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Menopause Diet Changes That Can Help Manage Symptoms

Woman adjusts her menopause diet to help manage symptoms

All people experience physical changes as they age, but menopause comes with a unique set of challenges. Changes to diet can go a long way in helping to manage symptoms.

Menopause is defined as a permanent cessation of the menstrual period, which usually entails 12 consecutive months without bleeding. In the U.S. this typically impacts women at around 51 years old.

Northeast Medical Group Gynecologist Romelle Maloney, MD, explains that a decrease in estrogen can result in some of the hallmark symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, which is the experience of a sudden sensation of heat that lasts from two to four minutes.

“It can happen at night, so as a result it disturbs sleep. That can impact your concentration, your mood and your energy,” said Dr. Maloney.

Other symptoms can include night sweats, chills, vaginal dryness, burning or irritation during intercourse, mood changes and weight gain. Hormone therapy can help patients manage their symptoms, but diet also plays an important role. This includes avoiding processed foods, caffeine and alcohol.

“A lot of women come in and say they’re awake at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and they’re sweating. One of the things I’ll ask is, ‘do you have wine with dinner?'" said Dr. Maloney. “If the answer is yes and they stop drinking wine, they get fewer hot flashes during the night. The rationale is that alcohol contains sugar, causing Insulin and glucose to surge. Insulin is longer acting so once the blood glucose drops below a certain level, usually at 3:00 in the morning, hot flashes can occur.”

A healthy diet doesn’t just mean avoiding processed foods or wine. Yale New Haven Hospital clinical dietitian nutritionist Ilisa Nussbaum, RD, emphasizes the importance of adding in key nutrients.

Fiber can help with things like heart and gut health. Calcium is key for bone density. Potassium is good for helping to regulate blood pressure. Magnesium is important for bone health and sleep and Omega-3 fatty acids are a great source of heart healthy fats. We also need extra protein as we age.

“The interesting thing about protein is your body can only absorb so much of it at a time. The consensus right now is 30 grams of protein per meal is how much we can absorb. So, if you need a lot of protein, which you do as you get older, you really need to space it out through the day,” said Nussbaum. “I like to tell people that are aging to not just think about protein rich meals but also protein rich snacks.”

For example, plain Greek yogurt with ground flax seeds and berries includes a mix of healthy fats, protein and fiber. Pumpkin seeds and nuts are another great source of protein for a healthy snack between meals.

It may be tempting for people experiencing menopause to want to add in extra supplements. However, Nussbaum and Dr. Maloney caution against adding in extra vitamins that may not be needed.

“If you want to take an over-the-counter multivitamin, that’s fine. What a lot of people do is they not only take a multivitamin, but they’ll also take additional supplements and when you do that you run the risk of vitamin toxicity. So, it’s best to follow the instructions of your clinician and if you are deficient in certain vitamins then have them recommend what supplements you should take,” said Dr. Maloney.

Once menopause starts, a patient’s clinician will run blood work every year, which will help check for things like low levels of vitamin D. If a patient is deficient, then it makes sense for them to take the appropriate supplement targeting a specific deficiency.

Even those following a healthy diet can’t forget about exercise. Weight baring exercises are the hallmark for the prevention of osteoporosis or low bone density. That doesn’t mean patients need to lift 20 pounds. Studies show using your own body weight can improve bone mass. Another good exercise to try? Yoga can help with both flexibility and mental health.