One of my favorite pastimes is to do speaking engagements with women about health issues. Walking into a speaking engagement filled with women only gives me the opportunity to create an environment where we can talk to one another in an open and honest way about our health challenges in a supportive environment.
I think when women feel open to ask questions without feeling judged, then the quality of their health and their lives will be improved. I generally get questions about heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Now that I am in my forties I find that women are starting to turn the conversations to questions about menopause, more specifically the time before menopause known as perimenopause.
According to the Mayo Clinic perimenopause, also called the menopausal transition, is the interval in which a woman's body makes a natural shift from more or less regular cycles of ovulation and menstruation toward permanent infertility, or menopause.
Perimenopause is such a hot topic because I have heard this time referred to as the time when our bodies betray us. This is a very intense statement and I think that women feel this way because our bodies are going through a significant transition from being able to carry children to no longer being able to do so.
I also think women have such intense feeling about perimenopause because the symptoms associated with this change can be very intense and cause uncomfortable lifestyle changes as well.
In the United States women report very intense symptoms including hot flashes, menstrual irregularity, sleep problems, bone density loss, changing cholesterol levels, mood changes, decreasing fertility, vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, decreased libido and increases urinary tract infections.
Once the group starts talking about perimenopausal symptoms the discussion logically turns to, how do we solve these problems? While each person’s experience is a little different there is one foundational suggestion that always improves some, if not all, of the symptoms.
What we put in our mouth can have a strong impact on perimenopausal symptoms. In general, increasing the amount of foods that come from plant sources help to balance out symptoms.
All plant-based foods -- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes -- have fiber. Fiber binds to excess cholesterol and excess estrogen in the body.
Foods that contain isoflavones, soy, whole grains and beans may help reduce some menopausal symptoms and lower cholesterol levels. I recommend increasing the number of plant-based food until you are eating a combination of at least 10 servings every day.
If you are eating more plant foods it becomes easy to reduce foods that are high in fat. High-fat foods are not healthy for you because they raise the cholesterol levels and increase the heart disease as well.
We women may benefit from supplements calcium and iron. Calcium is one of the important minerals found in our bone matrix along with other minerals. During perimenopause and menopause the chemical changes in the body can cause bone density to decrease.
Foods that are high in calcium are clams, sardines, broccoli, legumes and dairy products. Iron levels may be impacted especially if women are having heavy bleeding. To replenish iron stores eat red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and nuts.
If you are eating processed foods make sure to read the labels of what is found in the foods. Be especially diligent about looking for the amounts of salt and sugar.
Foods that are known to have high amounts of salt are smoked meats, canned soups and canned foods. Sugar can be hidden in marinades, salad dressing, spaghetti sauces and products found in jars and cans, peanut butters, and baked goods, candy, cereals, protein bars, and ketchup, just to name a few.
Eating healthy is important during our transition to menopause and it helps create a healthy weight. I recommend that women maintain a healthy weight because extra fat in the body produces excess estrogen that creates an imbalance in our female hormones.
This imbalance makes perimenopausal symptoms much worse. So dropping the extra weight can normalize or alleviate symptoms all together.
Finally drink plenty of water every day. Water is one of the most important for normal body processing and getting rid of toxins from the body.
Women talking about health topics with other women is always a learning experience for me, too. I find that women generally are great problem-solvers and as I share the science about how to reduce symptoms the participants always chime in with practical solutions.
When it comes to food, cooking, shopping ideas and saving money on food we always have great ideas to share with one another. Perimenopausal symptoms can be reduced or relieve through the foods we eat and practical solutions about how to incorporate them into every day life.
Dr. Dae is a Naturopathic Physician who practices in the Washington DC metro area treats the whole person using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.
"Perimenopause - MayoClinic.com." Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/perimenopause/DS00554
"Cleveland Clinic." Cleveland Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/menopause/hic_menopause_staying_healthy_through_good_nutrition.aspx
Reviewed March 15, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith