Eating And Lifestyle For Better Hormone Health In Peri-Menopause
While women’s hormone health is always foundational to overall wellness, a time called perimenopause—the years before menopause, when the ovaries begin to make less oestrogen—is characterized by significant hormonal shifts, in addition to negative symptoms including anxiety, depression, night sweats, and more. .By consuming larger amounts of cruciferous vegetables, which “promote estrogen metabolism and detoxification in the liver,” the article mentions incorporating flaxseed into routines, focusing on foods that support bone health, eating plenty of omega-3-rich foods, and replacing simple & processed sugars with more high-fiber complex carbohydrates. Overall, the research supports a strong focus on foods that “decrease inflammation, support a healthy mood, and balance hormones and insulin levels.”
Here at Compounding Lab , we’re all about women’s hormone health. We strongly believe that our hormones benefit from a healthy lifestyle and that every green smoothie, yoga , pilates class, and minute of meditation matters. But there’s a time in every woman’s hormonal life—called perimenopause—that’s long been overlooked. This era is marked by big hormonal shifts that can greatly affect quality of life, causing a lot of anxiety and discomfort. So this week, lets get down and dirty and uncover our hormones so that we’re all more informed and empowered.
So perimenopause refers to the years that precede menopause, when women can experience unwelcome symptoms of hormones changing like night sweats, mood swings, irritability, depression, missed or heavy periods, and vaginal dryness. These symptoms are no walk in the park! Most women start experiencing perimenopause n their mid-40s, but for some women it will begin as early as their 30s.
So what’s happening to your hormones during this time? During perimenopause, oestrogen and progesterone hormones start to decrease. Progesterone tends to drop first, and oestrogen can fluctuate up and down until it settles. You can’t avoid these hormonal changes altogether, but you can do a lot to empower yourself with specific dietary and lifestyle choices that help you feel more like yourself. Here are some important foods I tell women to focus on during this time in your life:
1. Load Up On Cuciferous Vegetables.
In the early stages of perimenopause, progesterone drops faster than oestrogen. This can lead to oestrogen dominance, or a higher oestrogen level compared to progesterone. During this phase, it’s important to support the body’s ability to metabolize oestrogen properly, and vegetables from the cruciferous family are best at that. “Rich in indole 3-carbinol and chlorophyll, these veggies promote oestrogen metabolism and detoxification in the liver, shifting ‘dirty’ oestrogens to ‘clean’ oestrogens,” I recommend eating cruciferous vegetables on a daily basis during perimenopause. If you’re not used to consuming this type of vegetable and need some inspiration, try sautéing and incorporating broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy into omelets and stir-fries. You can also mix raw shredded broccoli, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts into your salads. One of my favorite substitutes is to make cauliflower rice instead of mashed potatoes or white rice for more fiber and fewer carbs. Or, simply snack on cruciferous veggies alone or dipped in guacamole or hummus. If they cause gas or bloating, start slowly and stick with cooked forms, as cooking these cruciferous veggies makes them easier for your digestive system to tolerate. If you can’t tolerate them FIX your GUT girls.
2. Eat Protein-Rich Foods At Every Single Meal , Especially Breakfast At Around 10am
Blood sugar issues during perimenopause will worsen your mood swings, increase irritability, and stress your adrenals. Eating protein at every meal will stabilize blood sugar and reduce the spikes and crashes, which will also help you lose weight, prevent weight gain, and reduce your risk for insulin resistance, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Protein also helps you stay full and burn more calories without feeling deprived or constantly hungry. Your muscle mass and bone density take a hit as you enter menopause, and getting enough protein in your day, along with resistance training or weights will preserve them and reduce their decline. The best high-protein foods to incorporate into your diet are pastured eggs, wild-caught fish, lean poultry, grass-fed meats, and legumes (if you can tolerate them). Aim for 21 to 28 grams of protein at each meal, including breakfast. Skip the morning pastry and have a savory breakfast like a vegetable omelet or organic, preservative-free turkey or chicken sausage with some broccoli or cauliflower. If you like oatmeal, add high-protein nuts and seeds like almond butter, hemp, or pumpkin seeds for a delicious and high-protein treat.
3. Incorporate Flaxseed Into Your Routine.
Flaxseed can be one of the most supportive superfoods throughout perimenopause. Carper frequently recommends it in the later perimenopause stages as it contains lignans, which are phytoestrogens, weaker plant-based oestrogens that provide gentle oestrogen support when estrogen is waning. Conversely, she adds, “it can act adaptively and block oestrogen when oestrogen dominance is present in the earlier stages.” That said, if adding flaxseed worsens your periods, mood swings, breast tenderness, or other symptoms you’re experiencing, it may be amplifying your oestrogen dominance, and you should discontinue use. Expert tip: Always grind flaxseeds to reap the benefits, as we don’t have the digestive enzymes needed to break down the outer shell. If possible, buy them whole, grind them in small batches every few days, and store in the fridge to maximize freshness. Flaxseeds can be enjoyed in smoothies, as an egg replacement in vegan or egg-free recipes, or simply added to casseroles or Greek yogurt. If you’re into healthy baked goods, you can also use ground flaxseed to replace white or processed flours in muffins and other baked goods to increase fiber and protein.
4. Focus On Foods That Support Bone Health.
OEstrogen protects against bone loss, so when it starts to drop, women are at an increased risk for osteoporosis. This means that perimenopause is a very important time to support your bone health to prevent osteoporosis and its complications. You can do this in a few ways, but this first is by eating calcium-rich foods. If you choose and tolerate dairy, eat two servings per day and choose organic or grass-fed varieties. Plain or Greek yogurt are great options as they also contain live bacteria that support the gut. Skip sweetened and fruit-flavored yogurts and mix in chopped cucumber and fresh herbs instead of fruit as a savory snack. Plain cottage cheese and aged cheeses without additives or colorings are good sources of calcium and protein as well. If you don’t tolerate dairy, there are many nondairy calcium-rich foods to choose from. Try broccoli, bok choy, collard greens, kale, almonds, and canned salmon and sardines with bones. Many of these foods contain vitamin D, which helps your body absorb the calcium, but I find that most of my patients are who are defiecnet in Vit D need to supplement for optimal bone health—especially during perimenopause. To continue to support your bone health during perimenopause, ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels and take a dose that’s right for you. Aim for 120 level. Two other often overlooked nutrients critical for bone health are magnesium and vitamin K2. Magnesium, found in nuts, legumes, leafy greens, and dark chocolate, is another mineral that makes up your bones. Vitamin K2, found in natto (fermented soy), egg yolks, cheese, and butter, tells your body to deposit the calcium in your bones, not your arteries or other organs. Just like vitamin D, food doesn’t typically provide an adequate amount of vitamin K2. Because of the emerging research on its role in bone health—as well as heart disease and diabetes—I recommend that women during and after perimenopause add a high-quality vitamin K2 supplement to their daily routine.
5. Don’t Forget Omega-3-Rich Foods.
During the transition to menopause, try to eat 4 ounces of omega-3-rich fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, cod, and trout twice a week. Research shows that EPA and DHA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, reduce inflammation, improve mood, and reduce depression. They also reduce the risk for heart disease, another condition that women become at higher risk for after perimenopause. But what about plant-based omega-3s like walnuts and flaxseed? These foods contain the plant-based omega-3 ALA, which needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in order for you to receive the benefits. This means that nut-based omega-3s don’t replace fish-based ones, but they are still a great source of healthy fats and fiber. If you’re at an increased risk of heart disease or don’t like eating fish, ask your doctor about starting a high-quality fish oil supplement.
6. Eat More High-Fiber Complex Carbohydrates (Because Not All Carbs Are Bad).
Cutting out simple and processed sugars and replacing them with high-fiber complex carbohydrates will help balance your blood sugar during perimenopause. Healthy carbohydrates can also reduce mood swings, irritability, and depression and HOT Flushes. They increase the production of serotonin, one of the happy, feed-good hormones. I find that the best types and amounts of carbohydrates will vary from one person to another, as several things must be factored in like your medical history, activity level, and digestive health. If tolerated, beans, lentils, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and other whole grains a few times a week are good options. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, pumpkin , carrots, beets, winter squashes, and other root vegetables are great choices because they are rich in nutrients and fiber. By focusing on these foods—which can help decrease inflammation, support a healthy mood, and balance hormones and insulin levels—perimenopause doesn’t have to be something we dread. In fact, entering perimenopause is a great excuse to prioritize cooking at home, learning to love healthy foods and exercise, and generally taking a little extra care of yourself. That doesn’t sound like anything we should be afraid of!
Lets talk about an issue that all of us have to face after a certain point in our lives: COGNITIVE DECLINE.
As we grow and develop from children to young adults, there is a palpable upward trend in our mental development and ability, and there is a sense that we are always growing to some greater height. Unfortunately, this trend can’t go on forever, and it is all too clear as the decades progress, that our minds are never going to be quite what they were.
SOME OF THE QUESTIONS WE FACE:
- What is the process behind this gradual cognitive decline?
- What are the factors involved? Are there any in our control?
- Can we slow or stop this process in order to preserve our quality of life?
Let’s break it down.
WHAT IS COGNITIVE DECLINE?
Cognitive decline is something that is generally known to happen as people age, but there are degrees of decline that can be considered excessive and unhealthy.
There is no universally accepted definition of successful cognitive health in elderly individuals, but cognitive health is generally defined as “the development and preservation of the multidimensional cognitive structure that enables ongoing social connectedness, sense of purpose, and the ability to function independently” (1). That, broadly speaking, is the definition of the standard of cognitive ability that we all should be able to enjoy for our entire lives.
Cognition encompasses a broad range of mental processes, which are often taken for granted until they are lost. There are two essential forms of cognition:
- There is “fluid” cognition, which relies on short-term memory to process information when solving new problems, using spatial reasoning and when identifying patterns.
- There is also “crystallized” cognition, where knowledge and life experience accumulate, and this relies more on long-term memory (2)
Fluid cognitive abilities are thought to peak in the mid-twenties, and then very gradually decline over a period of years until about age 60, when the decline tends to become more rapid. But this is only for fluid cognition, while crystallized cognition continues to increase over the life span through education and life experiences.
Pathological cognitive decline is something that tends to be seen earlier than expected, or it hits the individual harder than expected, resulting in disruption of social connectedness, and individual autonomy.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a condition presenting with memory deficits that are below what is considered normal. This condition can often foreshadow the onset of frank dementia, and early detection is very important, so that preventative measures may be taken to stem the progression of the condition.
Signs & Symptoms of MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment)
Symptoms are often vague and can include the following:
- Memory loss
- Language disturbance (eg, difficulty in finding words)
- Attention deficit (eg, difficulty in following or focusing on conversations)
- Deterioration in visual-spatial skills (eg, disorientation in familiar surroundings in the absence of motor and sensory conditions that would account for the complaint)
Cerebrovascular disease (CVD) is defined as brain lesions caused by vascular disorders. This can be something as dramatic and severe as a stroke, where there is cessation of blood flow to a particular part of the brain, usually caused by a blood clot. But then there is also vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia is a chronic progressive loss of cognitive function, due to multiple small infarcts (4). These can be thought of as very small mini-strokes that only affect minor sections of brain tissue at a time. By themselves, each one of these little infarcts doesn’t have a huge impact on cognitive function, as the brain is able to re-route to other neural pathways that bypass the section affected by the mini-stroke.
However, over a period of years, as these mini-strokes accumulate, the available pathways the brain is left with become ever more restrictive, and so because of this you see a progressive decline in cognitive function.
Prevalence of Dementia
In 2005, the global population suffering dementia was estimated to be 24.3 million people, and there are around 4.6 million new cases diagnosed every year (3). It is expected that this population will double every 20 years, with an alarming 81.1 million dementia patients in 2040 (3). A major consequence of this is an increased burden on the healthcare system, with higher rates of hospitalizations, surgeries and visits to the doctor, leading to spiraling healthcare costs.
DEMENTIA and CHRONIC INFLAMMATION
Chronic systemic inflammation is the underlying culprit of many such chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and this very form of progressive damage to the brain.
Increased chronic inflammation means greater chances of clotting factors activating, and causing the aforementioned “mini-strokes” that promote cognitive decline. Therefore, eating an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean type diet, avoiding simple sugar and carbs, avoiding fried foods and ensuring adequate intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, are some of the basic means of helping to preserve cognitive function as we mature.
In other words, less chronic inflammation, less clotting factors floating around in the system, less potential for oxidative damage, all equals less chance of a mini-clot causing these kinds of tiny infarcts in the brain.
There is a growing body of research demonstrating that adherence to a Mediterranean type diet significantly reduces risk of developing Mild Cognitive Decline, and risk of progression to Alzheimer’s Disease. (5)
In general, the Mediterranean diet, which is low calories and rich in fruits and vegetables, has the greatest benefit for reducing inflammation. Data show that high dietary fiber, which is typically a sign of a low glycemic load diet, was associated with lower levels of various inflammatory markers (6).
The dietary pattern most consistently associated with a reduction of CVD is predominantly plant-based, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fiber, and sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Another way to keep the brain functioning well, is just to make sure you are using it well. The brain tissue is very plastic, meaning that it always hast the ability to form new connections, and keep existing connections strong, as long as you challenge it with tasks to do.
Evidence is not conclusive, but it is generally believed that exercising the brain by reading, doing crossword puzzles, and brain teasers can help to prevent, delay, or reduce cognitive decline. These should always be fun, stimulating activities that you enjoy doing, so that you will want to do them a lot.
Moderate Physical Exercise
Not only is moderate exercise a well established, and yet all too often overlooked, means of reducing chronic inflammation in the body (7), there is a growing body of evidence indicating that it can help prevent mild cognitive impairment as we age.
has been shown to be deficient or insufficient on pandemic levels, and lower levels are associated with several chronic diseases. It serves as a significant factor in a number of physiologic functions, specifically as a biological inhibitor of inflammatory hyperactivity (8, 9, 10). Vitamin D produces dose dependant reductions of several inflammatory markers, and supplemental benefit has been shown for osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, Graves Disease, ankylosing spondylitis, SLE, and rheumatoid arthritis (8, 9, 10).
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2001-2004, involving more than 8000 human subjects, showed that those with vitamin D levels below 30 ng/ml were more likely to be at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
A good quality fish oil supplement will be standardized to have large quantities of EPA and DHA, in a 3:1 or 3:2 ratio for adults. These omega 3 fatty acids promote the formation of anti-inflammatory eicosenoids that become incorporated into our cell membranes, helping them to remain fluid and pliable (11). This can help prevent heart disease and any associated cerebrovascular disease in the brain.
Natural Antioxidants and Anti-inflammatories
Although a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is generally anti-inflammatory, some foods seem to exert some specific benefit along these lines. These include Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), chocolate (dark), cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), garlic (Alliu sativum), ginger (Zingiber officinalis), grape (Vitis vinifera), green tea (Camellia sinsensis), and turmeric (Curcuma longa).