Menopause is a natural event in a woman’s life and can be a time of great change; some women embrace it while some might dread it. Women in different parts of the world appear to experience the end of their reproductive cycle in different ways. Some of this may be cultural but research suggests it might also have to do with diet.
The physical and emotional symptoms experienced during menopause are caused by fluctuating levels of hormones, namely oestrogen and progesterone. As the levels of these hormones change, a wide range of symptoms can occur, from hot flushes to mood swings. Eating certain foods may help reduce some of the negative effects of these fluctuations.
Phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) are compounds that occur naturally in plants. Under certain circumstances phytoestrogens show some of the same activities as oestrogen in some studies, such as helping with bone density, while other studies have shown the same benefits as using a placebo (dummy pill).
Soy products are rich in a specific type of phytoestrogen, called isoflavones. About 30-50% of women who consume a diet high in isoflavones (similar to the amount in a soy-rich Asian diet) may have an improvement in perimenopausal symptoms, the time when women are transitioning into menopause.
Phytoestrogens foods also contain protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins, so they’re a great part of a balanced diet. Foods such as linseeds, lentils, chickpeas, sesame seeds, almonds, barley, oats, fermented soy products, tofu and soy milk are all rich sources of phytoestrogens. When it comes to breast cancer risk and phytoestrogen use, eating whole foods rather than supplements has been found to be safer. Remember if you do consume soy, stick to foods that are made from the whole soybean such as tofu, tempeh and some soy milks, rather than overly processed and refined forms of soy often listed as “soy protein isolates” on the ingredient list.
As you approach menopause, consider finding a health practitioner you like and trust to guide you through the process. Armed with knowledge about the changes your body is going through means you’re able to alter your diet and lifestyle to suit these changes.
Jean Hailes naturopath Jess Gleeson says, “Menopause is such an important life stage in the health of women. With all the changes and challenges that women face during this time, it’s crucial to have a good support network in place for physical, mental and emotional health. This means having (or finding) a GP or other health professional you can trust and relate to, one that will help to create an individualised plan that works for you and the changes you’re going through.”