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Combating the Side Effects of Menopause With Nutrition

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Women struggling to sleep

Women are unique in that they have several stages of reproductive health. During menopause—the transition period in a woman’s life when her menstrual cycle ends—unpleasant side effects may be experienced such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Memory issues
  • Loss of libido
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Feeling tired
  • Joint pain
  • Insomnia

In addition, longer term issues including bone loss, weight redistribution and muscle loss may occur. To address and manage these side effects, many going through menopause are prescribed hormone replacement therapy by their health care provider. Non-hormonal therapies are also available such as exercising and making changes to your diet including avoiding caffeine.

Nutrients and Supplements

Well-balanced nutrition can play an important role in managing the long-term changes that occur after menopause. Eating a diet containing a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains with lean protein choices can help ensure your body is getting the vitamins, minerals and protein it needs to support a healthy weight and bone health.

Research from The Menopause Journal showed that leptin (a satiety hormone) decreased and ghrelin (a hunger hormone) increased during menopause. To combat weight gain during menopause, consume a healthy balanced diet to meet your energy needs and exercise regularly. Calories may need to be decreased by up to 200 calories per day at age 50 to support weight maintenance. In addition, the Women’s Health Initiative study showed that women who took 1,000 mg calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D daily gained less weight. It is also recommended to avoid over-the-counter weight loss supplements since they are not regulated by the FDA. Instead, focus on eating foods that provide zinc, vitamin C and B vitamins which can help the immune system function and assist with breaking down carbohydrates.

Important Nutrients to Include in Your Diet

  • Zinc: chickpeas, lentils, cashews, shellfish and lean beef
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, strawberries and broccoli
  • B vitamins: carrots, spinach, walnuts and poultry
  • Protein: poultry, fish, lean beef, eggs and low-fat dairy
  • Fiber: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds
  • Omega-3: salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, flax, chia and walnuts

It’s also important to stay hydrated. To determine how much water you should drink daily, divide your weight in pounds by two and drink roughly that many ounces of liquid a day. Read more tips on staying hydrated in our “Hydration 101” article.

To address long-term issues caused by menopause such as poor bone health, ensure adequate calcium and vitamin D intake which increases with age. Ideally calcium intake should come from food and good sources include dairy products, beans and leafy greens. If taking a calcium supplement such as calcium citrate or calcium carbonate, it is best absorbed when taken in amounts of 500 mg or less throughout the day. Also, vitamin D and magnesium can enhance absorption of calcium in the intestines. Vitamin D is also important for bone mineralization and magnesium for optimal muscle function. Magnesium can be found in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds as well as in supplement form. Women 50 and older should focus on taking:

  • 1,200 mg calcium/day
  • 600-800 IU vitamin D/day
  • 320 mg magnesium/day

Physical Activity

Physical activity can help combat weight gain that tends to accumulate around the mid-section. Exercise helps increase muscle mass, which in turn increases metabolism, helping you burn more calories. Regular exercise can also help slow bone loss. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Always consult your physician before starting an exercise program and make sure to get adequate protein in your diet to support your training. Women 50 and older should consume 0.45-0.54 g/pound or about 68-81 g of protein for a 150-pound woman.

Treating Hot Flashes

Treating hot flashes is a big priority for women during menopause. Several recommendations to help treat and or prevent hot flashes include not smoking, limiting alcohol and using caution with caffeine and spicy foods as they can exacerbate hot flashes.

Additional Alternative Therapies

  • Acupuncture may help reduce anxiety, improve sleep and reduce stress.
  • Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds derived from foods such as soy and flaxseed. Try incorporating legumes, soy, tofu, flaxseed and edamame into meals.

While supplements such as black cohosh, St. John’s Wort, ginseng, duzu, wild yam, dong quai, red clover sage and chasteberry are popular, these supplements are not backed by evidence-based research. Instead, talk with your doctor about supplements that are both safe and proven to help with hot flashes and other symptoms you might be feeling while in menopause.

The changes that come with menopause are inevitable. So, try to embrace life and be prepared for the new beginning. Studies show finding a community and talking about it with friends and your doctor helps decrease the severity of symptoms. Learn more ways to help relieve symptoms by visiting the National Institute on Aging.

Schedule a nutrition consultation with a Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist for more information and assistance with creating a healthy eating plan to help you achieve your goals. Call 972.560.2655 or visit cooperclinicnutrition.com.

Article provided by Amber Grapevine, MS, RDN, LD, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition.