This may be tough to hear…so I’m going to rip the band-aid off right away to get it over with. Here’s the shocking fact – most GenX women (such as myself) are now either in menopause, in perimenopause or will be approaching this stage of their lives in the next few years. How can this be? It feels like it was just yesterday that we were young and cool, watching Dawson’s Creek and listening to Matchbox 20!
For women in the U.S., the average age for reaching menopause is 51 years, and most women will reach menopause in their late 40’s or early 50’s. The perimenopause (premenopause) stage is not only occurring just before you reach menopause, but can actually last anywhere from 2-8 years leading up to menopause.
Most women will experience one or more symptoms of menopause. Decreased production of estrogen during menopause and perimenopause is responsible for most of these symptoms. Common menopausal symptoms include: weight gain, hair loss/hair thinning, insomnia, heart disease, decreased bone density, hot flashes and vaginal and urinary changes.
Both estrogen and progesterone levels in women decrease during this time. These sex hormones are produced in the ovaries. Changes in ovarian function in the years leading up to menopause and up to a year afterwards, leads to a decrease in production of these hormones.
In certain situations, your doctor may suggest that you use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to increase the levels of these hormones in your body. Whether or not HRT is recommended for you will depend on your unique situation, your age and other factors. If you’re like me and you’re on Warfarin, you may not be eligible for estrogen therapy/HRT – either orally or topically – because of the heightened risk of blood clots. HRT can have positive effects for menopausal symptoms, but it also potentially has some negative effects. Clinical trials, such as the Women’s Health Initiative, indicate that HRT may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer. If you’re on HRT or are interested in learning about it, discuss this with your physician to determine if it’s the right approach for you.
Ok, now that we’ve gotten the heavy stuff out of the way, are you ready for some good news? The first bit of good news is: no more periods – hooray! Seriously, that is BIG! The next bit of good news is that you have some control over this situation. There are nourishing foods that you can eat that will reduce the symptoms of menopause and support your health during this new phase of your life. These foods contain phytoestrogens.
Foods that are a good source of phytoestrogens are helpful for increasing estrogen levels. Phytoestrogens are bioactive molecules that are able to bind to estrogen receptors in the body. The foods listed below all contain phytoestrogens to varying degrees. Of these, soy foods have the highest amounts of phytoestrogens. Flaxseeds are also a great source.
Review the list of foods below and while you’re doing that, think about these questions:
- Which of these foods are already a part of my diet on a regular basis?
- Which ones do I enjoy but don’t eat very often? Could I make a conscious effort to include them in my diet more often?
- Which of these foods are unfamiliar to me? Am I interested in trying any of them?
Once again, it’s also a good idea to discuss this matter with your physician who understands your unique situation – to find out if there’s any medical reason to avoid estrogenic foods in your diet. If that’s not a concern, then I recommend that you consume soy and a variety of these other foods on a daily basis over the long-term. This will reduce menopausal symptoms over time. As an added bonus, these foods are also all healthy, natural, plant-based foods that support your overall health. And I think they taste great too! Which one is your favorite?
- Soy foods: Tofu, tempeh, edamame, whole soybeans, miso, unsweetened soymilk
- Sesame seeds, tahini (ground sesame seeds)
- Flaxseeds (whole flax seeds must be ground to digest and absorb them)
- Legumes, chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
- Hummus: contains both chickpeas and tahini
- Dried fruit: apricots, dates, prunes
- *Bear in mind: dried fruit is nutrient-packed, but limit intake to 4 or 5 pieces of dried fruit maximum per day as they are also high in sugars
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, arugula, collard greens, watercress, radishes