Menopause is a natural life stage in every woman’s life and diet is really important to help control and relieve its symptoms.

The long-term effects of the menopause are that the depletion of the hormone oestrogen causes changes to the body leaving women susceptible to health complications such as osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. However, lifestyle changes can reduce these risks and diet is a major influence.

The Menopause And Healthy Eating

The menopause is a mix of metabolic, hormonal and cardiorespiratory changes which increases the risk of:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Osteoporosis

Generally, the advice is to eat a healthy and balanced diet which includes:

  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Starchy carbohydrates
  • Reducing saturated fat, sugar and salt

This advice is given to all women of all ages, but when a female reaches menopausal age there are features of the diet which are particularly important. These factors can help to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular-related events, osteoporosis and help to relieve everyday symptoms.

Our menopause health check is designed for women who believe they are transitioning through the menopause or are at the post-menopause stage.

Your Bones

Up to 20% of bone density can be lost in women in the five to seven years after the menopause. The reduction in bone density is caused by the decreasing levels of oestrogen which helps to protect bone strength.

It is important to remember that although your bone density reduces, the risk of developing osteoporosis remains low until you get older. However, by ensuring you eat the correct foods and get the right amount of necessary nutrients you can manage your bone strength and density.

Calcium

Approximately 40% of the total mineral mass of our bones is calcium. As a result of the body’s natural ageing process, the amount of calcium in the bones declines, particularly in menopausal women.  Therefore, getting the right amount of calcium in the diet is essential. It is reported that we should all try to achieve the maximum amount of bone mass by the age of 25 to help lower our risk of developing osteoporosis.

Sources of calcium include:

  • Dairy products
    • Milk
    • Cheese
    • Yoghurt
  • Green leafy vegetables
    • Watercress
    • Kale
  • Fish eaten with bones
    • Sardines
  • Sesame seeds
  • Fortified foods
    • Bread
    • Breakfast cereal
    • Dairy alternatives

Vitamin D

As well as low oestrogen levels, a reduction in vitamin D is a key factor in predicting bone loss in adults. However, vitamin D is unique in that it is produced in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight. There are few good food sources of vitamin D so it is relatively easy to become vitamin D deficient. Therefore, it is important to get sufficient exposure to sunlight during the months of April to September.

Some dietary sources include:

  • Oily fish
  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Fortified foods like bread, breakfast cereals and dairy products

Calcium and vitamin D work together because our body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Vitamin D increases the absorption of calcium from the intestine which is needed to keep our teeth and bones healthy. If your exposure to the sun is limited then you may wish to consider supplementing your vitamin D intake all year round to reduce your risk of deficiency and keep your bones healthy.

Your Heart

Postmenopausal women are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease or experiencing cardiovascular events such as a heart attack or stroke. The reduction in oestrogen is responsible for the risks posed to the heart after the menopause. Oestrogen helps to protect the arteries by reducing the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. These deposits are responsible for causing heart disease. A reduction in oestrogen also causes the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) to rise more rapidly. Therefore, it is essential to eat a healthy, balanced diet to reduce these risks and help protect your heart.

You can help to protect your heart by:

  • Reducing your saturated fat intake. You should replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat. For example, swap spreads like butter and coconut oil for olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils or spreads made from these oils.
  • Incorporate more fish into your diet, at least twice per week. You should also aim to have one oily fish portion per week too such as sardines, salmon or mackerel.
  • Fibre and whole grains are essential for the diet because it helps to keep our digestive system healthy. Plus, beta glucan which is found in foods such as oats and barley may help to reduce bad cholesterol, particularly if you eat at least 3g per day.
  • Reducing salt intake is good for your heart. Sodium is needed by the body to help keep our muscles and nerves functioning properly, but too much salt and our cardiovascular system can be affected. One of the major effects is it can cause high blood pressure. Always check nutritional food labels to see how much salt is ‘hidden’ in the food you eat. 

Our menopause health check is designed for women who believe they are transitioning through the menopause or are at the post-menopause stage.


References

Alkhatib, A and Klonizakis, M. (2014). Effects of Exercise Training and Mediterranean Diet on Vascular Risk Reduction in Post-Menopausal Women. Clinical Hemorheology and Microcirculation: 57, pp 33-47.

Christakos, S et al. (2011). Vitamin D and Intestinal Calcium Absorption. Mol Cell Endocrinol: 347, pp 25-29.

Fahraeus, L. (1988). The Effects of Estradiol on Blood Lipids and Lipoproteins in Postmenopausal Women. Obstet Gynecol: 72(5 Suppl), 18S-22S.

National Health Service. (2017). Menopause and Your Bone Health. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/menopause-and-your-bone-health/

The Open University. (2017). Nutrition: Vitamins and Minerals.

Veldurthy, V et al. (2016). Vitamin D, Calcium Homeostasis and Aging. Bone Research: 4.