Unexplained weight gain? Yuck. Here are nutrition options to help with menopause threats.

Menopause comes on so gradually that we almost don’t know what’s going on until our body weight changes and nothing we’ve done to control our weight works anymore.

The Type A personalities in us can’t understand why eating the exact same things and exercising exactly the same way isn’t producing the results it once did. Other menopause threats begin to emerge – hot flashes, sweating, body aches, insomnia – which open up a hole of helplessness and frustration.

Dr. Susan Oakley, a urogynecologist in St. Elizabeth, who specializes in pelvic reconstructive surgery, addresses these concerns and more in her podcast, The Lady Bod. With your input and other resources, The Enquirer would like to help women cope with menopause as it relates to diet and fitness. (Middle-aged men can use these eating tips too)

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

What are some 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 ages 40 and 44, but can happen as early as age 30. Night sweats, belly fat, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, changes in body fat distribution, sleep changes and weight gain are the best known symptoms of this stage of life.

Some, however, you don’t necessarily see coming: joint pain. Food intolerances. Hair growth and hair loss in unwanted places. Mental confusion. Pelvic muscle spasms (vaginismus). Gum disease. Body smell. Tingling in the extremities. Heart palpitations.

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

What is leptin and how does it affect menopause?

A lesser-known hormone that gets a little bumpy at menopause is leptin, which declines along with estrogen. Leptin, in short, is your body’s stop signal that lets you know when you’ve had enough to eat. Binge eating and restrictive diets can be causes of imbalance in leptin levels.

You might be eating healthy foods but not paying attention to how much you’re eating because, well, you don’t feel full. Eat lots 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 help with insulin resistance?

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

It is sometimes not possible for menopausal women to get all the nutrients they need through their diet, so supplementation is vital. Vitamins and supplements are considered medications when filling out doctor or hospital paperwork, so check with your primary care physician to see if any of these suggested nutrients, in food or supplement form, are right for you. Here’s a sampling of supplements that can help before and after menopause.

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

  • Vitamin D – While vitamin D can best be found through exposure to sunlight, the vitamin can help menopausal women with inflammation, hot flashes, keeping the brain focused, depression, bone health, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Many foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, cereals and orange juice, but it can also be found in fatty fish such as salmon.

  • Omega 3 – Women who suffer from joint pain, hot flashes, depression, vaginal dryness, and osteoporosis can find relief by consuming omega-3 fatty acids. It also helps lower triglycerides, which is healthy for your heart. Foods rich in omega-3s include chia seeds, flax seeds, oily fish like tuna or sardines, nuts, spinach, eggs and soybeans.

  • Calcium – Another important reason to take Vitamin D is to help with the absorption of 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 – Best known for boosting immunity, vitamin C is also important for collagen production in the body, which is essential for skin vitality. The antioxidant nutrient is another way to help with hot flashes.

  • Biotin –

  • Vitamin B 6 or 12

  • Turmeric –

  • prenatal vitamin – The Doctor. Oakley said you can get most, if not all, of these supplements simply by taking a prenatal vitamin, which doesn’t just have to be used for pregnant women.

  • Estroven – She also suggested using Estroven, an herbal supplement that helps relieve common symptoms. Depending on the version purchased, the product may target specific symptoms or provide complete help. She said that some oncologists may not recommend this 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 bowel and bladder health. Avoid coffee, tea and soda, she said.

  • 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 which foods reduce inflammation, like tomatoes, dark chocolate (not a typo), berries, and fatty fish (salmon, tuna).

  • Discover your new food intolerances: OB-GYNs may recommend a FODMAP elimination diet to help with this task, bloating, or other gut health issues. Simply put, you follow a certain food list for a few weeks and then reintroduce restricted foods into your diet to see what causes problems. You may be surprised to learn which foods you tolerated with no problems are now giving you trouble. 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 don’t hurt like they used to.

  • Phytoestrogen foods: doctor 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 with preservatives. Focus on fresh meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Read labels to see what ingredients are in foods. Substitute unhealthy ingredients for healthier versions, such as extra virgin olive oil for vegetable oil, oat or almond/walnut flour instead of enriched flour, or Greek yogurt for sour cream.

  • Protein: Be intentional about having good protein at every meal. Small changes in macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) can go a long way toward controlling midlife weight gain.

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

What is the next?

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

Melanie Laughman is a 31-year veteran Cincinnati Enquirer journalist and dance instructor. Have a question you’d like to see answered? Email her at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer: Dealing with Menopause Frustration Through Nutritional Choices

Unexplained weight gain? Yuck. Here are nutrition options to help with menopause threats.

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