When menstruation ends because to age, or due to the surgical extraction of the reproductive organs, women may face specific health and nutrition problems, many of them related to the loss of the healthy benefits of oestrogens.
Menopause is a physiological stage, and normal in a woman’s life; it usually takes place between the ages of 45 and 55, when the ovaries stop producing ova. It may start with irregular menstrual cycles, and appear with other symptoms, such as hot flushes, night sweats, problems sleeping and vaginal dryness. It also affects bone, cardiac and encephalic health, particularly memory. The reduction of circulating oestrogens limits the body’s capacity to remodel bones, causing a reduction of bone mass, and affects the concentration in blood of lipids, increasing “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and reducing “good” cholesterol (HDL). Additionally, during menopause, there is a redistribution of body fat, with more being located in the central area of the body, and this abdominal fat is related to diseases such as diabetes, arterial hypertension and infarction, and as if that were not enough, losing weight becomes more difficult.
All these changes affect our health, which is understood, according to the WHO, as “a complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not just the absence of disease.”
What can women do when we approach this new stage in life? Adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes diet, the absence of toxic habits and regular practice of physical activities, will be more important than ever. That said, we can give you some tips.
Increase your consumption of pulses. The isoflavones that can be found in these foods are the best-known and most studied phytoestrogens; even though clear conclusions about the effects of isoflavones have not yet been reached, some studies have shown them to have beneficial effects on the levels of cholesterol in plasma, breast cancer and other oestrogen-dependent cancers, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, reduction of hot flushes and recovery of bone mass during menopause.
Do not abuse alcohol. The regular ingestion of alcoholic beverages favours the accumulation of fat in the liver, increasing the abdominal perimeter, and it could irreversibly damage the liver cells. If it is, additionally, accompanied by sugary drinks, there is an additional weight-gain effect.
Avoid quickly absorbed carbohydrates. These are mainly found in refined flours and cereals, sweets, juices, jams… and they are quickly digested and absorbed. The pancreas releases a dose of the hormone called insulin, proportional to the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream; its mission is to send this glucose to the cells of the body, to supply them with energy, but any leftover glucose will be stored as body fat, so that the more you ingest this type of food, the higher your probability of gaining weight.
Reduce your ingestion of fats, and specifically select the most heart healthy. Maintain a daily and rational consumption of foods such as olive oil, and plan weekly menus that contain more fish and nuts than meats.
Increase your consumption of foods that are sources of calcium and vitamin D. The need for this mineral increases in women after menopause. These elements can be found in dairy, sesame, black molasses, nuts and pulses in general, and in lower amounts, in cauliflower, broccoli, spinach and oranges.
Pay attention to and readjust your biological clocks. Many of our biological functions follow periodic rhythms; menstruation is just one example. Age, the circumstances of daily life, and the hormonal changes that accompany menopause all alter the function of the central internal clock (in the brain), and the secondary clocks that depend on it (these are in different organs and tissues).
Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after sundown; this may help you sleep better. Caffeine is one of the factors due to which we currently sleep up to two hours less than some fifty years ago.
To deal with hot flushes, avoid hot beverages.
Combine aerobic physical exercise with strength training. This combination helps you lose excess weight and prevent illnesses associated to excess abdominal fat, and helps reduce the loss of muscle mass that happens with age and with menopause, as well as maintaining the balance between lean mass and fatty mass.
Consider hormone substitution therapy, always with medical prescription. With these oestrogen replacement treatments, the administration of calcium and vitamin D supplements may be indicated.