Daisy Tappenden of Tap Into Your Health is a registered nutritional therapist and personal trainer from Tunbridge Wells. Here, she offers expert advice on how to nourish yourself through the menopause and suggests handy tips on how to minimise common symptoms…
Most women don’t even know the symptoms they are experiencing are menopause symptoms, even after going to their GP about it. Only just last month did research show that in a group of 2,000 women, only 12 per cent were diagnosed as being in perimenopause by a health professional – and most of the rest had to self-diagnose themselves with the condition.
With such a vast array of possible symptoms, usually starting in your early forties (sometimes late thirties) it is not uncommon for women to just ‘get on with it’, not really knowing why they feel the way they do whether it’s physically, mentally, emotionally, or all three.
So what are the symptoms to look out for and why do they happen?
Perimenopause is not linear, the shifts in hormones over this period of (usually) around 10 years can be quite erratic – especially from our good friend oestrogen. While progesterone and testosterone start to decline steadily, oestrogen tends to jump around, one minute being sky high and the next being rock bottom. It is a combination of these patterns of hormone imbalance that can cause unwanted symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, heavy periods, anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, trouble sleeping, headaches/migraines, depression, low libido, joint pain, itchy skin… Unfortunately, the list goes on.
What about weight gain, and why is it around the middle section?
One of the biggest concerns I hear from women is the weight gain around the abdominal section, and a loss in muscle mass. The weight gain tends to be very stubborn and may not respond to diets and exercise like it may have done in their twenties and thirties. This can be very upsetting and can feel like an impossible feat to get rid of it.
The important thing to understand is that it can be improved, but it needs to be tackled in the right way. The reason this extra weight often appears on the mid-section is due to the decline in sex hormones impacting other hormones which help regulate energy usage. Two of the main hormones in question here are insulin and cortisol.
Reduced oestrogen can lead to insulin resistance, meaning more sugar in the bloodstream, which can cause weight gain. Oestrogen also helps regulate cortisol levels, so when oestrogen starts to lower, cortisol starts to rise. This rise in cortisol causes the body to release glucose for energy, but when this energy isn’t used it is laid down as fat.
So how can menopause symptoms be reduced?
There are so many ways to reduce menopause symptoms, here are a few recommendations…
Eat protein with every meal/snack. Protein helps stabilise blood sugar by blunting the absorption of carbohydrates/sugars. Protein breaks down into glucose more slowly than carbohydrates so the effect of protein on blood glucose and insulin levels can occur gradually.
Cruciferous vegetables. When chewed or cut, a compound called indole-3-carbinol is released from crucifers which binds to oestrogen metabolites and aids their excretion from the body.
Eliminate/reduce alcohol. Research shows women who do not drink alcohol have much fewer menopause symptoms, and have much less risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, liver disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
SIT training. You may have heard of HIIT, but even better for perimenopause is SIT (sprint interval training) – this means very short, sharp 10- to 30-second exercise at max effort with short breaks. SIT provides metabolic stimulus to trigger changes in body composition by reducing fat and increasing lean muscle. Women aged 47 to 59 who did 20 minutes of SIT training three times a week for eight weeks lost fat, regained muscle and increased aerobic fitness by 12 per cent.
Weight training. Everyone loses muscle as they age, however due to oestrogen loss, women need to pay even closer attention to picking up the weights to increase bone mineral density. When oestrogen is less, the ability to regenerate muscle stem cells can drop 30 to 60 per cent, and bone mineral density reduces by around 10 per cent in menopause.