Today in America, nearly 40 percent of the female population are baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. For these women, it’s the prime time of their lives. They have the ability to pursue unexplored interests, they have the self-confidence to express themselves and they have the financial freedom to enjoy life to its fullest.
However, this life stage can be challenging, when menopause can leave a woman struggling with weight gain, hot flashes, headaches and the increased risk of heart disease.
Perimenopause is used to refer to the early stages of menopause, specifically any time three to 10 years before menopause. That means a woman can begin experiencing menopausal symptoms as early as in her 30s and as late as in her mid-50s.
During perimenopause, estrogen levels will drop between 40 and 60 percent. Estrogen is responsible for the maintenance of bone mass, cellular division and protects against heart disease. As a consequence of declining estrogen, fat begins to accumulate around the midsection of the body and weight loss or maintenance becomes more challenging. Scientifically speaking, when ovarian estrogen levels drop, fat cells migrate to the abdomen. There, fat cells begin estrogen production, and body fat increases.
Although hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is no longer a routine prescription, many women are turning to herbs, stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation, vitamins and regular exercise to manage perimenopause. But diet is critical and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Lignans and isoflavonoids are two classes of phytoestrogens that may mimic true estrogen, given their biochemical structure, though they are significantly weaker than estrogen. Whole grains, flaxseed, fresh fruit and vegetables are all sources of lignans. Isoflavones can be found in soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts and beans.
Information has been widely promoted implying that soy foods can naturally relieve menopausal symptoms, but the research is inconclusive. In general, two daily servings of soy-based foods daily can be safely consumed. One serving would include a half-cup of soy milk, tofu, tempeh or edamame.
Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower; probiotics, such as kefir and yogurt; fatty fish, including salmon and tuna; and green tea all appear to be effective in alleviating perimenopausal symptoms. Whole grain products such as oats, rye and barley, in particular, have been linked to a lower risk of stroke and heart disease. In contrast, be wary of caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol and large meals; all have been shown to raise body temperature.
Although perimenopause and menopause come with an inherent set of challenges, each woman’s experience is unique. So, keep a food diary to see if there are hot flash “triggers,” and be mindful of what you eat, always focusing on quality and portions. And move purposefully to stay fit and healthy, mentally and physically.