I’m Perimenopausal – a little early if you ask me, but it’s happening. It’s likely due to my previous thyroid issues. Because I’m so passionate about food as medicine, I want to share a few things that are helping me and my menopausal patients transition to a healthier and happier way of being and feeling in our own bodies.
First, I want to let you know that this is a subject I know quite a bit about – I did my master’s thesis on menopause and Asian medicine. I found that some Asian countries don’t have a word for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms because no one gets them! They don’t exist! I explored why this is and found these significant factors: nutrition, lifestyle, and culture. Nutrition and lifestyle made sense to me, but it was the cultural factors that were a pleasant surprise.
In China, your first birthday is the day you are born. And women aren’t celebrated until they are older. Culturally speaking, as a woman ages in Asia, she is more and more revered as a wise elder. In contrast here in America, young girls are doted on, and old aged women are put in retirement homes that smell of urine and are hardly visited. Sadly, we do not take very good care of our elderly. Their life experience and wisdom are not valued, whereas Asian cultures value their elderly. This impacts how we age and the symptoms we experience. Valuing your own wisdom, bringing awareness to all that you’ve learned is important in your transition through menopause.
In one study I discovered a female researcher was given permission to evaluate Tibetan monks who were meditating in isolation. She took a series of tests including their saliva, blood and body temperature. What she found was shocking – when the monks were in their deepest states of meditation, their bodies physically mimicked that of a menopausal woman. Wow! I interpreted this to mean that this time of hormonal transition is powerful. We are accessing profound wisdom and insight, and if we acknowledge and harness this, then the transition can support our development as powerful women on the planet.
Nutrition is an incredible support at every stage of life. Menopause is no exception. Here’s how I use food as medicine to address any hormone imbalances that may influence symptoms during this powerful time of transition.
Let’s start with what foods to avoid:
1) Avoid caffeine. It is important for hormonal balance, especially vasomotor issues – blood pressure, heart rate and temperature control. Science shows caffeine, especially coffee, can increase the frequency and severity of hot flashes and none of us want that. Caffeine inhibits calcium absorption, which is important for our bone density as we begin to go through “the change”. Caffeine also increases homocysteine in the body, a toxic amino acid, which in turn increases the risk of osteoporosis and it’s a marker of disease and inflammation, so the higher it is, the sicker you are. Your hormonal system is already feeling stressed, when you add caffeine to the mix, it can cause more stress and discomfort in the form of exacerbated menopausal symptoms.
2) Avoid alcohol. It can increase moodiness and fatigue while stressing your liver. People who love wine are always looking for an excuse to drink it, but the fact is that the tiny number of antioxidants you may get from a glass (you’d need to drink a barrel to get a solid dose of helpful antioxidants) are toxic to your body. Your liver conjugates estrogen, this is super important, and when you stress it out with alcohol it can’t do its job well.
3) Avoid spicy foods. They may give you more hot flashes so watch your body’s response to spicy dishes. If you start to “flash” stay clear. You may also want to decrease the amount of hot liquids you consume as they may cause the same reactions. Track your body and notice what triggers it.
4) Avoid refined carbohydrates. Pasta, potatoes, breads and donuts, for example, can cause blood sugar instability and weight gain, while putting you on a roller coaster of moodiness and fatigue. This is a recipe for hormone hell.
5) Avoid sugar. It will lead to more weight gain, moodiness and fatigue. You may crave it, so let’s deal with the deeper roots of blood sugar imbalance and stress management so you don’t feel worse. One trick for cravings is to take gymnostema , an herb known to cut cravings in about 30 minutes or less.
6) Avoid iron supplements. Your need for iron decreases as you age, get a comprehensive functional blood chemistry analysis with a full iron panel on it, to appropriately assess your individual needs.
Let’s talk about food’s that will support you during this potent transition:
1. Eat more vegetables. Your body is going through a lot and you need the tens of thousands of plant-based nutrients that only veggies can offer you. Eating carrots and beets together can help balance hormones, it’s a sure way to stop many PMS and menopausal symptoms. Consider eating beets and carrots together 2-3 times per week for a month and see how you feel.
2. Try flax seeds and meal. They contain phyto-estrogen (plant-based) and can help balance hormones, but beware, they can also trigger estrogen symptoms like cystic breasts so listen to your body.
3. Increase your intake of leafy green vegetables – collard greens, dandelion, and parsley are all high in bioavailable calcium. You get very little calcium from dairy due to the high phosphorus content and it’s likely you can’t even digest it, so get it from your greens – your bones will thank you.
4. Increase your intake of fresh vegetables and low sugar fruits like apples and berries. This is a great way to increase fiber, keep your calories low and your nutrient levels high. If you allow yourself to eat processed foods and you stop moving your body, then of course your metabolism will slow down – but that doesn’t have to happen.
5. Drink more spring water! Vaginal dryness and hot flashes can be worsened if you’re dehydrated. As we age our skin needs more moisture and water is a sure way to help.
6. Take Omega 3 fish oils from small fish like sardines because they accumulate fewer heavy metals. If you eat wild salmon then occasionally get the kind in a can with bones and gobble them up, it will support your healthy calcium levels as well as adding necessary Omega 3s for your happy brain
7. Take Vit D3 with a healthy carrier oil such as MCT or olive oil; avoid soy, safflower and corn oils.
8. Take wild yam capsules but don’t put wild yam cream on your body. Your body knows how to utilize the food sourced to balance your hormones. When you use the cream, you are encouraging your body not to make and process the natural hormones you have – it confuses the body and also further throws off your other hormones. It’s common for this to be prescribed, but it’s a symptoms treatment and ignores the root of your imbalances. If your healthcare provider recommends this, please consider finding someone else who will individualize your treatments and work with the root rather than just superficial symptom treatments.
9. Exercise! It helps keep your weight healthy and relieves stress. Resistance training or weight training is important during menopause and beyond because it helps keeps your bone density healthy. Don’t slow down because the media labels you as getting older. There is no reason why you can’t do vigorous exercise when you’re 50 and 60. Exercise isn’t just for the young, it’s incredibly important as you age and even decreases the chance of suffering from cognitive dysfunction or Alzheimer’s disease. Stretching and core exercise such as gyro-tonics will also keep your joints healthy and lubricated as you age.
10. Finally – self-care, self-love, and self-worth are more than just clichés. We are swimming up our cultural stream of media induced low self-esteem in the patriarchy. It’s necessary that we own our power, our voices, and our value in society. No one else is going to stop and honor us, we must begin doing so for ourselves and each other. Menopause is a huge transition and has been honored in many cultures for thousands of years. It’s important to recognize that this change is more than just physical, it’s emotional and spiritual. Get support, read books that recognize and honor the deeper changes occurring in your body and life. Google menopause and spiritual transition and see what comes up.
I honor you and the huge shift that is taking place in your body and life. I hope you feel more empowered and inspired to step more fully into your beautiful and wise self.
Blessings of Vibrant Health,
Kristin Grayce McGary