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Can healthy eating help with the menopause

BEAUTY: Jane Seymour, who started her menopause at 47, is one of the few celebrities to have talked about it openly

When we talk about 'the menopause', we talk of hot flushes, weight gain and general malaise. We never talk of positivity, good health or of enjoyment of life.

Menopause makes us miserable. Does this need to be the case? Is this what we have to look forward to if we are not already in or past it?

Why does no word for menopause exist in the Japanese language, however? How come they get away without such misery?

If they suffer menopause, they get a very mild version of what we have been led to expect. Can we do the same?

Read on to find out how you can reduce the severity of all the symptoms that we associate with the menopause.

Why menopause?

When we reach our fifties (usually), our bodies reach the stage of life termed menopause.

Menopause signifies a major drop in oestrogen production. Why? Our ovaries stop releasing eggs and the menstrual cycle ends because we are deemed to be finished the reproductive stage of our lives.

Many women then suffer horrible hot flushes and night sweats as the brain tries to kick-start the ovaries into action by producing dramatic rises in temperature.

We can help control this. The Japanese diet contains 50-100mg of isoflavones per day. These are the active element of phytoestrogens, which are plant (phyto) hormones.

Like us, some plants release hormones that, while significantly less potent than ours, can act a little like the ones in our bodies.

Phytoestrogens bind with oestrogen receptors in cells, which produces a significantly increased 'oestrogenic' effect.

As a result of this, consuming such plant hormones may help to keep our own hormones a little more in balance by acting in a similar way to oestrogen.

If you remember Sex and the City 2, you will be able to picture Samantha endlessly eating yams and the like in order to keep her hormones in balance on holidays (when without her various supplements). We, too, can eat our way to a much better hormone balance.

Eat to ease hot flushes

We get good concentrations of phytoestrogens in foods such as soya milk, soya flour, linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, tofu, tempeh, miso, celery, rhubarb and more.

This list surprises people, I find. Eating really good food can make a really big difference to your hormonal balance as long as you eat these foods consistently.

So use good-quality muesli for breakfast with low-fat soya milk, linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower and sesame seeds.

Eat two to four (depending on need) slices of linseed-rich bread most days.

Have miso soup weekly (instead of Cup a Soup) and dabble in tofu weekly as well (I found a nice pre-marinated one in the freezer section of the supermarket recently – a great addition to a stir-fry).

The beat the symptoms menu

Other symptoms of menopause include tiredness, weight gain, dry skin, depression and irritability. We can also rapidly lose bone mass as a result of flagging oestrogen levels, which can catch up with us later on in life in the form of osteoporotic bones.

To deal with these symptoms, a balanced diet is essential. Also remember:

> Weight-gain is not inevitable.

The only reason we gain weight is that we fail to see that we need to eat a little less every decade as we age (past about 35, in fact).

We also continue to expect to eat three courses when dining out or having crisps in front of the television at night as we might have gotten away with in our thirties.

We need to exercise more than we generally do in order to keep our metabolism at the peak of its capacity.

> Tiredness is exacerbated by low blood sugar and this can have a significant negative effect on our moods.

Eat regularly (three meals will do it), consuming a little protein and high-fibre carbohydrates at each meal to level-load your blood sugar as best as you can.

A day's eating might include the breakfast described above with extra berries added, then a good bread (linseeds within) for lunch with, say, smoked salmon and cream cheese and a rocket salad to accompany – and all this topped with a little full-fat honey and mustard dressing.

Dinner might then constitute a pad Thai (stir-fried noodles with pork vegetables and a dusting of chopped peanuts).

Fruit should be eaten as required, and you should drink plenty of water and tea for hydration purposes.

> Dry skin can come about as a result of withdrawal of oestrogen. Help it by by consuming plenty of vitamin E-rich foods (oil in salad dressing and stir-fry helps here).

Essential fats from oily fish, linseeds and eggs, for instance, are also vital to maintaining skin, hair and nail health.

> Bone health is improved greatly by consistent intake of calcium and its sister nutrient magnesium (these work in tandem to safeguard the strength of your bones).

Vitamin D, as we all know, is also of paramount importance here. Levels of it can be increased by regularly eating oily fish (remember your smoked salmon sandwich) and dairy products (also a source of calcium).

However, we need to avoid depending entirely on animal protein sources because over-consumption of this can result in calcium being leeched from our bones and excreted.

Try (as in the pad Thai) to use smaller amounts of meat than you may be used to.

Adding some nuts or beans into the dish is a great way to bump up your vegetable protein intake during the day.

When thinking bones, we automatically need to think weight-bearing exercises (walking, jogging, circuit training and gardening, but not swimming or cycling because our weight will be in the water or on the bike).

What not to eat?


Try to stay as far away from stimulants as much as you can because they can wreak havoc with your temperature control, especially at night if you suffer from night sweats.

Coffee, alcohol, chocolate and spicy foods can all be problematic. A cup of tea, on the other hand (decaffeinated regular, red bush, herbal or fruit are ideal) accompanied by a handful of nuts and dried fruit could be a great alternative to any of the above.

While menopause might seem inevitable, by eating well, misery is not!