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Eating for the Time of your Life - During and After Menopause

[Do Not Use]DK Publishing logo[Do Not Use]DK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Keeping bones strong - Together with a healthy diet rich in calcium, weight-bearing exercises, such as dancing and jogging, keep bones strong and help prevent bone loss. © Provided by DKBooks Keeping bones strong - Together with a healthy diet rich in calcium, weight-bearing exercises, such as dancing and jogging, keep bones strong and help prevent bone loss.

Keeping bones strong - Together with a healthy diet rich in calcium, weight-bearing exercises, such as dancing and jogging, keep bones strong and help prevent bone loss.

During and After Menopause

Lifestyle changes ease the symptoms and effects of menopause.

Menopause is a natural part of aging that occurs when the ovaries dramatically reduce their output of sex hormones, especially estrogen. This change often occurs over a few years, usually between the ages of 45 and 60, but it can happen at an earlier age in some women. As sex-hormone levels drop, a woman’s menstrual periods end.

What are the symptoms?

Menopausal symptoms vary greatly. Some women experience significant discomfort, while others have no symptoms. Typical symptoms are hot flashes (sudden intense waves of heat and sweating), depression, anxiety, and mood swings. There may also be urinary and vaginal problems, such as atrophy, where the vaginal tissue becomes thinner, drier, and more delicate, irregular or heavy periods until menstruation finally stops, infections, urinary incontinence, and inflammation of the vagina. Many women also notice changes to the condition of their skin and hair.

Making lifestyle changes

To prevent the consequences of low-estrogen levels and ease the transition during menopause, there are lifestyle changes that you can make. These include eating healthy nutrient-rich foods that may help ease symptoms and prevent postmenopausal problems, such as the degenerative bone disorder osteoporosis. Evidence shows that soy products, some herbal supplements, and certain nutrients can be helpful.

Physical activity

Exercise improves menopausal symptoms. Try to do at least 30 minutes a day of moderate aerobic exercise, such as walking, biking, or swimming, for the greatest effect on the health of your heart and lungs. Weight-bearing exercises, such as weightlifting, walking, or tennis, can also delay or prevent bone loss. Exercising is also good for preventing obesity; studies have shown that women who have successfully lost weight and kept it off tend to participate in some type of physical activity every day.

After menopause

Reduced levels of the hormone estrogen after menopause puts postmenopausal women at risk of osteoporosis. This disorder may develop because estrogen helps maintain normal bone density.

Prior to menopause, women are at a lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to men because estrogen helps lower “bad” LDL-cholesterol and raise “good” HDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. However, as estrogen declines during and after menopause, a woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease becomes the same as that of a man.

Foods that reduce symptoms

Studies show that certain dietary changes during menopause may ease symptoms. Generally, eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes moderate amounts of fat and plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will make you feel better. More specifically, soy is known to contain chemicals that ease symptoms. Calcium is also vital, not so much to ease the symptoms of menopause, but to keep bones strong and prevent or delay the onset of osteoporosis.

Soy products

Foods that naturally contain soy include soymilk, soybeans, tofu, edamame, soy nuts, and tempeh. These foods are good sources of protein and phytochemicals called isoflavones. Interest has centered on two specific isoflavones—genistein and daidzen. These are similar in structure to the sex hormone estrogen. They mimic the activities of estrogen in the body and may help reduce menopausal symptoms that occur due to reduced estrogen levels, such as urinary and vaginal problems and menstrual irregularities. In addition, studies have shown that isoflavones have anticancer properties.

Calcium-rich foods

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) recommends that menopausal women get 1,200–1,500mg of calcium per day. This amount is significantly more than the average calcium consumed each day by women aged 50–65 (about 700mg). Low-fat dairy foods and dark-green leafy vegetables, such as kale and turnip greens, are good sources.

Because vitamin D is needed to help the body absorb calcium, try to get about 0.015mg of vitamin D per day from fortified dairy products or calcium supplements containing vitamin D.

Herbal supplements

Various herbal supplements, such as black cohosh, may help reduce the symptoms of menopause.

Black cohosh

This woodland plant has large leaves and a thick knotted root system. It has been used for more than 100 years to help reduce the symptoms of menopause. Scientific studies have shown that this herbal supplement can reduce hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and depression.

However, do not use black cohosh for more than 6 months or if you are taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or any medications for high blood pressure.

Other herbal remedies

Dong quai, evening primrose oil, and wild yam can also be used to ease the symptoms of menopause, but, as yet, there is not sufficient evidence to support their effectiveness.

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