Menopause, Inflammation and Food
Irregular menstrual cycles, heavy bleeding, excessive sweating and hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue and weight gain (1).
Is it really a given that all women have this to look forward to when we reach menopause?
Menopause typically begins in our 40s or 50s, but the average age is 51 in the United States and an estimated 61% are experiencing some of the symptoms above.
Typical treatments offered by many doctors include low-dose antidepressants, prescribed to control mood swings and hot flashes and anticonvulsants, given to helps to reduce extreme hot flashes (2).
While these medications may help with some symptoms, they can also elicit commonly experienced side effects including hives, itching, skin rash, inability to sit still, restlessness, chills or fever and joint or muscle pain (3).
Is there anything else we can do to offset symptoms without signing up for these other uncomfortable reactions?
Enter food as medicine.
Did you know that many of the foods we are told are healthy options are actually quite inflammatory and can worsen menopausal symptoms?
And that on the flip side, there are some easy to source and cook things we can add to our repertoire that will reduce said inflammation?
And why is inflammation even relevant in the topic of menopause anyway?
Because of declining estrogen levels.
Estrogens have anti-inflammatory properties, so the loss of these hormones can also lead to increased inflammation, which can exacerbate autoimmune conditions.
In addition, estrogens play a major role in the collagen and elastin network of the skin. Losing estrogens means losing dermal collagen production (4).
And on a deeper level, losing estrogen directly affects our gut microbiome, which, not surprisingly affects sex hormone production and vice versa , that in turn affects systemic immune responses (5).
Everything truly does go back to the gut; an optimal gut biome supersedes ones age or gender.
There’s zero we can do about our genetics or our age, but 100% we can do with our epigenetic!
This is not only exciting, it’s empowering, and not particular to addressing menopause.
Add to that the fact that the very same anti-inflammatory way of eating to create a healthy journey through all phases of menopause is the same foundation for navigating through auto immune dis ease, addressing permanent weight loss, improving mental focus and many, many more benefits.
What to do?
Nix processed carbohydrates.
We’re not talking about only the obvious highly refined, packaged items. Don’t assume grains and beans get a hall pass in terms of being ‘healthy’ options. Not only are they shown in studies to be inflammatory (5), they can contribute to an unfavorable shift in micronutrient balance, potentially contributing to too many calories coming, in effect, from sugar.
Reduce sugar. In a big way.
Yes, of course sugar is a carbohydrate, but in this case, it needs its own heading to be clear. Avoiding sodas and candy is a no brainer, but the lines get blurred when it comes to the messaging around fruit. Fruit is natural, yes, but too much fruit is too much sugar. Period. One way to approach fruit intake is to do so strategically, matching the amount of fruit you have with the physical activity you engage in. And over time, make it a goal to shift away from even needing that in order to support your athletic or fitness endeavors; becoming a more efficient fat burner is something that most can benefit from and is tied to many health benefits.
Eat enough (but not too much) protein and source it properly.
Meat, poultry, game and dairy that aren’t organic and mindfully raised on pastured are also sources of estrogen as animals consume GMO grains. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that plant-based must mean vegan and go heavy (or at all) down the soy path. Soy (almost all of which, in the US, is GMO), is estrogenic in nature, further disrupting what’s already at issue.
Get enough collagen… in your food
Loss of collagen is directly tied to low estrogen levels, and is one of the first visual signs of menopause. Estrogen keeps the skin thick hydrated and when estrogen is low, hyaluronic acid, our natural moisturizer, declines. Powdered supplements are now readily available, but there’s no replacing the real deal: properly sourced and curated bone broth
Eat copious amounts of organic, in season, leafy greens
Nutrient dense, loaded with minerals, vitamins and micronutrients, crucifers are a natural source of DIM that helps to balance the ratio of protective and dangerous estrogen metabolites
Eat more fat, and keep it varied
Since sex hormones are made from fat, high-fat diet can help improve both estrogen and testosterone levels, helping increase libido. Don’t stick to the basics of olive oil and avocado alone; be sure to incorporate saturated fat as well, including coconut oil and mindfully sourced animal fats such as butter, grass fed tallow, pasture raised lard and duck fat. Delicious, satiated and great for boosting gut (and brain) health, helping balance blood sugar to boot!
Of course, getting proper rest and moving your body every day are also key parts of the equation to sail through menopause (or at least not suffer as much) but without food as the foundation in place, results achieved won’t be nearly as optimal.
Take this bull by the horns and show menopause who’s boss, ladies!
Just as we needn’t heed all the messaging we are given about ‘what to expect when we’re expecting’ or any of the silly, negative potential things we ‘might’ experience when running our first marathon (etc.. etc…) , we can decide early on that we’re going to research and then proactively approach whatever life event we’re about to embark upon and have the exact outcome we plan to.