The goal of this article is to provide you with key points to be aware of when it comes to perimenopause and menopause so, in a natural way, you can prevent, or at least minimize, some of the negative issues and experiences that can arise during this challenging time.
This article has been written as a collaboration between myself and Ari Karp - owner and Strength and Conditioning Coach at Train 2 Xcel.
Key points on menopause:
Official menopause (ovaries stop producing eggs, hormone fluctuation is over; estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels are low) is marked on the 365th day from the date of your last menstrual period.
In the U.S. about 85% of women will have entered menopause by age 52.
Menopause symptoms include, but are not limited to, hot flashes, heart palpitations, cardiovascular disease (CVD), osteoporosis, acne, hair loss, wrinkles, weight gain, moodiness, irritability, brain fog, loss or irregularity of periods, vaginal dryness/infections, incontinence/urinary tract infections, decline in sex drive and insomnia.
Bone loss and risk of cardiovascular disease are two of the most significant threats resulting from decreased estrogen.
Increase in abdominal fat in perimenopausal women has everything to do with dropping estrogen levels. Dropping estrogen will not only decrease metabolism and increase appetite, it will also cause weight gain, with that weight tending to stick more around the waist.
Drop in estrogen can also lead to sleepless nights and elevated stress levels which do not help with the fat storage situation.
Every woman’s experience of menopause is unique. Symptoms can be influenced by many factors such as cultural, social, regional, ethnical, genetical, reproductive, lifestyle or diet related.
Symptoms of menopause start several years earlier. This transitional period is called perimenopause and it starts between the ages of 35 to 45.
Perimenopause is characterized by uneven rises and falls in estrogen levels, that can lead to up to a 3% loss of bone mineral density per year. It is crucial for women as early as their late 30’s to not ignore any symptoms, and start taking preventive measures against osteoporosis. Protecting yourself by prioritizing good nutrition, exercise and stress management.
Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, smoking, hysterectomies and living in higher altitudes can lead to an earlier onset of perimenopause and menopause.
Average length of perimenopause is 4 years.
When natural ways of dealing with symptoms (exercise, diet, herbal supplements, acupuncture, stress management) are not effective, for those with significant and debilitating menopausal and perimonopausal symptoms, doctors may recommend Hormone Replacement Therapy. Talk to your doctor to find out more and share your symptoms as early as they arise.
Nutritional and lifestyle applications:
Don’t wait to make dietary changes before it’s too late - women get affected by hormone fluctuations as early as in their 30’s.
Consume a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs that will provide you with optimal amounts of vitamins and minerals needed for your body to stay healthy.
Consume foods from the allium family (onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives) which can protect against CVD, protect bones and inhibit cancer development.
Eat regular meals.
Make sure you eat enough protein to maintain and/or built lean mass and help control cravings. For women exercising regularly (especially strength-training) I recommend 0.8-1g per pound of body weight.
Consumption of cruciferous vegetables tends to help with fluctuating estrogen levels.
To preserve bone mass upon menopause get adequate sunlight to attain vitamin D and incorporate foods rich in bone building calcium such as green leafy veggies, legumes and nuts/seeds.
Get your blood checked often to monitor for any other vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Moderate intake of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, alcohol, caffeine and salt.
Avoid processed foods, refined grains and added sugar - beside providing no nutritional value, they can lead to a decrease in bone health, increase in systemic inflammation, result in mood swings, fatigue and immune function decrease, between many others.
Drink plenty of water and herbal tea.
Manage stress and try to get as much sleep as possible.
Avoid these hot flash triggers: stress, coffee, spicy foods, alcohol, sugar, citrus fruits, large meals.
Keep your weight at a healthy range, high BMI can not only be a trigger for hot flashes, it can lead to a development of insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome which further elevates the risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels - naturally occurring and cardioprotective estradiol declines as women age and put on body fat, putting us at risk for CVD.
Yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation and general exercise can help to relieve symptoms of hot flashes.
Talk to other women - you would be surprised how many women are willing to share their experiences and ways of dealing with their symptoms. It's very important to have a strong network of female doctors, friends and family members who can support you through this difficult time.
Aim to exercise at least 5 hours each week - increasing exercise volume can help with fluctuating estrogen levels, beside improving your general health, well being and body composition.
Performance against great loadings and jump exercises, that is strength training and plyometrics have been shown to have the highest potential for increase in bone mass.
Progressive load is necessary for new bone growth - make sure yore lifting heavy enough - aim for loads that are higher than those of everyday life.
Combine strength, plyometrics, cardiovascular and balance training in order to decrease risk factors, symptoms, and prevent falls.
Don’t underestimate the power of brisk walking as a way to bring down stress hormones and help you burn fat.
Intense exercise can be a trigger for a hot flash so monitor your symptoms and adjust the intensity accordingly. In other words, listen to your body.
Train to decrease body fat while maintaining (or gaining) lean muscle mass - strength/resistance training supported by proper nutrition is the best way to achieve that.
Keep in mind that although swimming, cycling and rowing are great for cardiovascular health, they don't do much for bone health.
Allow your body to fully recover between training sessions. Overtraining can cause stress hormones (such as cortisol) to hike as well as increase inflammation in your body making it harder to lose weight, sleep and manage your symptoms.
And lastly, and most importantly, participate in activities that make you happy.
If you have any questions regarding menopause and nutrition, don't hesitate to contact me (here).
If you have any questions regarding menopause and training, contact Ari here.