Nutrition and Menopause
For a woman, beginning the journey into menopause can be a time of hormonal mood swings and hot flashes. This can be a sometimes not-so-gentle reminder that it’s time for some nutritional awareness and self-care.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ADRENAL GLANDS
During perimenopause, the hormonal signal between the brain and the ovaries begins to go into flux, reducing the amount of estrogen produced by the ovaries. The adrenal glands, martyrs that they are, produce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin taking over ovarian estrogen production. Excess levels of stress hormones wreak havoc in an already stressed-out body, but this can be reduced through mindful dietary choices.
SIMPLE CARBS – WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN
Simple (refined) carbohydrates like pastas, crackers, cookies, chips, etc. break down quickly and spike blood sugar levels. This can lead to feeling energized and happy. However, it is generally short-lived, as we all know the saying, “what goes up, must come down”. Blood sugar is no exception! Insulin follows a blood sugar spike, signaling the liver and muscle cells to take the sugar in for storage. This is great until too much sugar has been removed, leaving you feeling lethargic, hangry and in need of another sugar rush.
This low is known as a hypoglycemic reaction and is a sign the blood sugar needs to be rebalanced. Which organs volunteer to rebalance the system? Yep, you guessed it, the martyrs – I mean, the adrenals! They release cortisol and adrenaline, which signal the liver to put that stored sugar back into the bloodstream. Lucky for you, however, the hormonal dysregulation you’re already enduring means the bonuses of hot flashes and irritability. Those foods your body handled so well in youth are now a root cause of some peri-menopausal symptoms.
NOTE: Alcohol turns to sugar in the body so that glass of wine you have before bed may very well likely lead to those night sweats you endure between one and three am.
COMPLEX CARBS – THE STABLE CHOICE
Does this mean you can’t have carbohydrates?
NO! Complex carbohydrates, whole grains like brown or black rice, quinoa, beans/legumes, many fruits and of course, vegetables take longer for the body to break down. There is less of a spike in the blood sugar. I like to call this ‘time-released’ sugar. Choosing these foods will help regulate blood sugar and ease the pressure on the adrenal glands
OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER
Fat and protein are wonderful companions to carbohydrates as they help to reduce the severity of a blood sugar spike. Fats should be saturated (coconut oil, lard, or butter from pastured animals) or monounsaturated (olive or avocado oil) for cooking. Seed oils like black currant or evening primrose can be a great supplement to help with night sweats. Of course, consult a practitioner before use.
Protein, which also is ideally pastured, about an hour before bed is a great way to help prevent blood sugar spikes that lead to night sweats.
Lastly, inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, soy and corn are worth considering for removal if symptoms are not getting better with a refined carb-free diet. Inflammation from these foods will cause a release of cortisol from the overworked adrenals, further contributing to blood sugar imbalances.
ABOUT BRENDA GREGORY, MS, FDN-P, NET-P
Brenda is a Functional Medicine Nutritionist who combines the science and philosophies of functional and eastern medicine to get to the root of client health complaints. Issues of healthy weight, autoimmunity, dysregulated mental health, and chronic pain are all symptoms of much deeper issues needing to be addressed by lifestyle changes and healthy habit implementation. Learn more about how you can receive nutritional counseling and assistance from Brenda at Energized Wellness.