Nutrition for Women: A Guide to the Menopausal Years

Posted by admin | On: May 26 2016

For most women the menopause (sometimes called ‘the change’) starts when they are in their late 40s or early 50s and usually lasts for several years. Hormonal changes, particularly a fall in oestrogen production, mean that the regularity of periods becomes more erratic and eventually they stop altogether. If you are suffering from unpleasant menopausal symptoms you are not alone – three-quarters of women in the UK suffer one or more symptoms during this time which commonly include hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, irritability and tiredness. Many of them are caused by the altered hormone levels, in particular the loss of oestrogen.

middle-aged-woman-eating-salad-in-officeA healthy diet and lifestyle can help to reduce the severity of many of these symptoms and protect against other problems associated with loss of oestrogen such as heart disease and calcium loss from bones.

Around this time, as a direct result of the fall in oestrogen production, your bone density decreases (by as much as 2-3% during the 5 to 10 years immediately after the menopause). If your bone density was low to start with, this additional reduction will make you more likely to develop osteoporosis, which increases your risk of suffering a bone fracture. A healthy diet, not smoking and regular weight bearing exercise all help keep bones healthy.

It is also the female hormones, such as oestrogen, that provide relative protection, compared to men, against heart disease and storage of fat around the waist.

Protecting your health after the menopause

To decrease your risk of developing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis or cancer, you should eat a healthy and varied diet, which is based on starchy foods and includes lots of fruit and vegetables.

Take care of your bones!

Because of the hormonal changes during your menopause you will experience increased bone loss. To decrease this bone loss, you should particularly look out for two nutrients that are associated with your bone health and get sufficient amounts of them: calcium and vitamin D.

Important sources of calcium are:

  • Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt or cheese (go for the fat-reduced options)
  • Bread (most bread flour is fortified with calcium)
  • Some green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and kale
  • Pulses
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Fish that is eaten with bones (such as whitebait or canned sardines).

Vitamin D is also important for your bones. This vitamin is produced in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight. In summer, around 15 minutes of direct sunlight on our hands and face is usually enough to get the amount of vitamin D we need. In winter, the sunlight is not strong enough to produce vitamin D in our skin and we have to rely on food sources. But also, as we get older the vitamin D production in our skin slows down. So try to get some vitamin D from your food.

Important vitamin D sources are:

  • Sun- Main source
  • Oily fish
  • Eggs
  • Foods voluntarily fortified with vitamin D by the manufacturer, such as some breakfast cereals and dairy products.

Physical activity

Physical activity is also very important for your bones, particularly when you do weight bearing exercise such as brisk walking, running, dancing or climbing stairs. Although swimming is great for your heart. But most types of physical activity or exercise are great to build up or maintain your muscles – this reduces the risk of falls and consequently the risk of fractures as you get older.

Watch your waist

As you get older, your energy requirements usually decrease. This means that you need to eat less food to maintain your body weight. Your scales (or the fit of your clothes) will tell you if you eat too much – regularly check your body weight!

Because of the hormonal changes during the menopause, you are more likely to put on weight around the waist at this stage of life. Body fat around the waist, rather than the fat on your hips, increases your risk of developing certain diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes. This means that if you put on weight during and after your menopause, this is even more harmful because it is going to your waist area rather than your hips.

You should, particularly at this stage of life, try to avoid gaining weight by eating a healthy and varied diet and being physically active.

Positive lifestyle changes to help with the menopause:

  • Give up smoking (it’s a big risk factor in osteoporosis and smoking doubles your odds of developing heart disease)
  • Maintain a healthy body weight and lean body mass
  • Keep a positive attitude. Get emotional support – chat to friends or your doctor if necessary.
  • Stress control – learn to relax, take 30 minutes each day to do something just for you
  • Sleep in a cool room.

 

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