Managing Menopause Part 5: Answering Your Top 5 Questions
Dietitians answer your questions about menopause
Written by Teagan Evans, University of Alberta Student in the Nutrition and Food Sciences program and reviewed by our Health Stand Nutrition Dietitian Team
Welcome back to Managing Menopause! In Part 1: What is It? and Part 2: Estrogen & Your Health, we discussed the hormonal changes occurring during menopause and some of the associated long-term health effects. In Part 3: Foods for Menopause we looked at how different foods affect the symptoms of menopause and in Part 4: Vitamins & Minerals we examined what foods contain the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs during menopause. In this, the conclusion to the Managing Menopause series, we share the top five questions we get from people experiencing menopause.
What are some of the long-term health effects of menopause?
If you have been following along with our previous blog posts, you will know that menopause involves changes to female hormone production. As estrogen levels decrease, the protective effect of estrogen in women is reduced and as a result menopausal women are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and weight gain.
While these health effects can sound frightening, there are actions you can take to reduce your risk and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and healthy fats is a great way to reduce your risk of these conditions. As well, participating in physical activity and stress-reducing activities can help you become healthier.
For a more detailed explanation of the long-term health effects of menopause, read Part 2 of Managing Menopause.
What are some natural supplement options that can help manage menopausal symptoms?
There are many natural, plant-based supplements that are documented as helping to manage menopausal symptoms. Here are 4 of the most popular supplements. It is important to note that many herbal supplements have not gone through rigorous scientific testing. You should always consult your doctor and / or Dietitian prior to buying or trying one of these supplements.
Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemose) is derived from a flowering plant and the roots are used to create a herbal supplement found in both liquid and pill forms. This supplement is used to help manage menopausal hot flashes but has mixed results on its effectiveness. Many women believe that oral consumption of Black Cohosh has helped reduce severity of hot flashes.
Scientific studies have not been able to determine a strong connection between the reduction of menopausal symptoms with the consumption of Black Cohosh. Part of this conclusion is based on the minimal understanding of the physiological mechanisms that occur once Black Cohosh is consumed. Ingestion of Black Cohosh has minimal health risks and the most common side effects are gastrointestinal upsets and rashes. However, Black Cohosh can cause harm to the liver in some individuals.
Red Clover (Trifolium pretense) is an herbal supplement that has been used to reduce the severity and incidence of hot flashes and risk of osteoporosis. Red Clover contains isoflavones which can have a similar structure to female estrogen. As a result, it is believed that Red Clover can reduce estrogen-associated menopausal symptoms because it can mimic the female hormone. Menopausal women are at risk for osteoporosis and Red Clover could decrease bone loss when consumed orally.
Research studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of Red Clover on both menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis. Study results have concluded Red Clover does not have a significant effect on hot flashes when compared to a placebo treatment. However, another study found that consumption of Red Clover positively benefited bone density. Side effects of Red Clover consumption are minimal but studies are still trying to determine the long-term effects of Red Clover on hormone-sensitive tissues.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening Primrose Oil (Oenothera biennis) is often consumed to aid treatment of menopausal hot flashes. The belief behind the use of Evening Primrose Oil is that the herbal supplement contains a precursor to a compound called prostaglandin E – which can potentially reduce hot flashes.
Evening Primrose Oil has been associated with significant side effects that include gastrointestinal upsets, blood clotting, inflammation, immune system disruptions, and seizures. Studies have found that there is no significant changes in menopausal hot flashes when patients consumed Evening Primrose Oil.
Ginseng (Panax ginseng or Panax quinquefolius) is a popular herbal supplement that is often used for immune support and is now being studied for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. Ginseng has been shown to aid menopausal insomnia and mood changes. With minimal side effects, ginseng is a relatively safe supplement and can be found in pill form.
Ginseng has been studied more than the majority of other menopausal herbal supplements due to its popularity, but researchers have been unable to draw cohesive conclusions on the effectiveness against menopausal symptoms.
What can I do to help my menopausal insomnia?
Insomnia is a common menopausal symptom and is caused by decreased levels of estrogen. Estrogen influences nightly body temperature and structure of sleep cycles. When estrogen levels are inconsistent and decreasing, these regulatory systems are impacted and can lead to night sweats and an inability to remain asleep. Other sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can also impact menopauseal insomnia. When sleep is negatively impacted, it can cause increased irritability, mood swings, and stress.
Fortunately, there are many techniques that can help you reduce menopausal insomnia. Here are some activities and routines that can help you get a better night’s sleep.
Studies have shown that women who engaged in a regular exercise routine had lower incidences of menopausal insomnia. Exercise should include a variety of activities that incorporate both strength and cardiovascular training. Health Canada recommends completing 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
Maintaining a bedtime routine
There are many distractions that can impact your sleep and increase risk of insomnia. Reducing screen time and blue light activity 30 minutes prior to bed can help your brain relax and achieve a more restful sleep. Going to bed at the same time every night and taking time to relax prior to bedtime can help you stay asleep.
Minimize caffeine and alcohol
Both caffeine and alcohol (even if small amounts) can negatively impact your sleep cycles and should be minimized or eliminated prior to bed. Caffeine can reduce drowsiness and harm your ability to fall asleep. While alcohol can feel as if it is helping you become sleepy and ready for bed, it interferes with your ability to have a high-quality sleep.
You may also want to read our previous articles about sleep & food:
Is it normal to have memory loss or cognitive changes during menopause?
Memory changes are both a symptom of menopause and normal physiological aging. Menopausal women have recorded higher incidences of memory loss episodes that include but are not limited to forgetting tasks, numbers, and names. Estrogen levels may be related to the cognitive declines associated with menopausal women.
Cognitive changes are a natural part of aging and memory loss during menopause can also originate from lack of sleep, aging, and increased stress. Studies have found engaging in yoga, meditation, mindfulness and other relaxation techniques can be beneficial for managing menopausal cognitive changes.
How do I know if my menopausal symptoms are normal?
Knowing the common signs and symptoms are menopause is important to having a better understanding of the changes your body is going through. Here are the most common menopause symptoms:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings – particularly an increase in depressive mood
- Decreased libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain (often in abdominal section)
- Body composition changes
Keeping a menopause log can help you better understand your own menopause experience and be able to detect any changes that occur. Noting down menstrual cycles, symptoms, sleep records, and food/activities that both worsen and improve symptoms are great starting points.
By documenting your menopause experience, you can learn how to manage symptoms more accurately and recognize changes. If you have specific questions about menopause or notice major symptom changes, it’s always best to contact your Doctor and work with a Registered Dietitian for nutrition related questions.
Read the previous Managing Menopause articles here:
- Part 1: What is it
- Part 2: Estrogen & Your Health
- Part 3: Foods for Menopause
- Part 4: Vitamins & Minerals
If you need nutrition for menopause support please reach out for help. Our Registered Dietitian team can assist you with your health and nutrition goals and help you to achieve your personal best weight (still eating foods you love). For more information please visit our personal nutrition counseling services by our Calgary Dietitian / Online Nutritionist team.
Looking for more simple meal planning tips and healthy recipes for a healthier lifestyle? Sign up for our weekly newsletter for a healthy recipe of the week (and nutrition articles and videos with a balanced living philosophy to help encourage healthy habits but still save room for your favorites). Our nutrition newsletter is written by the Online / Calgary Nutritionists on our team who each hold a professional Registered Dietitian license to ensure you are getting credible advice.