Hormonal changes can rock your world. From hot flushes and anxiety to low libido and joint pain, menopausal symptoms vary from woman to woman. Typically women start to experience signs of the menopause between the age of 45 and 55.

As women approach menopause, levels of oestrogen and progesterone begin to decline, eventually leading to a level where menstruation and reproductive function cease altogether. As a result of these changes, women can experience a variety of symptoms. Among the most common are hot flushes, night sweats, dizziness, weight gain, anxiety, mood swings, hair loss, and sore joints.

Nutritional therapy can be an effective way to support your body and manage hormone fluctuations and symptoms before and during the menopause.

Here’s my step-by-step guide to support you through the menopause:

EAT TO BALANCE BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS

Sugar plays havoc with hormones. Getting insulin and blood sugar levels under control is central to effective female hormone balance. Cut back on sugars, avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, rice and pasta and opt for wholegrain versions instead to help maintain and sustain blood sugar balance. Base meals on vegetables rather than carbohydrates and have some protein with each meal to help keep you feeling fuller for longer.

THINK ABOUT CAFFEINE

Caffeine triggers the adrenals to release adrenalin and puts the body into a state of ‘fight-or-flight’. Research shows that caffeine (from coffee, tea, fizzy drinks) can be a trigger for hot flushes and night sweats and can affect roughly two thirds of menopausal women adversely. However, it seems that for perimenopausal women (ie women in the menopause transition, which can begin several years before menopause), caffeine can have a positive effect on mood, memory and concentration.

EAT ENOUGH GOOD FATS

Omega 3 and omega 6 are essential fats for hormone balance. Are you getting enough?

:: Eat oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout 2-3 times each week.

:: If you don’t like fish, think about taking a fish oil supplement (as long as you are not on warfarin or aspirin).

:: Eat a tablespoonful of nuts and seeds daily – especially flaxseed or linseed, walnuts, brazils, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

:: Cook with olive oil at low temperatures (do not allow it to smoke).

:: Cook with coconut oil.

:: Use olive oil for dressings and drizzles.

:: Use butter and avoid margarines.

:: Avoid sunflower oil.

Omega 7 from sea buckthorn has been shown to be effective for vaginal dryness.

EAT SOME PHYTOESTROGEN RICH FOODS

Phytoestrogens can help gently balance hormones. They are mainly found in pulse sand flaxseeds. Here are some simple ways to increase your intake:

:: Add 1-2 tsp flaxseed (linseed) to your diet.

:: Eat pulses (peas, beans and lentils) at least three to four times week. Try houmous, three-bean salad, lentil soup, puy lentil salads or chickpea curry for ideas.

:: If you eat soya, make sure it is a fermented form like tofu, tempeh or miso (NOT soya milk or soya yoghurt)

:: Aim to eat five portions of vegetable and two fruits every day.

KEEP YOUR DIGESTION HAPPY

Good digestion and efficient elimination may not sound the obvious link to hormone balance, but looking after your digestive health can help with regulating and processing hormones.

Eat some probiotic foods like kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and yoghurt.

Eat enough fibre to help regular bowel movements.

Keep well hydrated.

If you are constipated, increase your intake of flaxseed, figs and prunes to help get the bowel moving better.

TAKE SUPPLEMENTS

A few carefully chosen supplements could help support you through your menopause years.

:: A good quality, female-targeted multivitamin and mineral.

:: Some good fats – either an omega 3 fish oil supplement or omega 7 sea buckthorn, depending on your needs.

:: If you are not taking HRT, then consider a well balanced herbal complex like Viridian’s Organic Female Complex.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 6 October 2018.