Nutrition Articles

Managing Menopause with a Healthy Diet

Make ''The Change'' a Healthy One!

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Some women mourn it as the end of youth and fertility. Others welcome it as a time of freedom and new opportunities. Either way, menopause is a universal rite of passage for women, marking significant physical and emotional changes which can require some adjustment. Technically speaking, menopause refers to the time when a woman ceases menstruating (considered permanent after 12 months), but typically the term to refers to the ongoing and gradual process of reproductive aging, which also includes both perimenopause and postmenopause.

For most women, the process of menopause begins silently somewhere around age 40, when declining levels of estrogen and progesterone may cause menstruation to be less regular. The process also leads to other physical changes, such as reduced likelihood of pregnancy, onset of those proverbial “hot flashes,” and possible thinning of bones which could lead to osteoporosis. As with adolescence, menopause involves yo-yoing hormones and is different for every woman. For most it occurs between the ages of 40 and 58 (51.4 on average). A few women reach menopause in their thirties (before 40 it’s called premature menopause; it can be induced surgically or by drug treatment), and a smaller number don't reach menopause until they’re 60. The most likely predictor of how you’ll experience menopause is how your mother or grandmother fared.

Perimenopause, the period preceding menopause, is often more dramatic than menopause itself. During this preliminary phase, hormone levels fluctuate widely, causing a variety of symptoms, including:
  • Hot flashes: Experienced by 75-80 percent of all women, these can range from a strong blush to profuse sweating with intense heat, usually starting at the head and the neck.
  • Menstrual cycle changes: Menses can become heavier or lighter; occur more or less frequently; last longer or shorten in duration.
  • Mood changes:You may find yourself feeling more irritable, teary, emotionally-detached or worried than usual, or you may feel a vague sense of anxiety without a particular cause. Many women experience poor motivation and a general sense of fatigue.
  • Changes in appetite: You may experience food cravings (especially during the second half of your menstrual cycle), an increased appetite, or suffer from nausea.
  • Sleep disturbances: Disrupted sleep patterns are quite common, including difficulty falling asleep, or waking in the middle of the night (or early in the morning) and not being able to go back to sleep. Sleep problems can lead to feelings of depression, though many women may typically feel depressed at this time even without sleeping disturbances.
  • Memory changes: You may feel as if you forget things more easily. This may be due to lack of sleep or the fact that decreased estrogen levels are reducing the hundreds of estrogen receptors on the brain, thus affecting brain function.
  • Urinary symptoms: You may find that you have to urinate more frequently, can’t get to the bathroom fast enough or sometimes sustain slight leakage when you sneeze, cough, or laugh. It’s also common to have increased incidence of urinary tract infections (UTIs), because of changes in the normal bacteria in your vagina.
  • Sexual changes: Because of lowered estrogen levels, your libido (sex drive) may decrease. Due to vaginal dryness you might feel pain or discomfort during intercourse or even experience light spotting after sex (because the cervix’s lining is more fragile and thin). In addition, thinning of the vaginal lining—once maintained by higher estrogen levels—can cause uncomfortable vaginal dryness and itching, as well as decreased lubrication that can make intercourse painful and uncomfortable.
  • Skin sensitivity: Some women experience "crawling" skin—a tingling, dry, or even burning sensation.
  • Joint & muscle aches and pains
  • Digestive disturbances: Heartburn is a common complaint.
  • Heart jitters: The feeling of a pounding or racing heart can be very scary. In perimenopause, this pounding—harmless to your body—may be accompanied by shortness of breath and hot flashes. *It’s important to make sure this is due to perimenopause—if in doubt, talk with your doctor.
  • Ovarian growths: You may suffer from the growth of benign ovarian cysts. *Always consult your doctor to make sure it’s not something more serious.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Disappointed and very puzzled that this article says nothing about related weight gain. SMH - 6/20/2014 10:18:59 PM
  • JPEARSON86
    This article was informative but did not help me much since I am post menopausal. - 1/12/2014 1:51:37 PM
  • Good article. However -- Seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day is "a must"? Come on, who really gets 7-9 servings a day? - 7/15/2013 1:50:32 PM
  • Thank you for the article. My menopause seem to be better since I have change my way of eating. - 6/19/2013 3:01:12 PM
  • AMYB822
    thanks for this article it really explained alot - 5/2/2013 8:11:15 PM
  • Thanks for the info, love the "your own private summer" - 10/6/2012 6:51:41 PM
  • I am 49 and the Doctors have been telling me that I have been premenopaul for the last 9 years. I have gone thru just about everything on your list. except night sweats but it's not over with yet. I found out that I now have Endometriosis after some shots and a few months from now I will have a hysterectomy done. but they need to shrink the uterus first. that's what the shots are for. but the hot flashes are suppose to get worse with the shots (by the 2nd one) and the hysterectomy, and to be honest that scares me more then the surgery does. I have had 3 c-sections so they tell me that my recovery time will be longer. I found this article very interesting and helpful, thanks for the great advise. I wish all women who are going through this a calm, cool and happy journey. God Bless - 7/14/2012 1:48:07 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    I am a breast cancer survivor, and my oncologist told me to avoid soy as much as possible. Its phyoestrogens can feed estrogen-receptor positive cancer cells, and can interfere with some breast cancer medications that block estrogen.

    In addition, soy adversely affects thyroid function, so if you are hypothyroid, you should avoid soy as well.

    But - as in all things, check with your doctor before adding soy or eliminating soy from your diet, because those decisions should be based on your individual situation.

    By the way, chemo put me into menopause 13 years ago, at the age of 46. I survived menopause without the addition of any Hormone Replacement Therapy, or any over the counter menopause treatments - because many of the OTC products contain soy and/or black cohosh (which is also not good for breast cancer).

    It wasn't the end of the world! I managed my hot flashes by dressing in layers,cutting back on caffeine and spicy foods, and keeping a bottle of ice water with me at all times. Taking a few sips of ice water minimizes the hot flashes & lessens their duration - without drugs. Caffeine & spicy foods can trigger hot flashes. - 11/17/2011 2:36:13 PM
  • JEAN_W_1960
    Thanks for the informative article and thanks especially for the tip off about soy and estrogen. I've been avoiding soy, though I love tofu, because of my concerns about estrogen, but it's good to have expert advice. I also avoid dairy products, though I love milk, cheese, etc . . ., because of estrogen concerns. Perimenopause has been a horrible experience. Recently I made the connection between eating poorly and killer periods. I cut back drastically on sugar and fat and wow, what a difference. I would have done that years ago if only I'd known how much difference it would make in how I feel. It's not easy, I really miss sugar, but it's worth it. - 11/17/2011 11:22:27 AM
  • "Some women mourn it as the end of youth and fertility. Others welcome it as a time of freedom and new opportunities. " And some of us just think of it as an enormous pain in the arse. Actually, it's interesting that the article suggests looking to your mother's or grandmother's experience to see how you're likely to fare. My mother and grandmother would both periodically get the feeling -- beyond all logic and everything they knew to be so -- that their husbands were running around on them. The feelings would go away when their hormones subsided. I thought I was safe, having no romantic attachments -- until the day I found myself sitting at work so firmly convinced that something terrible had happened to my cat that I had to call home and have my roommate check on her! I've had it a couple of times since, usually around the same time I get hot flashes and/or mood swings. - 11/17/2011 9:28:08 AM
  • Good article. Glad I read it just to remind myself about how to eat during this stage in life. - 7/8/2011 8:50:06 AM
  • RUNESHADOW
    I just wish I knew how to tell if I am in menopause or am postmenopausal. I had a hysterectomy 13 years ago but kept my ovaries and at 58, I just don't know. No symptoms, except some breast tenderness, which could simply be my previous period-tenderness
    . I seem to have PMS at times, so wonder if my ovaries are still functioning. Oh well. Not a big deal, I guess. Glad I have escaped the unpleasantness so far. - 7/7/2011 6:44:13 PM
  • BCLEMENT
    While there is some excellent information in this article, zinc is not a precursor for progesterone. It may be a cofactor, meaning that zinc is required for the hormone to work, but it's not the same thing. And too much zinc can alter taste, and we don't need that! And in general, I'm always amazed at how pretty much every affliction known to humans can be addressed with a "correct" diet, usually full of veggies and pretty much lacking in anything interesting, certainly alcohol is discouraged. - 7/7/2011 11:37:19 AM
  • Yes, "My Own Private Summer!" LOL I feel exactly like I were standing in the sun in Jamaica!

    Last winter I stood outside with my dogs in the dark, wearing a tiny silk nightie, it was 13 I felt great! My 4 siberian huskies were with me and they thought I was a rock star! Now it's in the 90's everyday and I am using my huskies as a heat guide... AC vents rock! we take ice cube breaks and lots of calm resting. I make low cal frozen treats and frozen dog treats... I eat frozen cranberries and blueberries...

    My husband thinks I am also a bit cranky but no more than a husky on a hot day! LOL poor guy, he's out numbered. - 7/7/2011 10:28:28 AM
  • I thought it was interesting that the food recommendations didn't include the usual "eat a ton of carbohydrates" advice. I read recently that the lowering of estrogen levels is a major contributor to that "middle-age spread" weight gain. - 7/7/2011 8:25:13 AM

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