Balance Your Hormones with the Right Diet
It’s never too early to be thinking about your hormones, because your body is laying the groundwork for the menopause much earlier than you might think and the right diet and lifestyle in your 30s and 40s will set you up for a healthy and happy midlife.
I still find it astonishing that there’s so little accessible information available about the menopause even though one of the few certainties in life is that it will happen to every woman. The early warning signs and symptoms that come with the peri-menopause can catch many women by surprise in their mid-late 40s and they often don’t realise that there’s a hormonal connection. During this time you can experience quite a bit of hormonal havoc as the production of key sex hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone becomes erratic, which can lead to a whole host of apparently unconnected symptoms.
The best-known symptoms are probably hot flushes, but not every woman will experience these because no two women have the same menopause. You might wonder why your skin has suddenly become so dry that you have to upgrade your moisturiser; or question why your periods have got more frequent and heavier instead of less frequent and lighter, as you might have expected; you might be affected by anxiety, loss of confidence or low mood; your hair or nails might become more brittle; perhaps weight gain becomes an issue or you might feel constantly fatigued. If you’re suddenly experiencing one of more of these symptoms, then you may well be peri-menopausal.
There are lots of ways that diet and lifestyle can help to relieve these symptoms, so read on to find out more in this blog. But first, some news from me: I’ve decided to share my advice to a wider audience than my nutrition clinic and this blog, which is why I’ve just launched a new monthly podcast called The Happy Menopause. which is sponsored by the brilliant Sylk. The three initial episodes cover the menopause taboo, bone health and anxiety & brain fog and I’ve got some other amazing expert guests lined up for the coming months. If you like it, please give it a star rating and tell your family and friends about it.
In today’s blog, I’d like to share one of my favourite strategies for managing meno- and peri-menopause symptoms that I use regularly in my nutrition clinic.
It’s all about regulating stress levels. Easier said than done, because this can be a hugely stressful time, as you juggle the needs of a growing family and a busy professional life while caring for elderly relatives! But this is possibly the single best thing you could do, because Mother Nature has a cunning plan to help us manage the menopause. As our ovaries stop producing oestrogen, our adrenal glands are programmed to produce it in small amounts to cover our needs. The problem is that the adrenals are also responsible for producing our stress hormones, and if there’s too much stress going on, then your oestrogen production is going to take a back seat.
If you can reduce stress levels, your body should be able to produce the small amounts of oestrogen you need and this could make a big difference to your menopause symptoms. Anything you can do to relieve stress by focusing on consciously calming activities such as yoga, massage, mindfulness, walking in nature etc can only be a bonus, but here are 3 ways that nutrition can actively regulate stress hormones:
Every time your blood sugar drops, the body releases the stress hormone cortisol to redress the balance. Low blood sugar will leave you feeling tired, irritable, shaky, headachey and dizzy and the cortisol will generate powerful cravings for sugary food or refined carbohydrate.
A blood sugar crash is usually a result of eating excessive amounts of sugary food and refined carbohydrate (e.g. white bread or white rice). Too much sugar in the blood will lead to the release of the hormone insulin to clear it all out which leaves blood sugar levels low. Your blood sugar is also likely to drop if you leave long gaps between meals.
Here’s how to balance blood sugar:
- Eat a combination of protein and fibre with every meal and snack. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, lentils, chick peas, beans, quinoa, nuts and seeds. Good sources of fibre are wholegrains (e.g. wholemeal bread, brown rice, wholegrain pasta), vegetables, pulses and fruit.
- Avoid long gaps between meals: aim to eat a meal or small snack roughly every 4 hours
- Limit your intake of confectionery, refined carbohydrate, baked goods, fruit juices and other sugary foods
If magnesium was a person, it would be a very busy woman. It’s responsible for over 300 different jobs in the body, in particular calming the nervous system and regulating the body’s response to stress. It’s also essential for energy production. A lack of magnesium can leave you feeling tired, anxious and less able to cope with stress.
Here’s how to boost your magnesium levels:
- Eat a daily portion of leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli or watercress
- Opt for wholegrain foods such as brown rice or wholemeal bread
- Have an Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) bath. 2-3 handfuls in the bath and soak for at least 20 minutes. The magnesium will absorb through the skin, relaxing the muscles and setting you up for a good night’s sleep.
The different B vitamins have a variety of functions, but they all play a key role in energy production, which means a deficiency can leave you feeling tired and low. They also help to support the function of the adrenal glands. Low levels of vitamin B12 are very common if you’ve been exposed to chronic stress and this can impair memory, concentration and focus as well as leading to fatigue and depression.
Here’s how to boost the B’s:
- B12 is only found in animal sources such as meat, fish or eggs. It’s also in some fortified foods like Marmite or certain breakfast cereals. Vegans may need to use supplements to ensure optimum levels.
- Am to eat 5 portions of vegetables every day. Peas, broccoli, peppers and mushrooms are all good sources of the different B vitamins
- Limit your intake of alcohol because it impairs the absorption of B vitamins in the body
There’s more practical advice like this in my book Va Va Voom, the 10-Day Energy Diet, which is full of menopause-friendly nutrition tips. Book in for a WellWellWell nutrition consultation for more targeted help and don’t forget to subscribe to The Happy Menopause podcast, so you don’t miss out on the next episode.