Diet and menopause: A change for the better
September 6, 1999
Web posted at: 10:04 AM EDT (1404 GMT)
By Elizabeth Somer, R.D.
(WebMD) - Women once suffered symptoms of the "change of life" in silence. But other changes now abound. In addition to menopause losing its taboo status, most of the symptoms are now preventable, or at least can be lessened, by a few simple changes in diet and activity. And with more than 60 million women facing or going through menopause by the year 2020, the news couldn't be better.
The soy connection
Hot flashes are the hallmark of menopause for many women and the external sign of internal swells in estrogen levels.
Estrogen-like compounds, called phytoestrogens, found in soybeans can help offset the drop in estrogen. While not exactly like estrogen, phytoestrogens act much like the female hormone, binding to the body's estrogen receptors and supplementing the effects of estrogen when levels are low. Studies report that hot flashes can be reduced by up to 40 percent when women add soy to their diets. But how much is enough? Preliminary evidence suggests that 15 ounces of soymilk (about 2 cups) or 2 ounces of tofu daily might be all a woman needs to help dampen the hot flash and curb the estrogen swells during menopause.
Food and mood
As hormones fluctuate, so does brain chemistry, including a powerful nerve chemical called serotonin. Peri- and postmenopausal women who struggle with mild depression might have lower serotonin levels than other women. While low levels of the chemical may cause a woman to crave sweets and feel grumpy, an increase in serotonin turns off the cravings and restores a more agreeable mood. If serotonin is at the root of the mood swings, then including a carbohydrate-rich snack, such as a bagel with jam or a bowl of fat-free popcorn, could be all it takes to boost serotonin levels and mood.
Boning up on calcium
During and after menopause, women face some important health issues, including a higher risk of osteoporosis. Women who consumed ample calcium throughout life enter menopause with strong bones and are at lower risk of developing osteoporosis. Unfortunately, most women don't get enough calcium. In fact, one out of every two postmenopausal women consumes less than half the recommended calcium allotment (1,200 mg to 1,500 mg) needed to prevent age-related bone loss.
Nonfat milk or calcium and vitamin D fortified soymilk are good sources of calcium and vitamin D, a nutrient essential for transporting calcium into the bones. Drink at least three glasses a day or take a supplement that contains 500 mg of calcium and no more than 400 IU of vitamin D.
Protect your heart
Your risk for heart disease escalates quickly as estrogen levels drop after menopause. Hormone replacement therapy, diet and exercise can significantly reduce heart disease risk. Adopting a low-fat, high-fiber diet that includes a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, legumes including soybeans and nonfat dairy products, can help keep blood-fat levels low and heart disease at bay.
Apples and pears
Weight gain is a problem after menopause. In addition, postmenopausal women's figures begin to change as they gain more weight above the belt.
Apple-shaped people carry most of their weight in the waist and chest, while pear-shaped people store fat below the belt. Pears are less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and gallbladder disease. Pear-shaped people are also less likely to die prematurely from disease than apple-shaped people. In addition, diseases in pear-shaped people progress more slowly and less seriously than apple-shaped people, even if they have similar body weights and body fat percentages. Therefore, apple-shaped women may want to consider losing as little as 10 percent of their body weight to reduce disease risk.
Should women supplement?
While anyone worth her weight in nutrition credentials will advise women to first turn to food for their nutrition needs, in reality many women don't get enough nutrients in their daily diet from food alone. Approximately one-half of middle-aged women do not consume even two-thirds of the recommended amounts of many vitamins. Marginal dietary intake is linked to many mental, emotional and physical problems, including memory loss, mood swings, depression, irritability, osteoporosis. Taking a moderate-dose multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains extra vitamin E, plus a second supplement of calcium and magnesium, will help provide nutritional insurance.
Elizabeth Somer, R.D., is a registered dietitian and author of several books, including "Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy," "Food & Mood," "Nutrition for Women: The Complete Guide" and "The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals." She is editor-in-chief of "Nutrition Alert!," a newsletter that abstracts current nutrition research from more than 6,000 journals.Copyright 1999 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.
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