Nutritionists Lee Holmes from Supercharged Food and Belinda Kirkpatrick have helped thousands of women to optimise their health with their clinical practices, books and online courses.
We fired off a few questions to the creators of the six-week Flourish and Nourish Through Menopause online program and community to help you navigate your way through this all too often confusing, and frustrating, time in our lives.
Could you explain the menopause process for us?
Menopause, perimenopause and post-menopause all refer to the stages in life when the menstrual cycle stops. Perimenopause is the first stage and can begin 8-10 years before menopause. A woman is considered menopausal when she has not had a menstrual period for at least one year. For most women, menopause occurs in the late 40s to early 50s. The average age of menopause is 51 years although some women can experience premature ovarian failure before the age of 40.
Peri-menopause begins as egg numbers in the ovaries decline, FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) increases and menstrual cycles can shorten and become interspersed with unpredictable and unusually long cycles. The level of oestrogen generally declines during perimenopause but can also rise and fall unevenly, making symptoms very unpredictable. By our 40’s we start to produce less progesterone which can contribute to symptoms such a breast tenderness, PMS, heavy bleeding, fibroid growth and weight gain.
After the last menstrual period, most of the common symptoms of menopause are associated with the sharp decrease in the body’s production of oestrogen from the ovaries. Low oestrogen can result in many symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, vaginal dryness, urinary incontinence and infections, thrush, insomnia and low libido.
What are the signs you’re in perimenopause?
- You are in your 40s
- Your periods have started to change and are becoming less predictable
- Menstrual bleeding is heavier than usual
- You started to wake up in a sweat at night
- Libido has decreased
- Mood is erratic and rage is now a thing!
- Breast tenderness
- Feeling a little unbalanced (erratically becoming overwhelmed, anxious, teary and then back to normal!)
- Sleeping problems have started
- Weight gain despite no changes to diet or exercise (especially around the middle)
Do you think there’s enough information available on menopause? Or is it something most women are shocked by/feel unprepared for?
Absolutely not! Menopause is something that EVERY SINGLE WOMAN will go through but isn’t often discussed among friends, health professionals or in the media (but thank you for highlighting it here!). Many women are entirely unprepared for this stage of life and have no idea what to expect or who to turn to for help and support. It was for this very reason that we created the six-week ‘Flourish and Nourish Through Menopause’ online program and online community (www.superchargedhealthcourses.com).
Why do some women struggle with menopause? What are some of the negative symptoms/side effects?
As our ovaries slow down and eventually stop producing oestrogen, our adrenal glands become more important than ever. After menopause, the adrenals continue to produce androgens (testosterone) which can then be converted into oestrogen by fatty tissue. If we have depleted our adrenals – from years of chronic stress, too many coffees, rushing around, putting ourselves last and not sleeping properly – they can become fatigued and struggle to produce enough testosterone/oestrogen to balance the diminishing ovarian supply. Women who have lived highly stressed or busy lives seem to suffer more than others. Women with poor gut health also seem to experience more symptoms as gut bacteria can also produce hormones and our feel-good neurotransmitters but when gut health isn’t good, it is unable to do this job properly. It is important to note that there are also other unknown factors, genetics, cultures and lifestyle factors that can make women experience more or less symptoms.
Some of the common symptoms include: hot flushes, night sweats, irritability, rage, insomnia, anxiety, crawling skin, vaginal dryness, digestive upset, bladder infections, headaches, weight gain and fatigue.
What are the top five lifestyle or dietary changes women can make to get a better handle on their menopause symptoms?
Diet and lifestyle changes can lead to a dramatic improvement in menopausal symptoms for many women. At the very least, a healthy lifestyle can help you become better equipped to handle the changes and fluctuations of this time.
Top tips include:
- Aim to consume 4-5 cups of vegetables/salad daily
- Minimise alcohol, caffeine and sugar
- Connect with friends or groups for support
- Exercise regularly – walking and yoga are great!
- Ensure you are drinking enough water – aim for 30ml per kg of body weight
What are the best foods to include in your diet during menopause?
The best foods to support your body through the menopause transition include quality proteins, lots of fresh vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. My top 5 menopause foods include:
- Leafy Greens
What else can women do to feel in control during this period?
Try to find a friend or relative of a similar age so you can chat, moan and laugh with, exchange tips and reassure each other that this will pass and it is totally normal – just like you may have done with a friend or mother’s group when you had small babies. Menopause is not something you have to deal with alone. EVERY single woman you know will go through it during their lifetime and sharing the experience is important for your mental health and connectedness.
Learning about what is happening to your body, what to expect and how you can best support your body through the menopause transition is essential for feeling in control and taking charge of your symptoms. Join the ‘Flourish and Nourish Through Menopause’ online program (www.superchargedhealthcourses.com) to learn all about what is happening to your body along with practical tips for managing symptoms, which supplements can help, how to prevent long term health issues and how to tweak your diet to best support your body along with yoga, meditation and a gorgeous recipe e-book filled with nourishing recipes to help you feel your very best.
What’s your advice for women who suffer from severe hot flushes and sweating?
Hot flushes are one of the most common and disturbing symptoms of menopause and are experienced by 35-50% of perimenopausal and up to 80% of menopausal women. Researchers found that women who had their first hot flushes in perimenopause had hot flushes for an average of nine to 10 years. For those who did not experience hot flushes until after their last menstrual period, the average duration was around three and a half years.
For many women, hot flushes and night sweats can often be managed with the help of herbal medicines, diet and lifestyle modifications. Start by deep breathing when you feel a hot flush coming on, this can often reduce the intensity and duration of the flush. If we know that stress makes hot flushes continue for longer, be active in your stress management. Slow down, try not to overcommit yourself and start a daily meditation or mindfulness practice. Dress in layers and try to maintain a constant temperature at home and work (if possible!).
In terms of diet, stay away from caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, spicy foods and hot drinks which are all known to trigger hot flushes. Try replacing chocolate with carob if you have a craving! I know these changes can be hard to make but they are definitely worth it until the flushes settle down. Bump up your veggies to 4-5 cups most days and be aware of staying well hydrated.
Drink 2-3 cups of cold sage tea daily to minimise night sweats.
Try taking 500mg Vitamin E daily – studies showed a reduction in hot flushes after just one month of use. Herbal medicines such as wild yam, black cohosh, shatavari, red clover and sage are also very effective and are best used under the supervision of a practitioner.