Eating Your Way Through Menopause
How we eat during the transition of Menopause will greatly influence whether we see this as a time to be endured, or whether we see it as an opportunity to grow out of our old ways, and embrace the opportunity for a new way of life.
In our workshop this coming Saturday we will explore many different ways to nourish and sustain a sense of ease and empowerment and learn how our beloved yoga practice may have to change in order to maintain our hormonal and emotional balance.
I will also introduce ideas on food and moods, and just to whet your appetite (ooh, bad, bad pun, I know), here’s a little taster of how you can eat your way through menopause and come out feeling healthier and energized.
Unfortunately, in our society, we blame women’s mood swings on hormones. It’s not that she is simply having a bad day or is responding to some external stress; it must be menopause and lack of hormones. What is usually absent in the conversation with physicians and menopausal patients is how food can affect your mood. It’s also not usually discussed how certain dietary restrictions can alter mood. It has been shown that diets low in omega-3 fatty acids may contribute to depressive symptoms, and in this era of low-fat diets, women trying to lose weight may be making menopausal mood symptoms worse.
It’s my opinion that weight gain during the menopause is an evolutionary error. When we were an agrarian society, our bodies were programmed to store energy as fat because the next famine could be our last. We currently have a dense over-supply of calories, but our bodies have not had enough time to make the evolutionary adjustment to the industrial revolution. If you look at pictures of a female patient through her twenties and thirties and then in her fifties and eighties, you may notice the fifty-year-old portrait has a woman with more abdominal and pelvic fat; then in her eighties, she becomes thin again. Why would this be? Because our bodies are preparing for a famine, and it’s natural for the female body to store fat during menopause, and fat creates estrogen. By storing fat and aromatising estrogen the body is able to make estrogen to perform vital functions like preserving bone mass. As women age, there is no need for the additional adipose (fat) and the body naturally thins. In a society where beauty equals thin, women restricting essential fatty acids in their diet may be increasing the risk of depressive symptoms.
The amino acid tryptophan is readily available and may help with depression. While what we know about tryptophan and serotonin production is limited it may be helpful to recommend a diet inclusive of soy proteins, spinach and seaweed which are high in tryptophan. Another reason why women may see weight gain in menopause is self-treatment with carbohydrate rich foods. It has been shown that women with depression report and elevated mood after consuming a carbohydrate rich drink. A common food for elevating mood is chocolate at it releases serotonin, methylxanthines, and can have a euphoric effect. Dark chocolate can be a healthier option. It’s also worth keeping in mind that most mood modulators can also bring on extra pounds.
To summarize moods and foods, we know women with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids not only have higher rates of depression, but low levels can determine depression severity. Omega-3 sources are cold water fish, but if you cannot tolerate fish then foods and oils from flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, and green leafy vegetables can be an excellent source.
Vitamins and minerals will also play a part in mood change and depression. Vitamin B6 has been shown to improve mood symptoms in premenstrual syndrome and can be found in fish, cereals, avocados, bananas, and grains. If possible one should try eating smaller balanced meals five to six times per day.
Deirdre O’Connor will be in The elbowroom on Sunday 23rd July to give a workshop on yoga for The Menopause.