*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. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
April is the ideal month for gathering fresh new nettles. It’s early May as I write this, but I still managed to find some tender young plants to gather the top few leaves from.
The combination of nettles + leeks + baby spinach delivers a light creamy flavoured soup, packed with magnesium, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin K, folate, quercetin and more. All Good Things for energy, levels, mental wellbeing, and coping with stress.
These ingredients made 4 servings of soup:
25g butter (or a dessertspoon of coconut oil if avoidng dairy)
1 medium leek, sliced
1 white onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of minced garlic / 1-2 cloves chopped
2 medium white potatoes cut into cubes
Roughly 80g baby spinach
A bowlful of thoroughly washed nettle tops (the first 4-6 leaves from the top of the stem) – this was about a cereal bowl sized bowl-full
1- 1.5 litre vegetable stock (depending on if you like your soup thick or runny)
Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the onion, leek and garlic and sweat them over a low heat for 5-6mins. Add the spinach, nettles, potato, and stock and simmer for 10mins until the potatoes are soft. Blend, and serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds or pine nuts.
We’ve had smashed avocado, coconut water and kale everything. Smoothies, juice diets, goji berries, and veganism. Now it’s time for 2020 to give us the next big foodie trend. Will it be nettles? Pine needle tea? Or my favourite (and vastly underated) combo of mashed carrot and swede?
According to food trend forecasts from Waitroseand Whole Foods, flexitarian eating styles and plant-based options are set to continue their popularity next year. Research reveals celery juice, tahini and seaweeds are all in increasing demand and could be the next big trends (though I have to say, celery juice excites me about as much as pine needle tea).
These have always had a devoted fan base. Their distinctive taste adds depth and saltiness to soups, stir fry, and casseroles and makes a great sprinkle topping for salads (and chips!). Rich in iodine, zinc, selenium and fibre seaweeds are especially good for mental wellbeing, energy, weight loss and supporting healthy thyroid function if your thyroid is underfunctioning (hypothyroidism).
Seaweeds are an extremely useful source of iodine for those who are dairy-free. Aside from fish and seafood, dairy products are the main source of iodine in most diets. If you’re not regularly eating fish and/or dairy products, aim to include seaweed 2-3 times a week to look after your iodine intake.
Clearspring produce a wide range of seaweed products as do Seagreens. Both companies carefully source and sustainably harvest the seaweeds, ensuring strict high standards of production.
Well known as a key ingredient in houmous, it can be hard to know what to do with any leftover tahini paste. The type of tahini might influence your decision here; there are two types of tahini to choose from based on what sort of sesame seeds have been used. Hulled sesame seeds produce a paler paste, whilst unhulled result in a darker coloured paste and slightly bitter taste.
Nutritionally, it is a great source of protein, B-vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium – great for energy levels, healthy bones, cardiovascular health and hormone balance. A perfect menopause food if ever there was one.
If you’re brimful with houmous, try these suggestions for using up tahini paste;
– Add to salad dressings with olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice
– Spread on griddled aubergine with a dash of soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free)
– Drizzle it over warm falafels
– Make baba ganoush
– Add a spoonful to butternut squash soup for a thick, creamy and slightly nutty taste
– Mix with honey and spread on sourdough toast for a comforting snack
Perhaps my resolution for 2020 could be to get more excited about celery juice. Whilst I love crunching on raw celery sticks (especially smothered in nut butter) the juice just turns me off.
Many of the health benefits of celery come from its fibre content and antioxidant compounds. Celery fibre aids digestion and cholesterol balance, whilst the antioxidants have anti-inflammatory actions, helping protect cells and tissues from damage.
The fibre is lost in celery juice, but vitamins and minerals remain, and celery’s high water content makes it a good base for a mixed veg juice blend.
According to the trend-setting soothsayers other foods to watch in 2020 include fruit based sugar substitutes such as pomegranate syrup and coconut syrup; different kinds of noodles, and unusual types of flour – think cauliflower flour and banana flour rather than plain or self raising.
Let’s see what unfolds over the next twelve months. Maybe there’ll be a late surge for carrots & swede mash after all…
Tell us what will be on your plate in 2020 – come and join the conversations over in the Facebook group. Trendy and non-trendy foods allowed. So long as they taste good.
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