Nutrition and more vitamins & minerals during perimenopause & menopause - why is it so important?
Back to Basics: Why do we need better nutrition and more vitamins & minerals during perimenopause & menopause?
A healthy, varied diet and a healthy lifestyle, including not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight is the cornerstone of health.
A wealth of research has shown that diet and regular physical activity can help to reduce the severity of menopausal symptoms and protect against long-term health problems associated with the decline of oestrogen, such as cardiovascular disease, decreased lean muscle mass, blood glucose control and osteoporosis.
Nutritional research has only recently come to the forefront of public health but is gaining interest, followers, and important clinical backing.
An important topic of research in menopause has been blood glucose
The foods we eat have different effects and rates of uptake; sugar spikes blood glucose rapidly as it is digested very quickly, whereas fibre is much slower and harder to digest and therefore has a much lower blood glucose effect. While it is normal to have a rise and fall in blood glucose after eating, rapid and often fluctuations can cause insulin resistance; the start of type 2 diabetes Mellitus (T2DM).
One interesting finding in perimenopause and menopause is the differences in inflammation and blood sugar levels compared to pre-menopausal women. This is because the hormones oestrogen and progesterone affect how the cells in the body respond to insulin which can trigger much more rapid, more variable, and less predictable fluctuations in blood glucose levels. However, as progesterone levels drop the body settles, leading to an improved sensitivity to insulin.
While blood glucose fluctuations occur, it can cause;
To combat the decreased oestrogen and increased insulin resistance it is recommended to consume a foods low in sugar and refined carbohydrates and replace them with whole fruits and vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats; all of which slow blood glucose entering the bloodstream.
Fibre and gut health
Fibre is also essential to ‘feed’ the gut microbiome, to aid gut health and to increase food volume to help feel full and satisfied helping to manage body weight. The UK guidelines recommend 30g of dietary fibre per day.
Menopause changes the gut microbiome, as does ageing in both males and females. The change in hormones affects hormone receptors that are situated along the gut lining, which in turn affects the balance of ‘good’ bacteria that exist in the gut. When good bacteria start to decrease the gut microbiome suffers, causing things like bloating, indigestion, decreased nutrient absorption, disease risk, cravings and much more.
To protect your gut microbiome, consume a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fermented products such as live yoghurt, kefir, kimchi and sugar-free kombucha, as these can increase the ‘good’ bacteria and aid digestion.
Omega-3 fats protect the health of neurotransmitters in the brain and reduce inflammation to relieve joint pain and stiffness. This becomes highly important during perimenopause as oestrogen acts as an anti-inflammatory, but when it declines joint pain can become more severe as well as seeing the onset of arthritis.
Also, some women experience intense menstrual cramping and pain during perimenopause therefore omega-3 is an important addition in the management of painful periods (this is also useful in puberty).
Research has shown that women who don’t consume much omega-3 experience more painful periods compared to those who regularly consume omega-3 have. The intake of omega-3 fatty acids is also highly beneficial for bone mineral content and can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Research suggests that we should be consuming approx. 1.1- 1.6 g/day to support our brain and body cells to function properly. An average serving of salmon (85-90g) contains approximately 1g of omega-3.
Omega-3 fats assist in hormone stabilisation, reduce inflammation and are essential for a healthy brain.
Omega-3 fats cannot be produced by the body and therefore we must eat them regularly.
These healthy fats also reduce the incidence of hot flashes and vaginal dryness.
Overall nutritional sufficiency is required across all life stages, but as we reach perimenopause and menopause, we become predisposed to several nutrient deficiencies, these include;
Vitamin D: Works in conjunction with calcium to improve bone density.
Magnesium: Influences certain body processes, including blood pressure regulation.
Vitamin C: Contains antioxidants, and affects wound healing and protein absorption.
Vitamin B12: Essential for creating new blood cells and nervous system functionality.
Folate: Also called Vitamin B9, folate assists in the production of red and white blood cells. A deficiency may contribute to the diagnosis of anaemia in older adults.
Potassium: Contributes to stronger and healthier bones, helps to reduce blood pressure, and lessens the risk of kidney stones.
Fibre: Affects how well food moves through the digestive system and helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
Omega 3: Has been known to reduce the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and macular degeneration and may improve cognitive health.
Vitamin B6: Helps with protein absorption and can influence cognitive functioning.
Vitamin E: Also known for its antioxidants, Vitamin E is key for the immune system.
Calcium: This mineral contributes to bone density and strength. Calcium deficiency may impact mobility and exacerbate fall-related injuries.
Beyond micro and macro nutrients- phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that mimic some of the functions of oestrogen and have a similar chemical makeup to oestrogen and therefore can reduce menopausal symptoms. Increasing the daily intake of phytoestrogens may help to counter the reduced levels of the hormones that accompany menopause.
A systemic review found that women who took phytoestrogen supplements experienced hot flashes much less often than those who didn’t. The amount of phytoestrogen that the women in these studies took varied from 36 mg to 100 mg per day.
There are two main types of phytoestrogens: isoflavones and lignans with soybeans, flaxseeds, sesame and chia seeds being particularly rich sources.
Other plants that contain pythoestrogens include:
Nuts and seeds.
Whole grains such as rye, oats, wheat, spelt, buckwheat.
Fruits such as apricots, pears, grapes, kiwi
Vegetables such as bell peppers, green beans, carrots, zucchini
Foods to increase during menopause are;
Seeds & nuts
Olive oil & healthy fats
75% + Dark chocolate
Food to limit are
We will be looking at the importance of Protein during perimenopause and menopause in our next blog coming soon!
If you have any nutritional questions - email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will see if our nutritionist can help you.