By Dr Hannah Short
- Stay hydrated (fresh water, herbal teas) – minimise/cut out caffeine & alcohol (common triggers for worsening symptoms)
- If relevant, seek support to stop smoking (common trigger for hot flushes and worsens bone & heart health)
- Layer light clothing (and bedlinen). Wear natural, breathable fibres when possible.
- If you suffer with hot flushes, use a fan; small portable ones are available to take out and about.
- Fill a small spray bottle with water and use this to spritz yourself if you feel overheated.
- Consider keeping a journal/using an online app (e.g. Clio) to see if you can identify any symptom triggers.
- Centre diet around plant-based whole-foods: women who follow a plant-based diet have a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Recent evidence suggests that they may also suffer fewer menopausal symptoms.
- Think “right carbs, good fats” not “low-carb, high fat” or “no fat”: complex carbohydrates (e.g. root vegetables, beans, oats, wholegrains) and plant-based fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, avocado, good quality olive oil) are essential for good hormonal health.
- Eat the rainbow AND the alphabet: fill your plate with a wide variety of brightly coloured fruit & veg. Aim to include at least ten different types of vegetable in your meals each week (aim for 30 varieties over the month) – diversity is key to a healthy gut microbiome (and good hormonal & emotional health). Leafy greens and dark-coloured berries are particularly beneficial.
- Include a serving (or two) of beans/lentils/hummus in your daily diet – a fantastic source of fibre, protein and micronutrients. If you do not already regularly consume these and/or suffer with bloating, build up intake slowly and consider short-term digestive enzymes (e.g. BeanAssist); see also Dr Megan Rossi’s excellent book: Eat Yourself Healthy (focuses on improving gut health).
- Consider switching cow’s milk for fortified soya/oat/hemp milk (more heart-healthy)
- Include minimally processed soya foods in your diet: e.g. edamame beans, tofu, tempeh, miso – helpful for menopausal symptoms, heart and breast health.
- Flavour your food with a multitude of herbs & spices (rich in polyphenols – plant-based micronutrients)
- Minimise refined/processed carbohydrates and junk food (e.g. refined sugar, white bread, baked goods, takeaways) and animal products (meat, eggs, dairy & farmed fish).
- Aim to eat all meals within a 12-hour window e.g. between 7am & 7pm. This helps with weight maintenance and hormonal balance.
- The Happy Pear: Recipes for Happiness - David & Stephen Flynn
- The Oh-She-Glows Cookbook - Angela Liddon
- River Cottage: Much More Veg – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
- Forks Over Knives: The Cookbook – Del Sroufe
- Virtually Vegan – Heather Whinney
- The Green Roasting Tin – Rukmini Iyer
SUPPLEMENTS Recommended for everyone, irrespective of diet:
- Vitamin B12: Aim for 10 micrograms (mcg) daily or at least 2000 micrograms once a week
- Vitamin D3: Aim for 10 mcg/400 IU October-April (in spring/summer ensure sun exposure to skin on arms/legs/back for at least 20 minutes daily; continue to supplement if not possible)
- Iodine: RDA 150 mcg daily (do not exceed 0.5 mg/day; avoid kelp-based supplements) For the above, I recommend the VEG 1 Supplement (affordable & reliable) available online from The Vegan Society
- Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs): Algae derived (sustainable) EPA & DHA (200-300mg/daily) or 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed (e.g. added to cereal/smoothies/salad/soups) and 6 walnut halves daily.
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night
- If you suffer from hot flushes/night sweats, sleep naked or wear cotton nightclothes. Consider investing in a cold gel pack or cooling pillow. Avoid hot drinks before bed; take sips of cold water instead.
- Ensure your bedroom is comfortably cool. Keep the window slightly open and/or a fan near your bed.
- Switch off electronic devices/screens at least one hour before bed and/or consider wearing blue-light blocking glasses in the evening
- Do not drink caffeinated beverages after midday.
- Avoid alcohol before bed – not only does it reduce good-quality sleep, it is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor and can affect HRT.
- Aim to get up at approximately the same time each day to establish a routine (this will help with hormonal balance)
- Aim to get outside in the morning daylight (whatever the weather) for at least 20 minutes each day. If this is not possible, try and have your breakfast/morning drink close to a window/in a naturally lit area.
- Aim to move your body daily – this is important for mental & physical well-being, as well as hormonal balance.
- If you don’t already have an exercise regimen, start slowly – even a ten-minute walk around the block has its benefits. Try https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/active10/home, or consider a five minute morning online yoga session e.g. https://yogawithadriene.com/5-minute-morning-yoga/
- Weight-bearing exercise (e.g. hiking, running, dancing, weight-training, tennis) – at least twice weekly – is essential for bone health after menopause. Swimming and cycling are great forms of exercise for heart health and general well-being, but will not prevent osteoporosis.
- Consider joining your local Park Run http://www.parkrun.org.uk/ or Great Run Local https://www.greatrunlocal.org/ - great not only for exercise, but also community-building, social inclusion and gets you out into nature (which has enormous benefits for our mental health). Do not be put off if you do not run (yet!); many people walk or walk-run around the courses. Children and dogs are welcome too
- Balance and core-strength are increasingly important as we age, and reduce the risk of falling in later life. Another reason to consider a regular yoga practice, or why not sign up to a local Pilates or Tai Chi class?
STRESS REDUCTION/SELF CARE
- Stress reduction is important for all of us and is paramount during the menopausal transition
- 5-10 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation/breathing exercises can provide enormous benefits and lower the stress response: Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer are all meditation apps you can trial for free. Clarity is an app designed specifically with menopause in mind.
- Take at least 15-30 minutes a day, every day, to do something you enjoy (and solely for you) e.g. reading a novel, gardening, playing an instrument, having a bath with relaxing essential oils, listening to your favourite music/podcast, walking in nature.
- BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Suggested reading (holistic health, exercise, inspiration):
- The 4 Pillar Plan and The Stress Solution: Dr Rangan Chatterjee
- Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health: Dr Juliet McGrattan
Podcasts (health, wellbeing, inspiration):
- Feel Better, Live More https://drchatterjee.com/blog/category/podcast/
- Deliciously Ella Podcast https://play.acast.com/s/deliciouslyellapodcast
- Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations http://www.oprah.com/app/supersoul-sessions.html