Accepting that the menopause will happen can quell a lot of the anxiety that many of us feel around it, but there’s no harm in trying to delay, and reduce, its symptoms. “Many women can start to experience hormonal changes from around the age of 45, and these may manifest as mood swings, irritability and anxiety, rather than just hot flushes and night sweats,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville (marilynglenville.com), one of the UK’s leading nutritionists specialising in women’s health. “The average age for starting the menopause in the UK is 51 and, on average, symptoms can last between seven to 14 years,” she explains. Eating the right foods can make a real difference in how (and when) those symptoms appear, and Marilyn is here to give us the lowdown.
Fill up on fish
Adding oily fish into your diet, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines can do more for your hormones than you might think. “Research has shown that eating oily fish could delay the menopause by three years,” says Marilyn. “This is because oily fish contains omega-3 essential fatty acids, which your body needs from outside sources, such as food or supplements. These fatty acids stimulate the antioxidant capacity in your body, and antioxidants help to slow down the ageing process.” You should aim for around a daily 90g portion of oily fish if you’d like to try and mitigate and potentially delay the effects of menopause, but do remember that results vary with other lifestyle factors.
In addition to oily fish, a daily 90g portion legumes have also been shown to delay the arrival of the menopause by a year, according to a study carried out by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. “Eating a good amount of legumes is thought to help delay, and cushion the effects of the hormone roller coaster as you go through the menopause,” says Marilyn. “But eating a diet high in refined carbs can cause you to reach the menopause a year and a half early, according to studies. White rice and white pasta can cause problems with blood-sugar and lead to insulin resistance and, research suggests that this could lead to the egg supply running out faster. You go into the menopause when you run out of eggs, so anything that accelerates this could mean that the menopause arrives earlier than you’d expect.”
Pros of phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens, which are found in peanuts, peas, carrots and broccoli are particularly vital for women around menopausal age. “Add phytoestrogens (dietary oestrogens) to your diet, as these foods will help your hormones as you go through the menopause,” says Marilyn. We know that women who eat a diet rich in phytoestrogens have significantly fewer hot flushes, up to half the amount experienced by women who eat too few phytoestrogens, so make sure these are included in your diet and opt for variety. Don’t base everything around soya; include chickpeas, lentils, flaxseeds and kidney beans into your diet.”
Certain herbs are great for not just delaying the menopause, but helping to ease the symptoms. “There are a number of herbs that are helpful for this life stage, including sage, flaxseeds, hops and red clover,” says Marilyn. “Sage has been shown to decrease hot flushes by 50 percent after four weeks and by 64 percent after eight weeks. It also helps with decreasing insomnia, irritability, anxiety, physical and mental exhaustion by up to 47 percent. Red clover has also been shown to significantly reduce hot flushes and night sweats.
Breeze the menopause
Balance your blood-sugar
“If you’re suffering from increased mood swings, irritability and depression, then taking measures to balance your blood-sugar is absolutely crucial,” says Marilyn. “This means not only thinking about the quality of the food that you eat, but also the timing. Try to eliminate added sugar and refined carbohydrates in order to see a marked improvement in your mood.”
Graze throughout the day
“The other important consideration is to eat little and often. This means not going for more than three hours without eating. If you wait longer than this, your blood-sugar will drop and the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol will be released. It’s the release of these hormones that gives rise to many of the symptoms relating to anxiety, tension, crying spells, depression and irritability.”
Limit certain foods
“Certain foods can trigger some hot flushes and these can include spicy foods, caffeinated drinks and alcohol, so limit and reduce your intake of these if you can.”
Take a supplement
It can be tricky to get all the essential micronutrients that you need through diet alone, so in some cases, adding supplements to you diet can be hugely beneficial. We love Avogel Menforce Sage Tablets, £13.99 avogel.co.uk
Dr Marilyn Glenville
Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD is a renowned nutritionist with a special interest in women’s health. She’s the former president of the Food and Health Forum at the Royal Society of Medicine and the author of a number of internationally bestselling books, including Natural Solutions to the Menopause (£12.99, Rodale) and her new book Natural Alternatives to Dieting (£9.97, naturalhealthpractice.com).