Midlife women have been led to believe that hormone replacement therapy is an either or proposition: either you take it or you suffer the symptoms of menopause.
In reality, however, women do not have to be plagued by hot flashes, night sweats, brain fog, depression and weight gain as they go through menopause. A healthy whole foods diet can go a long way in alleviating those discomforts without the need for hormone replacement therapy, whether natural or otherwise.
The menopause is defined as 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period, and in the U.S., the average age of menopause is 51 years.
However, peri-menopause, the years gradually leading up to complete menstrual cessation, can begin as early as 35 and stretch for 10 or 15 years. During this time the ovaries slow down production of two hormones in particular, estrogen and progesterone. The imbalance in these hormones leads to the commonly experienced discomforts of mid-life for women.
Here are 5 basic and very simple diet tweaks that are easy to adopt. In no time at all, these small but nutritious habits could help you gently transition into the sisterhood of wise women.
1. Cut out added sugar and refined carbohydrates. These can raise insulin levels, promote weight gain and lead to more fat stores, especially around the belly. Those fat stores in turn can promote higher levels of circulating estrogen, driving your estrogen/progesterone balance further out of kilter.
2. Add more fruits and vegetables. Phytoestrogens are weak plant estrogens found in over 300 plants including blueberries, cherries, cranberries, carrots, bananas, beets, oranges, onions, peppers, oats, plums, olives and potatoes. Phytoestrogens bind to estrogen receptors and balance estrogen levels by having an estrogenic effect if your estrogen levels are too low, and by blocking stronger estrogens if your levels are too high.
3. Increase fiber, especially flax seeds. Our bodies dispose of excess estrogen by way of the bowel, and if not excreted, the estrogen will be reabsorbed and continue to circulate. A high fiber diet will support that process. Flax seeds are a great source of fiber but they are also rich in lignans (particularly strong phytoestrogens). Flax seeds and their lignans and have been shown in studies to help in both reducing the risk of breast cancer and slowing the growth of breast cancer tumors. Lignans not only have anti-viral, anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties but they also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol.
4. Avoid caffeine, spicy foods and alcohol. These are all heat producing substances and will contribute to hot flashes. Instead, try cooling foods like melon, bean sprouts, celery, apples, asparagus and grapes.
5. Only eat organic animal protein and dairy products. Most animal protein and dairy has been treated with growth hormones which may compound the estrogen imbalance in your body. Stick with organic meat and dairy that has been labeled "no added hormones" or "no hormones administered."