Can your diet help relieve the symptoms of menopause?

Fiona Clark

Can your diet help relieve some of the symptoms of menopause? Dietitian Sophie Medlin gives her top tips on what works and what may not.

Can Phytoestrogens help with menopause symptoms?

Phytoestrogens are compounds that occur naturally in plants and foods including fruits, veggies, legumes, and some grains. Soy is a popular source. They are said to mimic oestrogen and may be helpful for hot flushes, mood swings and painful breasts.

But is there good evidence to back that up?

“There is some data around phytoestrogens that some people find helpful,” Sophie says. “Again it’s not everybody and the data is a bit weak but some people can find that soy products can help them through their menopause.

“In the end maybe it’s best to try it and keep a journal of what you’re feeling for a few months to see if it made any difference. Ultimately there’s not good data.”

Is it suitable for everyone?

“If you have an oestrogen receptive breast cancer it’s worth having a chat with your doctor about whether it is suitable for you.”

 

What can help with Sleep?

“There are things we can do to help with sleep. It’s another multi-factoral thing – but protein intake and B vitamins can make a difference to your sleep. Eating too late at night can have a negative impact as can too much alcohol,” she says.

Good sleep hygiene is important, Sophie says. “That can reduce, for example, the number of bad nights from say 5 to 2 a week.”

Eating well, not drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, having a regular bed time and reducing screen time before bed can all make a difference.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can be a useful thing too. It can give you techniques to help reduce anxiety and clear the mind so you can get back to sleep, as well as reducing the impact of hot flushes and night sweats.

Can Magnesium help with sleep?

Some people may also find a magnesium supplement  helps.

“For some people, some of the time, it can be useful. There are some supplements that have a mixture of magnesium salts and some women find them really helpful and they take it before bed – but we don’t know why. We know that magnesium is important for neuro-trasmitters and brain health but lots of women find it helpful as a night aid.”

But she says, some magnesium compounds may cause diarrhoea, so finding the right one for you is important.

It is available in many foods as well. Green leafy vegetables, meat and dairy are good sources of magnesium.

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What can keep our Bones, Muscle and joints in shape?

“As we get older we really have to think about our bone health,” Sophie says. Up to the age of 30 they store calcium but after 30 that changes and we need to make sure we get enough calcium in our diets to keep them healthy. We need calcium in our diet everyday.

“Obviously some people are moving away from dairy – which is in this country also a source of vitamin D – so lots of people aren’t getting enough vitamin D or calcium and may find they have aching joints and muscles.”

“If they’re new aches and pains it’s always a good idea to get them checked out by your doctor,” she says, “but also think about whether or not you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet and if you might benefit from a supplement.”

“In the winter in the UK and in lockdown, you’re never going to get enough vitamin D so make sure you’re taking a supplement. This is important for people with dark skin too and for people who wear a veil or coverings as you just wont get enough vitamin D, so you’ll need a supplement everyday.”

Public Health England recommends adults take a vitamin D supplement of between 400IU or 10 micrograms/day to 1000IU (25mcg).

If you have a deficiency your doctor may say you should take a higher dose.

 

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Can Collagen supplements help my skin, joints and hair? 

“It depends on why you’re taking them and what you’re expecting from them. The body breaks then down and sends them where it thinks you need it – not necessarily where you think you need it – such as your skin and hair.

“Your body doesn’t care about your hair or skin,” she says. “You can spend a lot of money on [supplements] but there’s not a lot of data to suggest that they’ll have a significant impact.”

 

What about Biotin?

“There is some evidence that it can help with hair – but if you really want your hair to look good, you need to prioritise your whole health and diet,” Sophie says.

“If you’re drinking a lot of alcohol or not eating well, supplements may make a mild difference but you need a whole health approach,” which means eating a broad range of foods.

Eggs, organ meat (ie kidney, liver) and fish and sweet potatoes are sources of biotin.

 

Sophie Medlin is the founder of City Dietitians in London.