The Instagram logo

Changing lanes

The menopause is an unavoidable stage in a woman's life, and it gets a lot of bad press. Rude Health magazine asks the experts for their best advice on natural solutions

The menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45-55. It can be a very different experience for each woman," says Kelly Gleeson, from Kelly Gleeson Nutrition, the Natural Clinic and the Quay Coop Health Store, Cork City. "Some women pass through the menopause with no symptoms, others can experience multiple. Some common symptoms include hot flushes and increased sweating, weight gain, mood changes, sleep disturbances, decreased libido and a higher risk for osteoporosis. This is a time where huge amounts of biological changes are happening in our bodies, and support during this transition can make a positive impact on our health and wellbeing.

"Health issues for women can be extremely varied depending on the individual," agrees Angela McGlanaghey of health store Simple Simon in Donegal town. "Some of the most common issues are sleep disruption, nights sweats and flushing, increased anxiety, stomach issues and weight gain."

It's important to remind ourselves that menopause is not a disease. It's a time in a woman's life to really look after herself. Your local health store is often the best place to get informed advice and natural support.

Menopause diet

"A good diet can be hugely beneficial during this time and would include antioxidants, fibre, protein, probiotic foods, omega-3s and enough water to stay hydrated," says Kelly Gleeson. "All of these are key to supporting our hormones and balancing blood sugar levels which helps maintain a healthy weight during this time. A Mediterranean style diet would be a good choice, which typically includes lots of fish, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains and good quality extra virgin olive oil."

"A varied and balanced diet will help support health," says Angela McGlanaghey. "We recommend wholefoods, fruit and vegetables, calcium-rich foods to help protect the bones, and not too many processed foods. Foods high in omega-3 are good for heart health and linseed and flax oils have anti-inflammatory benefits. Lean proteins are ideal. Warm nourishing foods such as soups and stews are great for getting extra veggies and nutrients in."

"Including phytoestrogens in our diet such as flaxseeds and fermented soy products are supportive for hormonal changes during the menopause," says Kelly Gleeson.

"Increasing intake of foods containing calcium/vitamin D/magnesium/vitamin K decreases the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. To support libido levels, maca root powder is a good option to include in your diet. It can be added to smoothies or protein balls."

Other menopause diet recommendations include:

Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables daily. Aim for 7-9 portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

Phytoestrogens – found in apples, carrots, olives and plums, also flaxseeds and sunflower seeds

Healthy fats – from oily fish including salmon, mackerel, sardines as well as chia seeds and avocados.

Green leafy vegetables and nuts – for magnesium which helps women with muscle cramps, restless legs, migraines, restless sleep, low energy and agitated moods.

Water is vital for your body to stay hydrated.

Cut it out

"Quitting smoking and minimising our intake of alcohol, caffeine and high sugar foods can reduce the severity of symptoms," says Kelly Gleeson.

Other foods to cut down or out completely include:

Anything that can cause toxicity in your life, including sugar, sweeteners, processed foods and fluoridated water.

Some women benefit from being tested and cutting out dairy, wheat and gluten.

Spicy foods which can aggravate hot flushes and night sweats.

Processed foods are lacking in the minerals and vitamins needed to nourish the body.

Hot flushes

Hot flushes can be triggered by anxiety or stress, and often feel like they have come from nowhere. It's a good idea to keep a log to help you identify triggers. Try to drink two or three litres of water every day to help with hydration. Sage and red clover can help, but you won't notice a difference until you have taken them for at least a month.

"For hot flushes and sweating, sage is a good option to help regulate body temperature," says Kelly Gleeson. "It can be taken in capsules, tinctures or as a tea. Keeping your blood sugars balanced is also hugely beneficial."

"A few supplements we recommend are magnesium to help with sleep and anxiety, sage capsules for night sweats and flushing and a good balanced multivitamin with support specifically for symptoms of menopause," says Angela McGlanaghey.

Interrupted sleep

Taking a theanine and magnesium supplement can help the nervous system to create the hormones needed for sleep. If you wake up throughout the night you could consider supporting your liver with a cysteine complex and eating more bitter foods such as rocket, radish, cress and lemon. Black cohosh helps prevent night sweats and hot flushes and may help improve sleep.

Increased anxiety

Menopausal women can become anxious and overwhelmed, and suffer from mood changes. Tips include reducing caffeine, taking a magnesium and methylated B complex to support the nervous system; eating more foods rich in magnesium such as nuts and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables and wholegrains like brown rice. Many women find that yoga, mindfulness, swimming and walking can help calm the mind too.

Vaginal dryness

Many women reach a stage in life where they ‘dry out'. Their mucous membranes lose their ability to lubricate themselves and that can lead to dry eyes, skin and vaginal dryness. Omega oils can help with this, but if you don't eat oily fish such as salmon, anchovies and mackerel three times every week then it's a good idea to supplement. Omega 7 contains sea buckthorn oil, one of nature's richest sources of vitamin A which maintains normal mucous membranes.

Exercise and lifestyle

"It's so important for women to stay active both for their physical health and mental health," says Angela McGlanaghey. "Weight-bearing exercises are great to protect the body and bones from deterioration, such as weight training. Walking is great too and any exercise you can do in the fresh air is great. Try and get enough sleep, it's such an underrated recovery tool for the body."

Yoga - great way to maintain physical strength, keep joints lubricated and reduce stress levels.

Walking, particularly out in the fresh air, is very beneficial.

The role of vitamins C and B during menopause

"Vitamin B-complex is composed of eight B-vitamins, often referred to as the ‘energy vitamins' because they help convert food into energy," says Dr Paula Gaynor, nutritionist, food scientist and co-founder of Irish health supplement brand Somega.

"Vitamin B-complex has numerous health benefits, including helping to boost energy levels and reduce tiredness and fatigue, supporting memory, concentration and mental performance and helping combat stress.

"Vitamin B6 helps regulate hormonal activity and helps make serotonin, a chemical responsible for transmitting brain signals. Supplementing with vitamin B6 during and after menopause may help tame symptoms caused by low serotonin levels, including loss of energy and depression.

"Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, weakness, confusion, depression and dementia. From the age of 50, there is greater susceptibility to vitamin B12 deficiency due to impaired absorption from food sources, and taking a high quality supplement can help avoid deficiency and promote optimal health.

"Vitamin C is a useful ally during menopause, helping to reduce tiredness and fatigue and boosting energy levels. Vitamin C supports the production of collagen which is vitally important for skin and joint health; studies show that skin loses about 30% of its collagen during the first five years of menopause. As collagen diminishes, skin loses it firmness and begins to sag and wrinkle."

Check with your professional healthcare practitioner before you take any new supplements or start a new diet.

Articles from our latest issue...