Menopause can present differently in different women. For some, it’s a quiet transition; for others, it’s a frustrating and unpleasant roller coaster. And there are many shades of gray (and degrees of sweat) in-between. Common symptoms of menopause include:

  • Night sweats and hot flashes
  • Sleep changes
  • Mood changes
  • Weight gain
  • Vaginal dryness and skin dryness
  • Irregular periods (and eventual complete loss of periods)
  • Memory lapses

The changes in your hormones that happen during menopause, coupled with age, can also contribute to increased health risks; some of the most important are increased risk for bone loss, heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline, and urinary incontinence.1  Although some of these risks are associated with genetics, age of menopause onset, and your health going into menopause, many risks can be positively ameliorated by simple measures like diet and lifestyle changes.

Food is a great tool to support health during menopause. The following food groups can be consumed by almost any woman to have a positive health impact throughout menopause and beyond.

1. Calcium-rich foods

You only build bone through your early to mid-30s, after which you either maintain bone (hopefully as much as you can) or lose bone. The hormonal changes of menopause can accelerate bone loss, so being vigilant about getting the nutrients that help preserve bone is even more important during menopause.*

Most people know that dairy foods such as milk and yogurt (cow or goat, not plant sources) are rich in calcium. If you can’t have dairy, then there are other great sources of calcium, including sardines (or other small fish where you eat the bones), tofu (if it’s made with calcium – check the label), and virtually all dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, collards, beet greens, Swiss chard, bok choy, and mustard greens).

Because spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens are relatively high in oxalic acid, which can bind to calcium and interfere with absorption and also contribute to kidney stones in susceptible individuals, other greens such as kale and bok choy might be better options. 

The North American Menopause Society recommends that women in menopause target 1,200 mg of calcium per day from diet. For women who cannot achieve this goal through food they advise taking a supplement to make up the difference.*2

2. Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium doesn’t get the credit that calcium does, but it’s very important for bone.*3 About half the magnesium in your body is stored in your bones, and given that the body uses magnesium every day for hundreds of functions, maintaining those stores is important.

In addition to supporting bone health as you age, magnesium is one of the most important nutrients for cardiovascular health,4 and it also supports muscle and nervous system health.* As a bonus, magnesium might also benefit sleep,* which can suffer during and after menopause.

That pretty much checks all the boxes for postmenopausal health. Studies on magnesium and hot flashes have not shown benefit.5 The great news is that all those greens you can get calcium from are also excellent sources of magnesium – so the more the merrier.

Other good sources are nuts and seeds (like cashews, almonds, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds), beans (such as navy, black, lima, pinto, and soybean), and whole grains (oat, millet, quinoa, brown rice, and more). 

You should be targeting 300-400 mg of magnesium from diet and/or supplements to maintain good health.* 

3. Healthy fats

Healthy fats, such as the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, play so many roles in the body that it should not be a surprise to find them on this list.* On our menopause checklist they support heart health, brain health, and positive mood.*

Loss of estrogen during menopause contributes to skin aging – decreasing skin elasticity and increasing the appearance of wrinkles. Essential fats support skin by lessening signs of aging, keeping the skin hydrated, and protecting the structure of the skin.*Even better, essential fatty acids from fish, and plant sources like flax, might help reduce the incidence and severity of menopausal hot flashes.* 

Studies have evaluated a wide range of doses, but 1-2 grams of fish oil (from diet and/or supplements) is a good level to target. If you rely on plant sources, like flaxseed, then you might need 40-50 grams per day to achieve supportive benefits.7 

4. Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables, including delicious options like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, arugula, and kale, are packed with so much goodness you should be eating them regardless of their benefits for menopause.

In particular, useful compounds called glucosinolates, which can be metabolized by your microbiome to the beneficial isothiocyanates and indole-3-carbinol, work by activating the body's natural detoxification and antioxidant enzymes.* In addition, high intake of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease8 and positive benefits for breast health.*9 

Although there is no amount to target, include them regularly in your diet or add a supplement like Thorne’s Crucera-SGS®, which provides as much glucosinolate as two pounds of cooked broccoli.

5. Phytoestrogens

Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plants that interact weakly with human hormone receptors. Although most people associate phytoestrogens with soy, they are actually found in a wide variety of common foods, such as chickpeas, navy beans, lentils, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, wheat, oats, barley, rice, alfalfa, strawberries, raspberries, and mung beans.

Numerous studies have evaluated the capacity of higher dietary intake of phytoestrogens to reduce some of the common symptoms of menopause, especially hot flashes. Most (though not all) have shown a positive benefit10 for reduced hot flashes and better quality of life.* They also have positive benefits for cardiovascular health and may be supportive for bone and breast health.*11

As with cruciferous vegetable, there is no recommended amount, but finding ways to include these foods regularly in your diet will likely have benefits.

Overall, diet plays an important role in helping manage symptoms and long-term health during menopause and beyond. Finding ways to include beneficial foods in your routine will contribute to an easier menopause and will also support your long-term health in other ways. There are also foods, particularly those high in caffeine or sugar, that you should reduce or eliminate during menopause because they can make symptoms worse – so be sure to keep that in mind! If you are looking to add more daily support for common symptoms of menopause, then Thorne’s Meta-Balance is designed to help support women with a natural approach to managing common experiences such as hot flashes, moodiness, and sleep changes.* 


References

  1. van Dijk M, Kavousi M, Troup J, Franco O. Health issues for menopausal women: the top 11 conditions have common solutions. Maturitas 2015;80(1):24-30.
  2. The role of calcium in peri- and postmenopausal women: 2006 position statement of the North American Menopause Society. Menopause 2006;13(6):862-877. doi:10.1097/01.gme.0000243566.25205.0b
  3. Castiglioni S, Cazzaniga A, Albisetti W, Maier J. Magnesium and osteoporosis: current state of knowledge and future research directions. Nutrients 2013;5(8):3022-3033. doi:10.3390/nu5083022
  4. Qu X, Jin F, Hao Y, et al. Magnesium and the risk of cardiovascular events: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. PloS One 2013;8(3):e57720. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057720
  5. Park H, Qin R, Smith T, et al. North Central Cancer Treatment Group N10C2 (Alliance): a double-blind placebo-controlled study of magnesium supplements to reduce menopausal hot flashes. Menopause 2015;22(6):627-632. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000000374
  6. Rhodes L, Durham B, Fraser W, Friedmann P. Dietary fish oil reduces basal and ultraviolet b-generated pge2 levels in skin and increases the threshold to provocation of polymorphic light eruption. J Invest Dermatol 1995;105(4):532-535. doi:10.1111/1523-1747.ep12323389
  7. Lemay A. Flaxseed dietary supplement versus hormone replacement therapy in hypercholesterolemic menopausal women. Obstet Gynecol 2002;100(3):495-504. doi:10.1016/S0029-7844(02)02123-3
  8. Zhang X, Shu X-O, Xiang Y-B, et al. Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94(1):240-246. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.009340
  9. Liu X, Lv K. Cruciferous vegetables intake is inversely associated with risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis. Breast Edinb Scotl 2013;22(3):309-313. doi:10.1016/j.breast.2012.07.013
  10. Chen M-N, Lin C-C, Liu C-F. Efficacy of phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Climacteric 2015;18(2):260-269. doi:10.3109/13697137.2014.966241
  11. Lissin L, Cooke J. Phytoestrogens and cardiovascular health. J Am Coll Cardiol 2000;35(6):1403-1410. doi:10.1016/S0735-1097(00)00590-8