Your Diet & Symptoms of Menopause: What You Need to Know
Written by Mallory Junggren
You walk into a room and then can’t remember why you’re there. You look all over the house for your glasses, only to realize you’re wearing them. Or you completely forget an appointment you made just yesterday. If you’ve started having memory lapses like these, your memory may well be affected by hormonal changes that occur in menopause.
You’re probably familiar with the most common menopause symptom, hot flashes, but, as if they weren’t enough to cope with, they’re only one of many symptoms of menopause. In addition to memory loss, you may also experience dry skin, irritability, trouble sleeping, fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, vaginal dryness, lack of sex drive and a decrease in bone density.
On the bright side, making simple changes to your diet may help alleviate these symptoms.
Your Diet and the Symptoms of Menopause
If you’re the one who always wants to lower the thermostat or open all the windows, you’ve got company. Hot flashes are experienced by more women than any other menopause symptom. There are a number of foods that may ease hot flashes, and others that could make them worse.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are often suggested as a supplement that can lower the amount of fat in your blood (triglycerides), which can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Now they’ve been shown to help reduce hot flashes, as well. You can find Omega-3 in flaxseed and fish. You can also take Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, available at pharmacies and health food stores.
- Vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes both during the day and at night. It can be found in almonds, sweet potatoes and avocados. Or, if you don’t like any of those foods, you’ll find vitamin E supplements at any store that sells vitamins.
Foods to avoid
Hot flashes can be intensified by certain foods, so you may want to try cutting out or consuming less of these foods:
- According to The Mayo Clinic, caffeine can intensify your hot flashes. So you might want to drink less coffee, caffeinated tea and soda for a while.
- Spicy foods can elevate your body temperature, so if possible, try to avoid eating them.
- Alcohol also elevates your body temperature, so stick with an occasional glass of wine and avoid drinking too much.
Memory loss and confusion
The part of your brain called the hippocampus plays an important role with memory. Experts believe that the hormonal changes that occur during menopause have an effect on the way the hippocampus functions. This may not only affect short term memory, it can also cause confusion – you may feel you’re not thinking straight. Luckily, like other symptoms of menopause, these are temporary. There are some diet changes you can make in the meantime to help improve your memory.
Food rich in the antioxidant resveratrol could do the trick. Fortunately for us, wine and chocolate are loaded with resveratrol! Don’t go overboard with these, but adding a glass of wine to dinner now and then and a little chocolate is a pleasant way to consume more of this antioxidant. If wine and chocolate aren’t your thing, you can also find resveratrol in berries (cranberries and blueberries) as well as peanuts, pistachios and unpeeled grapes.
Dry skin and vaginal dryness
Your body’s decrease in estrogen is what causes both dry skin and vaginal dryness. Drinking enough water – eight glasses a day – is the best thing you can do for your skin, and can also help combat vaginal dryness.
According to WebMD, the hormonal changes of menopause may make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen than your hips or thighs, but menopausal hormone fluctuations don’t actually cause weight gain, contrary to common belief. Weight gain at this time of life generally is caused by less activity and a slow-down in fat-burning due to aging. However it gets there, though, most of us would rather see the extra weight disappear. Some of the recommended dietary changes already mentioned are helpful for weight control. Eating a lot of low-calorie vegetables and fruit makes you feel full and provides a lot of vitamins and other nutrients important for overall good health. Drinking eight glasses of water a day also fills you up while keeping your body hydrated.
Loss in bone density
While this is one menopause symptom you can’t feel or see, it’s nevertheless extremely important to know about. The National Osteoporosis Foundation says that approximately one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. If bone density is low, annual or bi-annual tests are recommended to track this condition. However, most women going through menopause aren’t given bone density tests, since the NIH recommends the tests for women 65 and older. Nevertheless, the hormone changes during menopause years can affect bone density. You should be very aware of this and be sure to get enough calcium. Calcium is present in milk and milk products; foods that have been fortified with added calcium, such as some cereals and orange juice products; and some vegetables, such as dark leafy greens, spinach, bok choy, green beans and almonds; as well as fish that are canned with their bones, such as sardines. However, it’s not easy to consume enough of these foods to get the recommended daily amount of calcium (1,000-1,200 milligrams a day). You should add to the calcium you’re getting in your diet with calcium supplements. If you don’t like the idea of taking calcium pills, which can be quite large, look for chewable calcium. It comes in the form of chocolate, gummies and taffy-like squares.
Women experience the symptoms of menopause in different ways and to different degrees. We also have different taste preferences, so you may like some of these foods but loathe others. Some of these diet suggestions may work for you and some may not. It’s a good idea to test them out to find out what works for you. We also advise that you discuss these suggestions with your doctor and learn more about other options available to help relieve the symptoms of menopause.