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Managing Menopause with a Healthy Diet

Make ''The Change'' a Healthy One!
  -- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian and Rebecca Pratt, Staff Writer
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: <pagebreak>
If these symptoms seem overwhelming, don’t be discouraged. Not only is it unlikely that you’ll suffer from all of them, but there is also strong evidence that you can alleviate or ease many of them by eating well. What’s more, many minor dietary changes that you make before and during menopause will help you feel better and establish healthy habits that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Consider these dietary tips to take on menopause:

Eat a healthy diet that includes unprocessed, unrefined, foods like lean meats, soy products, beans and legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats. These foods not only provide the body with essential nutrients but may also help balance hormones and improve mood and brain chemistry. Many unprocessed plant foods provide phytochemicals that protect the body. Phytoestrogens, for example, are structurally similar to the hormone estrogen, and may act as weak estrogen in the body. These chemicals "trick" the body into thinking it has more estrogen than it really does and may diminish some of the discomforts caused by low estrogen levels.

A Word of Caution: Researchers are unsure if consuming high quantities of plant estrogens will increase the growth or risk of estrogen-sensitive cancers. If you have had estrogen-dependent cancer, check with your health care provider or seek the advice of a registered dietitian before eating additional soy and phytoestrogens-rich foods. There’s no getting around it—as you go through “the change” of menopause you will probably suffer some of the less-than-fun symptoms most women experience. But by being aware of the changes—and meeting them head on with healthy diet—you can ensure that this transitional time involves some “change" for the better.