When I was in my forties, I wasn’t paying attention to perimenopause. To be honest, I didn’t know that much (if anything) about it—no one talked about it, there were no companies or organizations devoted to mid-life women’s health at the time, and typical symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, depression, weight gain, and irregular periods could be chalked up to being way too busy and stressed out. I was working full-time as the editor in chief of a national magazine, raising three kids (and a dog), commuting nearly 3 hours round-trip a day, trying to carve out time for my husband, friends, aging parents, myself… you know the drill.
Thankfully perimenopause is now recognized as a span of time with real symptoms that have real medical causes – many of which may be linked to hormonal shifts. According to Harvard Health, “Because virtually every organ contains estrogen receptors, hormone fluctuations affect all parts of our bodies. But the decline in estrogen—which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects—also triggers a cascade of low-grade inflammation that can reach every cell.1 A 2020 study in the Journal of Neuroinflammation describes the menopausal transition as an ‘inflammatory event’ for this reason.”2
Since estrogen acts as an anti-inflammatory, a decline in the hormone allows inflammation to flourish. Chronic inflammation can lead to serious illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, and COPD, but it can also be linked to fatigue and insomnia, depression and anxiety, gastrointestinal problems like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux, and weight gain.3
Following an Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Menopause
In addition to regular exercise and getting enough sleep, an important way to combat perimenopause- and menopause-induced inflammation is by following an anti-inflammatory diet4 and avoiding pro-inflammatory foods. According to The National Institutes of Health, a diet “rich in saturated fat, trans-fats, or refined sugar is associated with higher production of pro-inflammatory molecules, especially in individuals with diabetes or overweight individuals.”5
Translation: Ditch the sweets and sodas (and cut back on alcohol), refined carbs (like bread, crackers, and pasta), processed oils (like seed and vegetable oils) and fatty or fried foods and focus on whole, unprocessed (or minimally processed) foods; following the Mediterranean diet is a good place to start when considering adopting an anti-inflammatory diet for menopause.
The Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Consider
The best anti-inflammatory foods include green, leafy vegetables, berries, apples, and citrus, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, walnuts and almonds, tomatoes, green tea, and extra-virgin olive oil.
A sample anti-inflammatory diet meal plan for the day could include:
- Breakfast: Plain yogurt (choose Greek-style for added protein) topped with blueberries and nuts (be mindful if you’re allergic or have reactions to cow’s milk – you may want to consider alternatives.
- Lunch: A salad composed of a variety of greens (such as arugula, romaine, and spinach) topped with canned tuna (look for a brand labeled sustainably caught or pole caught), chopped tomato, chickpeas, and a homemade extra-virgin olive oil and lemon dressing.
- Dinner: Wild salmon with roasted veggies and quinoa salad.
To learn more about anti-inflammatory diets for women’s health, along with the best ways to cope with perimenopause, menopause, and women’s health issues in general, I recommend the following experts: nurse practitioner Cynthia Thurlow especially her podcast Everyday Wellness; Gabrielle Lyon, M.D.—her new book Forever Strong will teach you the importance of a protein-packed diet for overall health and longevity; and Sara Gottfried, M.D., her books The Hormone Cure, The Hormone Reset Diet, and Women, Food, and Hormones are must-reads.