Dietary Guidelines for Menopause
What you eat influences how you feel on a daily basis and also lays the foundation for your health in the postmenopausal years. Researchers are finding that specific foods have a measurable effect on hormone levels, particularly foods that are rich in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant compounds with mild estrogenic properties. Although phytoestrogens are estimated as being 50 times weaker than estrogen, they are helpful for balancing conditions of both estrogen excess or deficiency. Because they are similar to the hormones in your body, phytoestrogens bind to receptor sites in the body that estrogen normally occupies. If you are suffering from the effects of too much estrogen (which is the cause of many menopausal complaints such as hot flashes), phytoestrogens help to lower your blood levels of estrogen. If, on the other hand, you have too little estrogen (which contributes to osteoporosis), phytoestrogens provide some estrogenic activity and help to protect against bone loss.
Phytoestrogens are found in abundance in foods such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, flaxseeds, and apples. The phytoestrogens in soy are of special interest to researchers because Japanese women typically have a much easier transition through menopause than American women, and many experts believe that the Japanese reliance on soy as a dietary staple is the reason. Another benefit of plant estrogens is that while synthetic estrogen is related to an increased incidence of cancer, phytoestrogens appear to decrease the risk of reproductive cancers. Soy is easy to include in your daily diet in the form of tofu, tempeh, soy milk, miso, and tamari (a natural soy sauce). Add tofu or tempeh to sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, and stir-fries, and use soy milk on cereal and in beverages. Miso and tamari are excellent for seasoning soups, stews, and sauces.
Other helpful foods during the menopausal years include foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, which help to keep skin, hair, and vaginal tissues healthy and also to enhance the production of beneficial prostaglandins, which aid in hormone production. Most women generally get sufficient amounts of omega6 fatty acids, which are found in nuts, grains, vegetable oils, and meats from land animals. Omega-3 fatty acids are more difficult to come by and are critical for maintaining a healthful balance of prostaglandins as well as for maintaining optimal health. Foods that are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include cold-water fish (such as salmon, trout, and mackerel), flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, and raw walnuts. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is also essential for the production of prostaglandins. Under ideal circumstances the body makes GLA from omega-6 fatty acids, but because many factors (including aging), interfere with the production of this important nutrient many women suffer from a deficiency. GLA is available in supplements in the form of evening primrose oil, black currant oil, and borage oil. Take enough capsules to equal 240 milligrams of GLA daily for three to six months, and then cut the dosage in half and continue taking the supplement indefinitely.
Diet is a primary factor in keeping blood-sugar levels consistent, which is critical for keeping tissues healthy and preventing degenerative disease. Maintaining stable blood-sugar levels also helps to prevent fatigue and depression. Eat frequent small meals and include a moderate amount of protein and healthful fats such as raw nuts and avocados. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates, which trigger the excessive production of insulin that causes bloodsugar instability. Dehydration is also a contributing factor to fatigue, so be sure to drink at least one quart of pure water daily.