Menopause can be a time of great exuberance for many women. To feel a sudden sense of freedom is natural with concerns about pregnancy, unfettered by monthly periods, or the anxiety of starting a career, As though the rest of your life is truly your own. |
Anthropologist Margaret Mead, who did some of her most exciting work when she was well past her fifties,says: “There is no more creative force in the world than the menopausal woman with zest,”.
Nevertheless, the body does undergo some physical changes during menopause that can take the zest out of the best. Some of the symptoms many women experience around this time are hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia. Many women ( and their doctors ) assumed for years that the discomfort of menopause was an inevitable part of the process. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Many of the problems of menopause can be controlled or even eliminated by eating the right foods, says Isaac Schiff, MD. Chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and author of Menopause.
Diet is more important than ever now that many women worry about the risk of treating their menopausal symptoms with hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
Shifts of hormonal production As a woman approaches menopause, her ovaries begin to produce less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. At some point, the production of these hormones begin to be so little that menstrual periods stop, and the physical problems, such as hot flashes and mood swings begin.
Some of the long-term changes in the body caused by low hormone levels, are even more serious.Estrogen, for example, regulates a woman’s cholesterol levels. When estrogen production goes down, cholesterol rises. Which causes many women to have the risk of heart disease, after they have passed menopause. Estrogen also plays a role in keeping a woman’s bones full of calcium. When estrogen levels drop, the bones lose calcium at a very fast rate. Unless women take care to get extra calcium in their diets, their bones become thin and weak, a condition called osteoporosis.
“Getting enough calcium before, during and after menopause is one of the most important things a woman can do to prevent possibly disastrous bone fractures”, says Dr. Utian.
Here soy foods can make a difference, because there is some evidence that the phytoestrogens in soy play an active role in helping bones keep their calcium. Holding on to calcium is important because many women don’t get anywhere near enough of this important mineral. on average, women between ages 20 and 50 get about 600 mg per day, and women past menopause get only about 500 mg per day.
Scientist at the National Institutes of Health recommend that women in their childbearing years get at least 1000 mg of calcium per day. Women past menopause should aim for 1,500 mg per day.
Most women can get plenty of calcium from their diets. For example, 1 cup of fat-free milk contains 302 mg of calcium, or 30% of the Daily Value (DV). An 8-ounce serving of yogurt has 415 mg or 41% of the DV, and 3 ounces of salmon has 181 mg, or 18% of the DV.
For years, many women replaced their estrogen levels with synthetic hormones,thinking it was a cure for everything, from hot flashes to high cholesterol. But in 2002, new research found that the hormones may actually increase the risk of heart disease, which led the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association to advice women not to take HRT to lower cholesterol or prevent a heart attack.
according to the Nurses’ Health Study, postmenopausal women who have had a heart attack or have been diagnosed with heart disease and have been on HRT for less than a year have a 25% higher risk of another heart attack or dying from heart disease than similar women who never have been on hormone therapy.
Although HRT still has advantages, such as protecting bones and easing problems in menopause, many women are looking for alternatives, and they;re finding them in their own kitchens. Even women who do take HRT may find that making small adjustments to their diet will give them additional relief.
Protection from Soy Food Since many of the problems of menopause are caused by low levels of estrogen, it makes sense that replacing some of the estrogen will make women healthier. Scientists have found that certain foods – most importantly, soy foods such as tofu and tempeh – contain large amounts of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that act very much like the natural hormone.
In Asian countries, where women eat a lot of soy foods, only about 16% have problems with menopausal discomfort. In fact, there isn’t even a word in Japanese for “hot flash”.
“Of course it’s always better to reach for the food, rather than the supplement”, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine and author of A Woman’s Guide to Menopause and Perimenopause. Dr Minkin recommends getting two servings of soy a day, such as a glass of soy milk and a serving of tofu. Or you could have a bowl of miso soup, which is flavored with a condiment made from soybeans and salt.
Soy is also very important for protecting the heart, since a woman’s risk for heart disease rises after menopause. Research has shown that eating more soy foods can help bring down cholesterol levels and the risk for heart disease.
Of course, when you’re eating more soy foods, you’re automatically eating less saturated fat, and this can also help keep cholesterol levels down. “Women approaching menopause and those who are already menopausal, should concentrate on having the heart-healthiest diet,” adds Wulf H. Utian, MD, PhD, chairman of the department of reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “It’s one of the most important issues they face because of menopause.”
For an alternative to soybeans,you can try eating black beans to reduce your hot flashes. They contain about the same amount of phytoestrogens, and they can be cooked into great-tasting soups or sprinkled into salads.
Feel better with Flaxseed In addition to soy, it’s a good idea to add flaxseed to your diet, Dr. Minkin says. Flaxseed is also a phytoestrogen that help relief hot flashes and sleep problems, the two complains Dr. Mirkin hears the most often from her patients going through menopause. Flaxseed also contains a large amount of lignans that may have antioxidant properties. which means they’ll help menopausal women fight cancer. Of all the plant foods that contain lignans, flaxseed contains the most, at least 75 times more than other foods.
Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your cereal or on top of your salads, or bake it into bread or muffins.You don’t need a lot of flaxseed to get the benefits, Dr Minkin add.
Herbal Relief Dr. Minkin has found that taking 20 mg of the herb black cohosh helps her patients with menopausal problems. Because the United States doesn’t regulate herbal products, she recommend buying the German brand Remifemin. Herbal products are regulated in Germany, and you’ll know that you’re actually getting what’s on the label.
While the jury is still out on whether or not black cohosh is an effective treatment for menopausal symptoms, it wouldn’t hurt to try the herb and see if it works for you.
Turn down the Heat There are some classic triggers for hot flashes. Here’s how to avoid them and stay cool. Pass on hot foods. When it comes to temperatures and spiciness, hot foods are likely to bring on a hot flash, DR. Minkin says. It’s a good idea to avoid hot beverages like hot soup or coffee. The same goes for spicy foods, such as Chinese or Mexican food.
Avoid red wine If you’re going to drink, keep in mind that red wine is a classic trigger of hot flashes, says DR. Minkin. White wine isn’t as bad, so it may be a better choice.
Dress for indulgences. If you really want to indulge in a spicy meal or drink a glass of red wine, prepare for a hot flash by dressing in layers. Wear a cardigan over something light so you can take off the top layer and cool off, Dr. Minkin suggests. If you’re at a restaurant, you may look for a table near a cool air vent or ask to sit away from the hot kitchen.
Doctor’s Advice Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and sleep problems are certainly bothersome, but they’re small potatoes compared with the higher risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease menopausal women face, says Jay Kenney PhD. RD, director of nutrition research and educator at the Prilikin Longevity Center and Spa in Aventura, Florida.
Luckily, doing all of the things that protec you from cancer and heart disease will also help with your menopausal symptoms, so add some soybeans to your diet, and eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and legumes. “The more the merrier,” he says. “You can certainly eat beans everyday. Have chili one day, black beans soup the next, a salad with garbanzo beans the next.
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