Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Sherry Torkos, a pharmacist, author of 18 books (including Saving Women’s Hearts, The Canadian Encyclopedia for Natural Medicine, The Glycemic Index Made Simple, Winning at Weight Loss and Breaking the Age Barrier) and certified fitness instructor, for the HealthCentral’s diet and exercise site. What she shared was really interesting, so I asked if she would be willing to share her knowledge as it relates to menopause. She generously agreed. So without further ado, here is our question-and-answer session in relation to menopause.
Question: How do women’s nutritional needs change as they go through the menopausal transition?
Diet can play an important role in easing symptoms and supporting good health during menopause. Here are some foods that I recommend for women in menopause:
- Soy foods such as soybeans, soy milk, tofu and miso contain isoflavones, phytoestrogens that can help with menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. These foods can also support heart health by lowering cholesterol levels and bone health by modestly increasing bone density.
- Flaxseed also contains some phytoestrogens in the form of lignans, which can help balance estrogens and reduce menopausal symptoms.
- Fish contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides and reduce the risk of clotting.
- Nuts and seeds (such as chia seed) and algae are some vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Many women find it difficult to manage their weight during menopause. Hormonal changes (reduced estrogen, testosterone and thyroid levels), stress and lack of activity can lead to changes in body composition. For some women this leads to loss of muscle mass and weight gain particularly around the belly.
Diet plays an integral part in maintaining a healthy body weight during menopause. To prevent weight gain, it is important that women eat well and get regular physical activity. Eating small frequent meals with nutrient dense foods such as vegetables, nuts, and seeds will keep energy levels high and manage appetite. Women should ensure adequate protein intake to maintain lean muscle mass. Along with nuts and seeds, good sources of protein include lean poultry, beans and legumes. Healthy fats such as olive and palm fruit oil can support brain and heart health. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage contain important compounds that support liver and breast health.
Question: Do women who are in perimenopause need to take different supplements than women who no longer having their menstrual periods?
Yes, some supplement recommendations do vary between perimenopause and menopause. Here are just a few considerations:
- During the perimenopausal time, hormones levels fluctuate and that can lead to a range of symptoms including mood swings, irritability, depression, heavy or scant periods, uterine cramping, sleep disturbances and irregular cycles. There are certain herbal products that can help manage these hormonal fluctuations and reduce symptoms such as Chastetree berry (Vitex). Some formulas such as Hormone Balance by femMED contain a combination of ingredients that can reduce perimenopausal symptoms.
- Women who have heavy bleeding in the pre- and peri-menopausal years may require an iron supplement to prevent iron-deficiency anemia.
- Once a woman reaches menopause and her cycles have stopped, her needs for iron supplementation are reduced. Most multivitamins for women 50+ provide a low level of iron that would be fine.
Question: Are there supplements that you can recommend that can help deal with symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats?
Symptoms of estrogen deficiency can lead to hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness and sleep disturbances. Herbs such as black cohosh and red clover can help manage menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings and irritability. For women with vaginal dryness and low libido, products that help to improve testosterone levels such as Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia) can be helpful.
For reducing stress and improving sleep quality, look for a product that contains Suntheanine, a clinically studied form of the amino acid L-theanine. It can help promote calmness and relaxation, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep quality. It is not addictive and does not cause any next-day drowsiness. This supplement is also helpful for women with PMS and perimenopausal symptoms.
Question: Many women experience changes in skin health during this time, such as drier skin and rashes. Are there supplements that can be beneficial for these changes?
The change in hormone levels that women experience during menopause can have a significant impact on skin health. As estrogen levels decline there is a reduction in collagen, which is a fiberous protein that is important for maintaining skin firmness. With collagen reduced there is thinning of the skin, loss of moisture and elasticity, and wrinkling. Other factors that accelerate skin aging include stress, excessive alcohol intake, poor nutrition, overeating, environmental pollution, and sun exposure.
There are some supplements that can improve skin health during menopause. BioCell Collagen is a patented form of collagen that has been shown in studies to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, improve skin tone and increase skin hydration. This particular collagen supplement is unique from other others in that it is easily absorbed and highly bioavailable. BioCell Collagen is also good for the joints because of its beneficial effects on improving the health of connective tissue.
Certain antioxidants also provide benefits for the skin, by helping to fight off the damaging effects of free radicals generated by UV exposure, pollution and stress. One example is the antioxidant catechin, namely EGCg present in green tea. Look for a supplement that contains Sunphenon, a standardized and decaffeinated green tea extract that provides 300 mg of the powerful antioxidant EGCg.
Question: What about bone health? What should we do as far as taking supplements?
To maintain healthy bones and prevent bone loss it is important for women to ensure adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D. The recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium and vitamin D for women over age 50 years is 1200mg and 600 IU respectively. (This is according to the Institute of Medicine guidelines. Some doctors will recommend higher amounts depending on a woman’s individual situation.)
Question: Do we need to take a multi-vitamin specifically tailored for a woman who is 50-plus for the rest of our lives? Or do our nutritional needs change as we age, making this type of vitamin less useful.
Yes, it is best to choose a multivitamin that is designed for your gender and age, so women in menopause should look for a multi for women 50+. This will contain lower amounts of iron and increased amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Some formulas will also contain extra antioxidants such as green tea, pomegranate lutein and lycopene to fight age-related health issues.
Question: Please share anything else you feel women who are menopausal need to know.
In addition to eating healthy and taking supplements there are some other lifestyle tips that can improve health during menopause:
- Regular exercise helps to maintain a healthy body weight and also reduces stress. Weight bearing activities such as walking can also keep the bones strong.
- Meditation, yoga and deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve mental and physical well-being.
- A positive attitude/outlook can make a world of difference. Studies have actually shown that those who laugh lots and don’t fret about the small stuff have lower rates of heart disease and greater longevity.
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.