*Trumpet fanfare* Yes, I’m pleased (and ridiculously excited) to say that ‘Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause: What to eat to feel good and stay sane’ is available to buy now!
Packed with practical nutrition and lifestyle tips, it’s an easy to use guidebook full of suggestions for navigating the ups and downs of perimenopause and menopause.
Topics covered include: – What is perimenopause? – Signs and symptoms – How perimenopause affects your brain, heart, and bones – Blood sugar balance for energy, weight balance, and managing stress – Key nutrients to include and where to find them – Phytoestrogens: what are they and where to find them – Supplements – Movement & exercise – Sleep tips – Emotional wellbeing Plus, there’s a whole section on references and resources for further help. It’s a cracking read (I know, I’m biased!).
It’s ideal for women in their mid-late 30s/early 40s and heading into perimenopause; for those in the throes of it, or those coming out the other side. And, it’s a helpful book for partners and loved ones to read to help them understand what perimenopause and menopause is like.
Here’s a sneek peek at part of the first chapter…
How are you doing?
How are you really doing?
Did you sleep well or wake every hour with hot flushes?
Are you getting anxious and forgetful?
Do your jeans feel tighter and tighter?
You are not alone. This is what happens as we head towards menopause – as we become ‘menopausers’ (new word, hope you like it).
This messy bit (the bit before the actual menopause which is simply the point in time when we haven’t had a period for a year) is known as perimenopause and can feel like an endurance trial of confusing and random symptoms. From hot flushes, palpitations and anxiety, to weight gain and levels of forgetfulness that cause some menopausers to fear they’re developing dementia: perimenopause doesn’t mess around.
One minute we’re being rational humans, making sensible decisions and knowing what’s what. Next minute we’re bathed in sweat, gripped with anxiety, and biting back tears – usually at the most inappropriate moment.
As hormonal rollercoasters go, perimenopause is as transformational as puberty, only this time around we’ve got a heck of a lot more to juggle compared to those heady teenage years of worrying about what to wear on Friday night and whether we’ll get served in the pub.
This guidebook is a response to the experiences of hundreds of amazing perimenopausal and menopausal clients with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working in my nutrition & lifestyle medicine clinic. Many of these clients were already struggling with long-term health conditions (fatigue, fibromyalgia, underactive thyroid, autoimmunity, digestive problems – sometimes all these combined) before finding themselves in the grip of perimenopause and desperate for help.
Their doctors were suggesting HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and/or an attitude of “it’s your age, just get on with it”. Quite how they were meant ot get on with ‘it’ while facing daily, life-altering symptoms is beyond anyones guess, but there we go. I must add that there are many medical professionals recommending more than just replacement hormones for perimenopause support: counselling for example, or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) – and an increasing number recognise the value of nutritional changes and herbal medicine too.
The wonderful thing about nutrition and lifestyle medicine is that it’s open to all regardless of whether you’re taking HRT or not. We all need to eat, drink, breathe, move, and sleep every day, which means we have endless opportunities to positively influence our hormones via food and lifestyle choices. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Resilience is our ability to bounce back and keep going even during the most challenging times. Building resilience doesn’t mean never stopping to rest or take time out; quite the opposite. It means being aware of your capacity to cope, and taking steps to support this.
We can build our resilience by establishing and nuturing some simple nutrition and lifestyle habits.
Positive habits include:
– Making good food choices; limiting refined sugary foods, including good quality protein and healthy fats, getting those 5 colourful veggies + 2 fruits per day, reducing caffeine and drinking plenty of water…you know the drill!
Use this plate diagram to create balanced meals.
Not every meal will fit the template, but as a general rule aim to cover half your plate with colourful veggies and leafy greens, and divide the other half equally between wholegrains/root veg, and good quality sources of protein.
– Being protective about rest & relaxation time and scheduling in downtime every day. It’s so easy to end up staring at the TV or scrolling Facebook at the end of a busy day. But this isn’t relaxation time; your brain is busy processing all the information coming at it through the TV or internet. To give your mind a break try: – relaxing in a warm Epsom salt bath – listening to your favourite tunes – following a guided meditation – or immersing yourself in a good book instead.
– Getting outdoors in the fresh air and natural daylight every day. This may be for a gentle walk / jog / run / outdoor Yoga / Qi Gong – whatever type of movement you enjoy. When possible, get outdoors for at least 30mins before midday. Enjoying natural daylight in the morning helps the brain to register the change in light at dusk and start winding down for sleep.
Nutrition-wise, two key nutrients that support our resilience are vitamin B5 and vitamin C. These two vitamins are used in energy production and manufacture of stress hormones in the adrenal glands. When we’re under a lot of ongoing stress we need to ensure plentiful supplies of these nutrients to support the adrenals.
If you’re feeling the strain of ongoing stress think about which of these tips you can start to implement in your daily routine. Pick one that resonates with you the most, then after a few days of practising it add in another. And do let me know how you get on.
Ginger is a fabulous spice for digestive health. It has a long history of traditional use for easing nausea, wind, bloating, and indigestion, and promoting the secretion of digestive juices that help breakdown food. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used to ignite the “digestive fire” to aid sluggish digestion and support healthy metabolism.
This simple recipe for ginger pickle comes form nutritionist and Ayurvedic practitioner Sabine Horner at Asana Nutrition. There’s only 3 ingredients – fresh ginger, lime juice, and salt – and it keeps for up to a week in the fridge. If you’re experiencing bloating, indigestion, wind, or a sluggish digestion, enjoy a slice of this pickle before each meal to give your digestion a helping hand.
Preparation time: 5 minutes Ingredients:
approx.. 2 inch of fresh ginger (peeled)
2 pinch of mineral salt
Instructions Slice the ginger into long, thin strips and place in a jar. Cover the slices with the juice of half a lime and sprinkle with some salt to marinate. Shake well and keep in the fridge for up to a week. Eat one slice of pickled ginger before lunch and dinner.
Find out more about why and how these ingredients work so well together to support digestion in this short video from Sabine. And to find out more about Sabine’s work, catch her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07539347643 or on:
For real bread lovers, giving up the loaf is one of the hardest changes to make when going gluten free. The smell, texture, crust, and crumb are impossible to replicate in gluten free versions, and the results can be disappointing.
So what to eat instead?
Here are 6 interesting and tasty naturally gluten free alternatives to bread…
Sweet potato toast – simple and ever so easy to make. Slice a sweet potato lengthways into 5mm thick slices. Pop them in a toaster or under the grill, and toast until golden and slightly crispy. Top with nut butter, butter, tuna mayonnaise, mashed sardines, poached egg…
Nori sheets bring some sushi flavours to your meal with nori wraps. Nori, like all sea vegetables, is rich in iodine, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, plus several different B-vitamins. It also contains fucans, a type of carbohydrate unique to sea vegetables that has anti-inflammatory and immune-supporting benefits. To use the nori sheets, lay them out flat and top with shredded vegetables, meat or fish, houmous, salad leaves, and maybe some pickles or sauerkraut. Or go full on sushi and make your own sushi rolls!
Socca – also called farinata, this is a simple flatbread made from chickpea (garbanzo) flour, oil, water, and a dash of salt. Add herbs and spices as you wish for extra flavour. There’s recipes available here and here.
Crackers – there’s so many to choose from now; rice ,corn, oat (make sure they are certified gluten free), buckwheat – we need never get bored with crackers again.
Flaxseed muffins – packed with fibre, protein, essential fats, and phytoestrogens, ground flax is your hormone-balancing friend. These muffins are ideal for breakfast or a light, balanced, snack. This recipe is from There Is Life After Wheat
Gluten free scones can be savoury or sweet, as these recipes from Jody Vassallo on the Jamie Oliver blog show. For the savoury version, if pumpkin isn’t in season try using mashed sweet potato or butternut squash instead.
Do you have a favourite gluten free alternative to bread? Let me know in the comments below or over on FB or Twitter!
One of the most important things I’ve learned from both naturopathic nutrition and Yoga is that every part of the body is connected. We are one big moving part. Nothing in the body exists in isolation. Gut, brain, heart, hormones, immunity, muscles, bones, lungs, liver, skin; every organ and system is communicating with one another.
Whether its via hormonal messages, nerve fibres, fascia, or microbial metabolites: communication is constant.
I recently had the pleasure of talking about these incredible interconnections for a podcast (more details to follow on this). The podcast focuses on the links between the gut, brain, hormone balance, and the immune system. I like to make notes before I do any kind of talk, so I drew a mind-map of the links between these areas. It ended up large and colourful…
And this is just the basic links, there are plenty more that wouldn’t fit on the page!
The Gut is the Foundation
The gut is always the first place to start when looking at a health issue. Whether its mental health, low immunity, hormone imbalance, or any kind of inflammation – look at the gut first. As the mind-map shows, this is where nutrient absorption takes place, and the elimination of waste (including old hormones). You can eat all the right foods and take top quality supplements, but if you’re not absorbing them well enough, or clearing out your waste each day, improvement will be very slow.
Our gut microbes (the microbiome) play a huge role in regulating our immune response, managing inflammation, and influencing mood. They communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, the ‘super highway’ communication channel between gut and brain. Anything that upsets the microbiome – stress, infection, antibiotics – can affect mood and immunity.
Hormones are the chemical messengers zooming instructions around the body. When it comes to stress, cortisol is the main player. Ongoing high levels of cortisol can compromise our digestion making us more prone to gut problems like bloating, indigestion, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It also affects immunity, increasing the risk of infections, and hampering recovery. If we don’t learn how to manage ongoing stress, our mental resilience starts to wear thin too. Eventually this can lead to anxiety, depression, and burn-out.
Fluctuating oestrogen levels during the pre-menstrual phase (PMS) and perimenopause can affect gut health and mental wellbeing. High levels of oestrogen can be a triggering factor for migraines and PMS, while low levels lead to different symptoms depending on which part of the brain is affected. For example hot flushes, one of the characteristic symptoms of perimenopause, are triggered when there isn’t enough oestrogen reaching the hypothalamus, our central temperature regulator. Too little oestrogen in the amygdala can lead to anxiety, which in turn increases our sense of feeling threatened and stressed and upregulates cortisol production.
Balancing the connections
If you can make out my scrawls on the diagram, you’ll notice there’s a lot of crossover between the nutrients that support each area – gut, mental health, hormones, and immunity. Including these nutrients on a daily basis supplies your body with the tools it needs to: – Build hormones – Manage inflammation – Maintain immune balance – Support neurotransmitters – Detoxify hormones – Nuture the gut microbiome
Food connects us with ourselves, and enables our internal communications to run smoothly.
If you’re dealing with symptoms in any of the areas mentioned on the diagram, look at your food choices and see where you can make some simple swaps to include more of these key nutrients. This table lists some of the top sources so you can mix and match and enjoy the variety…
Supporting Vagal tone
Alongside all these good foods, think about ways to incorporate more relaxation and mindfulness into your daily life. When we’re busy and stressed we are spending the majority of our time in the fight-flight-freeze response; the sympathetic nervous system. For our health, we need to balance this by switching to the parasympathetic response: rest-digest-heal. The vagus nerve plays a big role here, and anything that activates it will help. Taking a few slow deep breaths is the quickest and easiest way to do this because the brain thinks “ah, we can’t be in immediate danger, we’re breathing too slowly!” Singing is another good technique (not always practical in the middle of a work meeting though) and doing meditative movements such as yoga and Qi Gong.
Look at ways to fit pockets of relaxation time into your day. A short walk in the park at lunchtime, ten minutes of mindful meditation after work, taking 5 slow deep breaths before each meal – that sort of thing. The benefits of these little pockets soon builds up and you’ll feel calmer and more resilient.