Author: Wendy Sweet, PhD. Wendy Sweet is the founder of My Menopause Transformation and a member of Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. Her own struggle with symptoms of menopause – including weight gain and feelings of stress – led Wendy to explore this life stage as part of her doctoral studies on women’s health and ageing through the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Health, Sport and Human Performance.
Nutritional solution to symptoms of menopause
Among the various pharmaceutical treatments and herbal remedies for symptoms of menopause, nutritional changes rarely get a mention. But nutritional adjustments offer a powerful solution for women struggling to make sense of this life stage.
Whilst there is a plethora of advice about managing symptoms of menopause in the medical and pharmaceutical paradigm, how many of us change our lifestyle to accommodate our transition through menopause?
Positioning the menopause transition in ageing research opened the door to a variety of symptom management possibilities using food as medicine, not only for myself, but now for the thousands of women who join me in my coaching community. There’s an element of surprise when this happens.
Research endorsing Mediterranean diet
However, metabolic and cardiac research consistently view the menopause transition and subsequent endocrine changes, with increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and immune dysfunction. Looking at these clinical endpoints is therefore important, because it helps us to explore prevention opportunities that (mainly) sit within lifestyle medicine and ageing research.
‘Among the various aspects of health promotion and lifestyle adaptation to the menopause and postmenopausal period, nutritional habits are essential because they concern all women, can be modified, and impact both longevity and quality of life.’ (Silva, Opperman et al, 2021).
With the menopause transition increasingly viewed as a systemic inflammatory phase that enables later neurogenerative and cardiovascular disease (McCarthy & Raval, 2020; Furman, Campesi et al, 2019), all roads in women’s midlife health and ageing research lead to the Mediterranean Dietary approach.
Inflammation & symptoms of menopause
Part of this approach is ensuring that women have the appropriate nutrients that fight inflammatory changes, which are known to commence in peri-menopause. For example, if women constantly feel hot and sweaty, this is a sign that their temperature regulation is out of balance. As such, the body activates sweating by moving heat to the surface of the skin. Heat generation is compromised as women move through menopause because blood vessels lose some elasticity. This is called vascular stiffness.
To reduce the effect of vascular stiffness, foods high in nitrates help. Dietary nitrate has been demonstrated to have a range of beneficial vascular effects, including reducing blood pressure, inhibiting platelet clumping and clotting, and preserving or improving endothelial dysfunction, and enhancing exercise performance in healthy individuals. (Lidder & Webb, 2012).
Adjusting nutritional choices as women move through menopause is a major modifiable risk factor that women have control over, especially for preventing heart disease, weight gain and osteoporosis – the main conditions that beset western women as they age. Whilst there is much confusion about dietary choices these days (eg, Keto, Paleo), many of these are high in saturated fat and protein. However, as women move through menopause into post-menopause, a high saturated-fat diet isn’t recommended, especially with regard to managing cardiac and metabolic health. (Silva et al, 2021).
Lifestyle and disease-prevention approaches
When it comes to looking ahead to a potentially healthy ageing, I’m a great advocate of using our menopause transition to begin to try new approaches. The lifestyle and disease-prevention science specific to women allows a framework from which to make these adjustments.
Most advice follows learnings from cardiovascular research as well as ageing and longevity research including:
- Small to moderate amounts of fermented dairy foods (low fat cheese and yoghurt)
- Protein sourced from plants, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish and salmon
- Fats from unsaturated plant sources or alternative sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and olive oil
- Low glycemic index carbohydrates from whole-grains and starch vegetables
- A minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day (and up to 10) but not sugar-sweetened beverages
(Silva, Oppermann et al, 2021).
Menopause as natural process
The phenomenon of menopause brings numerous physiological changes in the body and whilst every woman’s experience is unique, positioning this transition that all women go through in ageing and inflammatory science offers a move away from the traditional view that menopause is a sickness to be ‘treated’.
Exploring cross-cultural studies that show substantial geographical and ethnic variation in the experience of menopause, as well as health and ageing studies, allows for a broadening of the menopause management paradigm. Furthermore, adding aspects of the Mediterranean dietary approach to menopause symptom and weight management, also helps to answer the call from Hickey et al (2022) for menopause to be normalised in ways that recognise this stage of life as a natural process ‘that challenges stigma around ageing in women’. (Hickey et al, 2022, p.3)
Hickey M., Hunter MS., Santoro N., & Ussher J. (2022). Normalising menopause. BMJ. 377:e069369. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2021-069369. PMID: 35705221.
Lidder S., & Webb A. (2013). Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 75(3):677-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.2012.04420.x.
McCarthy M, Raval AP. (2020). The peri-menopause in a woman’s life: a systemic inflammatory phase that enables later neurodegenerative disease. J Neuroinflammation, 17(1):317. doi: 10.1186/s12974-020-01998-9. PMID: 33097048; PMCID: PMC7585188.
Preedy V. & Watson. R. (2020). The Mediterranean Diet: An evidence-based approach. 2nd Ed. Elselvier Academic Press: London, UK
Silva, T., Oppermann, K, Reis, F. & Spritzer, P. (2021). Nutrition in Menopausal Women: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 13, 2149, 1-14.