ways to improve core strength and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
For optimal health, women should aim for moderately-intense physical activity for 30 minutes most days of the week, and strength-training activities at least twice per week. Being physically active looks different for everyone, and can include many different types of exercise, including: running, walking, swimming, biking, going to the gym, grocery shopping, and so many more!
Menopause significantly speeds the rate of bone loss (up to 20%) and increases the risk of osteoporosis. These changes to bone health increase an individual’s chances of fractures and injuries. Incorporating bone-strengthening exercises can help to build back and strengthen lost muscle and can also slow mineral loss. Additional supplementation with vitamin D and calcium play an important role in bone health and can help to prevent and treat osteoporosis, decrease the risk of bone loss, and lower the risk of fracture.
You and your health matter at every age and every stage. We at HerMD are excited to kick off this health education series and hope you will find ways to seamlessly incorporate these tips into your lifestyle to optimize health. If you are interested in learning more about incorporating healthful eating and lifestyle modifications into your health plan, schedule an appointment with one of our medical providers today.