Is It Me Or Is It Hot In Here?
Our ovaries develop in our very own second trimester and the number of eggs we’ll have for the rest of our lives will be determined then. When those eggs run out is generally considered to be when the menopause occurs, sometime between our late 40’s and early 50’s but possibly earlier. Menstruation becomes scanty and irregular and eventually stops altogether. The peri-menopausal stage is considered to have stopped, and the menopause reached, when the last menstrual period[more] occurred 12 months prior.
As the ovaries stop producing eggs we experience a corresponding drop in sex hormones, particularly oestrogen and progesterone. The pituitary gland then compensates by increasing levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Lutenising Hormone (LH). FSH and LH cause the ovaries and adrenal glands to release other hormones called androgens. These are then converted to oestrogens by the fat cells of the hips and thighs (so there are advantages to being a classic pear shape). Converted androgens are the best source of oestrogen in postmenopausal women, although oestrogen levels are still far below that of the reproductive years.
These fluctuating hormones can produce many uncomfortable symptoms including:
- Mood swings
- Vaginal dryness
- Urinary incontinence
- Hair thinning
- Skin dryness
- Facial hair
- Low libido
- Bladder infections
- Vaginal infections
- Night sweats and hot flushes
Yet we’re not powerless during this process, we can take nutritional steps to aid hormone synthesis which can help to reduce all those symptoms.
- To facilitate hormone creation dietary intake of saturated fats and trans fats should be reduced but essential fats from nuts, seeds, oily fish and eggs should be increased. These fats form the basis of oestrogen and progesterone. Quality protein from lean meats, nuts and eggs will form the basis of other hormones such as LH and FSH.
- Foods rich in phyto-oestrogens should be increased. Although the evidence suggests only a minimal ability to reduce hot flushes, they still have other positive menopausal related health effects such as reducing blood cholesterol levels and bone loss. And there are studies which have shown that supplementing with phyto-oestrogen rich foods can reduce the levels of FSH to pre-menopausal levels.
- Support the adrenal glands in their production of alternative oestrogens by taking measures to stabilise blood sugar levels. If blood-sugar levels are on a roller coaster then the adrenals will be synthesising cortisol at the cost of sex hormones.
In addition symptoms of low blood sugar such as irritability, aggression, palpitations, forgetfulness and low libido are very similar to those of the menopause.
- regular meals 3 times a day, 2 snacks in between
- protein at every meal
- high fibre, complex carbohydrate (low GL) foods at each meal e.g pulses, wholegrains, vegetables etc
- minimal processed and high sugar foods
- avoid tea, coffee and alcohol
- avoid refined sugars and grains e.g. sweets, biscuits, cakes, sodas, white bread
- Increase consumption of fibre rich foods. As well as helping to control blood sugar levels it will also support the liver. The liver is involved in the metabolising and excretion of spent hormones including oestrogen. Cruciferous vegetables (brocolli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts) help with detoxification. Otherwise oestrogenic toxins may accumulate in tissues.
- Drink green tea. Studies have shown this to have a beneficial impact on the metabolisation of oestrogen.
- Clinical evidence also supports the effectiveness of vitamin K*, and the combination ofcalcium* and vitamin D* on hot flushes and bone strength. Calcium rich foods can also help to prevent osteoporosis, this is a risk at menopause as oestrogen stimulates bone building activity hence diminished levels result in diminished bone synthesis.
- There is clinical evidence that Vitamin E* can also help with hot flushes.
- To reduce night sweats avoid vasodilating stimulants such as alcohol, caffeine, chillis.
- A combination of walking with other weight-bearing exercise can reduce bone mineral density loss and the incidence of fractures in postmenopausal women. In addition regular physical exercise is believed to reduce intensity and duration of hot flushes, hypothesis is that it may rebalance impaired endorphin activity in the hypothalamus.
Take professional advice before supplementing to ensure there are no contra-indications with existing medication and that the most beneficial form is being used.
By Saffron Rogerson
23 March 2015