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26 Oct, 2020

Using Food to Support During Perimenopause and Beyond

We speak to Le’Nise Brothers, registered nutritionist, specialising in women’s health, about how we can use food to support us during perimenopause and beyond.

Health

As we move into our 40s, many of us start to feel like we’ve got things sorted. We’ve got careers that we’re flying through, we have a better sense of who we are, what we like and what we don’t like and we’re finally feeling as though our periods and menstrual cycles are under control.

When perimenopause starts to creep in, it can feel very jarring. Perimenopause is the transition into menopause, which can start as early as the late 30s, but more typically around the mid 40s. Menopause starts when menstruation has ceased for at least 12 months.

During perimenopause, you may experience changes in moods throughout your menstrual cycle, rather than towards the end. Hot flashes at random times during the day and night. Regular periods may start to become irregular or heavy. Sleep may go from deep and restorative to unpredictable.

If you’re not yet at this stage of your life, understanding and supporting your menstrual cycle through positive nutrition, lifestyle and movement choices now can create a really powerful foundation for the changes to come.

If you’re already here or you’re further along the line into menopause or post-menopause, here are four areas where food can support you as you go through these life changes.

Support Your Bones

During our menstruating years, we produce the majority of our bone protecting oestrogen from our ovaries. During perimenopause, oestradiol, the primary form of oestrogen during our menstruating years starts to decline, increasing the risk of bone loss and osteoporosis. It’s so important to actively support our bones, which are a living tissue, through food, movement (weight bearing exercise such as yoga, pilates and simple squats and lunges are helpful!) and supplementation.

When it comes to protecting our bones, calcium tends to be the nutrient we always think of. Adding vitamin D and K into the mix helps us pack a bigger bone protecting punch.

Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and has a positive effect on bone mineral density, which declines as we move through our menopausal years. Vitamin D (which is actually a hormone, not a vitamin!) is synthesised primarily from the sun during March to September through at least 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure each day. During the winter months when we get far less from the sun, we can support our vitamin D levels through a good daily supplement and the addition of foods such as organic dairy, mushrooms, eggs, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, haddock and herring - use the acronym SMASHH to remember!).

Vitamin K is also important for bone metabolism and turnover. We can increase of vitamin K levels through dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower and fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut and miso.

Calcium helps support bone metabolism and is best absorbed through food rather than supplements. There are a range of plant-based calcium sources such as almonds, sesame seeds, dark leafy greens and of course, organic dairy such as cheese, yoghurt and kefir.

Recommended recipes:

Salmon Burger with Broccoli and Kale

Roasted Hispi Cabbage & Bean Salad with Quick Kimchi

Support Your Adrenals

As oestradiol production declines from our ovaries, our bodies become more reliant on another form of oestrogen called oestrone. This is produced in our adrenals, the two triangle shaped glands that sit on top of our kidneys, as well as in our ovaries and fat tissue.

We also produce cortisol, one of our stress hormones, in our adrenal glands. Committing to stress reducing practices such as deep breathing, walking in nature and yoga throughout our lives are helpful ways to help balance our cortisol production. This becomes even more important during perimenopause and menopause because we need our adrenals to be healthy to produce oestrone and progesterone.

Vitamin C supports the health of our adrenals because it is needed for oestrone and progesterone production. Citrus fruits such as oranges, kumquats, pomelos, tangerines, lemons and limes are the most widely known vitamin C foods, however berries, red and yellow peppers, broccoli and kiwi are also great ways to get this important vitamin into your meals.

Recommended recipes:

Orange, Kale & Popped Butterbean Salad

Black Bean Feijoada

Buckwheat Pasta with Broccoli & Pesto

Support Your Hair and Skin

Changes in our hair and skin can often be one of the most frustrating symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. We can go from feeling bright and glossy during ovulation to having dry skin and thin and brittle hair, which can take a toll on our self-esteem and self-worth.

Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E are a great way of supporting skin and hair health. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in oily fish (remember that acronym SMASSH?), algae and flaxseeds also have the additional benefits of supporting mental health and reducing hot flashes.

Eating a wide variety of complete protein sources each day can also help because these foods contain the amino acids that help form keratin, the protein that is the building block of hair growth. To support hair growth, try adding some of these foods into your daily meals: free-range, organic red meat and poultry, eggs, quinoa, organic yoghurt, cheese and kefir, buckwheat and fermented soy and tempeh.

Recommended recipes:

Egg Fried Rice & Quinoa

Salmon & Cauliflower Pizza

Chicken & Pearl Barley Stew

Support Your Mental Health

The transition into perimenopause and menopause can often have a destabilising effect on our mental health. Declining oestradiol can contribute to low moods, brain fog and anxiety, hot flashes, all of which can make us feel like our body is not our own anymore.

Adding phytoestrogens, plant-based oestrogen sources can have a positive effect on these symptoms because they can have an oestrogen-like effect in the body.

Flaxseeds are a great source of phytoestrogens and can be easily added to a morning bowl of porridge or a smoothie. Lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, sesame seeds, oats, fermented tofu, miso, garlic, cauliflower, broccoli and berries.

Recommended recipes:

Squash & Flaxseed Bread

Warm Lentil & Chickpea Salad

Garlicky Lentil Stew

Coconut Dal

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Le’Nise Brothers is a registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCHNC, specialising in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle, yoga teacher and host of the Period Story podcast. She works with women who want to get control of sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne, bloating and headaches, as well as increase their energy levels.

Le’Nise has helped many women with hormonal issues ranging from PMS, PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis, heavy, painful, missing & irregular periods, post-natal depletion, perimenopause and menopause. She set up her practice Eat Love Move to help empower and educate women to understand their bodies, advocate for better healthcare and heal.

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