Menopause: How can we support it holistically?
27 Jun 2016
By Sarah Nankervis, Naturopath & Nutritionist
Why do women get hot flushes during menopause?
Hot flushes/sweats can be really debilitating and exhausting for women who are peri menopausal all the way through to post menopausal. Hot flushes can be caused by changes in hormone levels in particular oestrogen and progesterone but can also be due to changes in your stress hormone cortisol. It is very common for me to support womens adrenal function and cortisol levels instead of oestrogen to decrease hot flushes. When working with hot flushes I also look at liver clearance of hormones and how well we are processing and detoxifying oestrogen. If you are having issues with clearing out oestrogen metabolites through the phase 2 of your liver this can also contribute to hot flushes. Including cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bock choy, kale, mustard greens) in your diet daily can help with phase 2 of your liver and having some “me time” to support your adrenal function including going to bed early, massage, meditation and eating a whole food diet full of complex carbohydrates and fats (e.g. avocado, olive oil) is also very useful.
Is it common to see weight gain during menopause? Why does this occur?
Unfortunately when our hormone levels change during menopause we can put on a little extra weight particularly around the middle and hips. During menopause, our hormone levels are changing and we can have excess oestrogen, otherwise known as “oestrogen dominance” or too little oestrogen. At the same time, we can experience fluctuations in our progesterone and testosterone levels. During our fertile years, we produce the majority of our oestrogen and progesterone in our ovaries. As we become peri menopausal, our production in the ovaries decreases and our adrenal glands and fatty tissue around our abdomen take over. Naturally we put on a little extra abdominal fat to compensate our oestrogen production but this can become more than needed due to our body thinking it needs to store more energy around our middle due to our stress levels, liver function, diet and lifestyle. This can then start a vicious cycle of increased oestrogen production which creates more storage of fat, inflammation and body stress. This is a frustrating cycle and sometimes exercise and healthy eating alone can’t shift this extra weight. At Luxton we look at lifestyle, mindfulness and supporting your liver, inflammation and adrenal glands to help balance a healthy weight during menopause. Decreasing your waist measurement below 80cm can significantly reduce your risk of developing type two diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
A lot of women suffer from disrupted sleep when going through menopause, what causes the disruption in sleep patterns?
There are two main reasons that women going through menopause can’t sleep;
a) Hot Flushes – a lot of women experience hot flushes/sweats while they are sleeping (or attempting to sleep) during the night which can wake them often, some women waking every hour or most commonly between 2am – 4am. These hot flushes can be caused by fluctuations in your progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone levels which can affect your temperature regulation. They can also occur when your adrenal glands are under stress or fatigued which is why each of our treatment plans are individually tailored as you may be experiencing hot flushes for different reasons than other women you know.
b) Your oestrogen production is directly linked to the production of some of your brain chemicals called Dopamine and Serotonin and when oestrogen becomes imbalanced this can cause a disruption between these two brain chemicals. Serotonin is our “happy” brain chemical but is also converted into Melatonin at night time to help initiate and keep you asleep. A lot of women going through menopause can have a lowered or imbalanced production of melatonin. Eating foods high in tryptophan (an amino acid that helps to make serotonin) can help to increase your serotonin levels and melatonin. Food such as walnuts, turkey, chicken, mango, cherries, plums, ricotta, cottage cheese are all high in tryptophan. Eating a complex carbohydrate snack before bed can also help initiate sleep such as a banana or a small bowl of natural yoghurt with berries.
Are there any specific foods to include in the diet to help support healthy menopause?
- Yes there are lots of foods we recommend to help support a healthy menopause! I mentioned the cruciferous vegetables above which are great at supporting healthy liver clearance of oestrogen. Including 1-2 serves daily of these e.g. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Kale, Mustard Greens, Bock Choy
- Increasing soluble and insoluble fibre in the diet helps the bowels to eliminate hormone waste products, inflammation and support healthy cholesterol levels e.g. Chia Seeds, Psyllium husks, oats, bran, slippery elm, fruit and nuts/seeds.
- Including orange foods high in beta carotene can help improve progesterone levels such as pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, egg yolks and wild salmon.
- Including plenty of good fats in the diet can help support and balance hormone production and prevent side effects from hormonal changes such as dry eyes, vagina and lowered libedo.
As a Naturopath, what are your top 3 wellness steps when supporting women through menopause? E.g. Testing, supplement support, nutrition etc.
- See your Naturopath for a full assessment of your symptoms
- Use pathology testing to assess where your hormone levels are and for a full health check of your liver function, thyroid health and nutrient status
- Dietary and nutritional/herbal supplementation tailored to your specific needs . This should always be managed with your practitioner and utilised to to help support healthy hormone production and menopause. If you have a cupboard full of supplements it might be a good idea to see you Naturopath to assess if you actually need them all. You shouldn’t really need more than 2-3 supplements at a time.