Unexplained weight gain? Ugh. Here are nutritional choices to help deal with the threats of menopause

Menopause happens so gradually that we hardly know it is happening until our body weight changes and nothing we have done to control our weight is working anymore.

The type A personalities in us can’t understand why eating the exact same things and exercising the exact same way doesn’t yield the results they used to. Other menopause-related threats begin to appear – hot flashes, sweating, body aches, insomnia – which open a burrow of helplessness and frustration.

Dr. Susan Oakley, a St. Elizabeth urogynaecologist specializing in pelvic reconstructive surgery, addresses these and other concerns in her podcast, The Lady Bod. With input and other resources, The Enquirer would like to help women navigate menopause as it relates to diet and fitness. (Middle-aged men can also use these dietary tips)

Blueberries are a wonderful antioxidant food that many doctors who deal with gut health recommend as a breakfast food.

What are the surprising symptoms of menopause?

Menopause occurs 12 months after your last menstrual cycle. Perimenopause – the period before menopause when the ovaries gradually stop working – begins between the ages of 40 and 44 but can occur as early as your 30s. Night sweats, belly fat, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, changes in body fat distribution, sleep changes, and weight gain are the most well-known symptoms of this stage of life.

Some, however, you don’t necessarily see coming: Joint pain. Food intolerances. Hair growth and loss in unwanted places. Brain fog. Spasms of the pelvic muscles (vaginismus). Periodontitis. Body odor. Tingling in your extremities. Heart palpitations.

It’s important for your mental health to remember that weight fluctuations around menopause have more to do with hormones like insulin, cortisol and leptin than willpower, although regulating these hormones can often be done through proper nutrition and exercise.

What is leptin and how does it affect menopause?

A lesser-known hormone that goes a little out of whack around menopause is leptin, which drops along with estrogen. Leptin, in short, is your body’s stop sign that tells you when you’ve eaten enough. Binge eating and restrictive diets can cause your leptin levels to get out of balance.

Maybe you’re eating healthy foods, but you’re not paying attention to how much you’re eating because, well, you just don’t feel full. Eat plenty of high-quality protein – poultry, red meat, eggs, Greek yogurt – and try to use smaller plates or bowls when determining portions.

What can you do to fight insulin resistance?

What supplements or increased use in food can ease menopausal symptoms?

Sometimes it’s just not possible for postmenopausal women to get all the nutrients they need through food. Supplementation is therefore vital. Vitamins and supplements are considered drugs when filing medical or hospital paperwork, so be sure to check with your doctor to see if any of these suggested nutrients, in food or supplement form, suits you. Here is a sampling of supplements that may help before and after menopause.

  • Magnesium – In addition to helping to keep bones strong to prevent osteoporosis, magnesium helps relieve menopausal symptoms like trouble sleeping and depression. This heart-healthy nutrient is found in dark chocolate, leafy greens, seeds, and whole grains.

  • Vitamin D – Although vitamin D is best found through sun exposure, the vitamin may help postmenopausal women with inflammation, hot flashes, brain focus, depression, bone health, high blood pressure and heart disease. Many foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, cereal, and orange juice, but it’s also found in fatty fish like salmon.

  • Omega 3 – Women with joint pain, hot flashes, depression, vaginal dryness and osteoporosis may find relief by consuming omega-3 fatty acids. It also helps lower triglycerides, which is heart-healthy. Foods rich in omega-3s include chia seeds, flax seeds, fatty fish like tuna or sardines, walnuts, spinach, eggs, and soy.

  • Calcium – Another important reason to take vitamin D is to help absorb calcium, which is vital for maintaining bone mass and preventing osteoporosis. Sources of calcium include dairy products, beans, nuts, dark leafy greens, and fortified orange juice.

  • Vitamin C – Most commonly known for boosting immunity, vitamin C is also important for the production of collagen in the body, a must for skin vitality. The antioxidant nutrient is another way to help with hot flashes.

  • Biotin –

  • Vitamin B 6 or 12

  • Turmeric –

  • prenatal vitamin – Dr. Oakley said you can get most, if not all, of these supplements just by taking a prenatal vitamin, which shouldn’t be used just for pregnant women.

  • estroven – She also suggested using Estroven, an herbal supplement that helps relieve common symptoms. Depending on the version purchased, the product can target specific symptoms or provide general relief. She said some oncologists might not recommend it for cancer patients, so it’s best to consult a doctor before trying this over-the-counter supplement.

What can I do now?

  • Drink water“Dilution will always be the solution to pollution,” said Dr. Oakley. She said menopausal women really need to drink 64 ounces of water a day for good gut and bladder health. Avoid coffee, tea and sodas, she says.

  • Keep an eye out for inflammation: Estrogen is a natural anti-inflammatory. When estrogen starts to decrease in a body, the joints and other parts of the body start to hurt. Check out anti-inflammatory diets – like the Mediterranean diet – or learn about foods that reduce inflammation like tomatoes, dark chocolate (not a typo), berries, and oily fish (salmon, tuna) .

  • Discover your new food intolerances: OB-GYNs may recommend an elimination FODMAP diet to help with this, bloating, or other gut health issues. Simply put, you stick to a certain list of foods for a few weeks, then reintroduce restricted foods into your diet to see what’s causing problems. You might be surprised to learn which foods you once tolerated without problems and which are now causing you problems. Gluten, enriched flour, dairy products and refined sugar are some examples. Once removed from your diet, you will be shocked to find that your body is not as inflamed and your joints no longer hurt.

  • Phytoestrogen foods: Dr. Oakley recommends incorporating plant-based estrogens into your diet, such as leafy greens, garlic, and soy.

  • Eat clean: Avoid processed foods, fried foods and products containing preservatives. Focus on fresh meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Read labels to see what ingredients are in foods. Replace unhealthy ingredients with healthier versions, such as extra virgin olive oil for vegetable oil, oats, or almond/walnut flour instead of fortified flour or Greek yogurt for cream safe.

  • Protein: Aim to have good protein at every meal. Small changes in macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) can go a long way in controlling weight gain in mid-life.

  • Added sugar, added pounds: Those who follow Dr. Mary Claire Haver, a Certified Culinary Medicine OBGYN, on her various social media platforms have heard her discuss tracking fiber, omega 3, magnesium, and vitamin D intake. She also advises consuming less than 25 grams of added sugar per day. Again, you might be surprised at the amount of extra sugar in some “healthy” foods like yogurt. These added sugars could help create insulin resistance, a major obstacle to maintaining weight.

And after?

Another installment in June will cover fitness, mental health, exercise and cortisol.

Melanie Laughman is a 31-year-old veteran reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer and a dance fitness instructor. Do you have questions you would like answered? Email him at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: How to Manage Menopause Frustration with Nutritional Choices

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