Emily Fawell is our guest blogger this month. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist and runs events for women on the Natural Approach to Menopause. Here Emily gives her top tips on how nutrition alongside natural therapies can help during the menopausal transition.
When you are suffering with menopausal symptoms it can seem like a daily struggle to make it though the day. You may have tried a couple of different methods, not seen any great improvement and have given up on finding any help.
In my experience, both personally and professionally when working with clients, it’s about accepting that we are all different and persevering until you find the thing that works for you.
Many of the symptoms that we experience could be due to nutrient deficiencies and it may be that you need to focus on the nutrient density of your diet and if you supplement, that you give the supplement that you try long enough to replenish your deficiency.
Here are a few nutrients that you may be deficient in that could be contributing to your symptoms:
Iron is vital for good energy levels. It helps the body transport oxygen around the body and remove carbon dioxide and is involved in energy production.
Your GP can check your iron levels. The marker that is most relevant is Serum Ferritin – this gives a reflection of your body’s stores of iron. Your GP will say that your levels are fine if you are higher than 11/12 nmol/L but there is evidence that for good energy levels should be greater than 50 nmol/L.
Signs that you are low in iron are fatigue, shortness of breath, lowered immunity and restless leg syndrome.
Foods that are rich in iron are red meat, kelp, blackstrap molasses, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, dried apricots, nuts, lentils and dates.
Many women find that iron supplements cause digestive problems including stomach pain and constipation. Avoid supplements that contain ferrous sulphate if you have experienced problems in the past – look out for “gentle” or “easy” forms of iron which are better tolerated such as iron bisglycinate. The absorption of iron is enhanced by Vitamin C so consider taking your supplement with a small glass of fruit juice.
Warning: do not take an iron supplement unless testing has revealed that you are deficient, as iron overload can cause health problems.
Like Iron, Magnesium is another mineral that the body uses to make energy. Its primary function is enzyme activation and it is involved in more than 300 reactions in the body. It is important for nerve and muscle function, blood glucose regulation, blood pressure regulation, protein synthesis, bone health, and many more functions. It’s importance for our well-being is often overlooked and it is easy to become deficient in this important mineral.
We use up a lot of magnesium when we are stressed and can become depleted through alcohol consumption and a lack of dietary intake.
Signs of low magnesium status are muscle cramps and twitches, restless legs, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, mental confusion, irritability, muscle weakness, a predisposition to stress and anxiety, excessive sweating. Many of these symptoms could be classed as symptoms of the menopause.
Rich food sources of magnesium are dark green leafy vegetables, nuts (particularly almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts), blackstrap molasses, kelp, figs, brown rice, avocado and buckwheat.
Magnesium should be supplemented in small doses over the day rather than in one large dose due to the body’s ability to absorb it. Alternatives to oral supplementation are Epsom Salts baths, Magnesium sprays and body lotions.
Once purely associated with bone health, there is more and more evidence that Vitamin D deficiency can negatively affect the immune system, brain health including mood and memory, cardiovascular health, energy levels and hormone levels. It helps the body fight inflammation and a deficiency has been linked to various forms of cancer.
Signs of Vitamin D deficiency are joint and bone pain, low mood, and fatigue.
Although there are a few natural food sources of Vitamin D (eggs, butter, oily fish) the levels they contain are minimal, so we rely on sun exposure to get our Vitamin D. This can be a challenge here in the UK as it is only possible to make Vitamin D between the months of May and September and many people are nervous of developing skin cancer so cover up or use sun creams, which block the absorption of Vitamin D. Being obese also limits your ability to absorb Vitamin D.
I think it’s important to know your Vitamin D status and supplement if you are deficient. Your GP could test your Vitamin D levels or you can buy home tests relatively cheaply.
Warning: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin which the body stores, so you shouldn’t supplement this vitamin unless you know that you are deficient
This vitamin has many functions, but importantly for menopausal women it is key for maintaining hormone balance and the manufacture of neurotransmitters (brain signals).
Signs of Vitamin B6 deficiency are depression, glucose intolerance, anaemia, cracked lips, sore tongue, PMS and skin problems such as itchy, flaky skin and eczema.
A deficiency can arise because of a lack of dietary intake, excessive alcohol intake, use of oral contraceptives and other medication, food additives and excessive protein intake.
Good food sources are whole grains, legumes (beans, lentils, peas), bananas, nuts and seeds, soybeans and avocado.
Warning: it is advisable to take a B complex rather than individual B vitamins as they work synergistically.
As you can see, a nutrient rich diet can help ensure that you have an adequate intake of key nutrients to avoid many of the symptoms associated with the menopause. Take a few weeks to increase your intake of the foods listed above and see whether you notice an improvement in your symptoms.
If you are interested in finding out more about how diet can improve your experience of the menopause visit Emily’s website www.4wellpeople.co.uk