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Approaching menopause? Vitamin K and YOGHURT could ease symptoms such as hot flushes
16 by Olivia Lerche
SYMPTOMS of the menopause can last for around four years, but Dr Sarah Brewer, GP and author of Live Longer, Look Younger has advised how women – especially those in their forties – could boost their health ahead of the change.
“During your forties you may still feel invincible, but the female body is inevitably cruising towards menopause,” said Dr Brewer.
“Although the average age for experiencing your final period is around 52, the process starts five to ten years before when your remaining egg follicles dwindle below a certain level.
“Having fewer follicles means you produce less and less oestrogen hormone, and falling levels can lead to associated symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, skin dryness and tiredness.”
Oestrogen also has beneficial effects on female arteries, bones, joints and your brain. As the menopause approaches, women lose this additional protection and your long-term risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis will increase.
Thanks to the trend towards living a longer lifespan, women are increasingly spending as much as a third to a half of their life in the post-menopausal phase so it’s important to safeguard future health sooner rather than later.
Exercise increases your production of a weak oestrogen hormone, oestrone, that you continue to make in your adrenal glands, and in fat cells, even after menopause.
Moderate intensity exercise not only improves bone density and cardiorespiratory fitness, it also reduces sweating, hot flushes and improves sleep quality. Exercise even improves arterial stiffness, blood pressure and heart disease risk factors in older women with existing hypertension.
Eat more soy
Soy is a rich source of plant hormones which provide a useful oestrogen boost.
Data from 17 trials show that taking isoflavone supplements can reduce the frequency of hot flushes by 20 per cent and their severity by 26 per cent within 6 to 12 weeks. Consider switching to soy milk products, eat edamame beans and if flushes are problematic, try an isoflavone supplement.
Switch from white to sweet potatoes
Eating four or more servings of white potatoes a week is associated with an increased risk of hypertension and also raised blood glucose levels.
In contrast, despite their name, sweet potatoes have less impact on glucose levels and are also one of the richest dietary sources of oestrogen-like plant hormones known as lignans.
These are converted in the body to enterolignans which have a unique ability to inhibit the enzyme, 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone to the stronger dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The formation of DHT in scalp hair follicles is linked with hair thinning and hair loss after the menopause, and also with annoying stray chin hairs.
Eat more fruit
If you’ve not yet managed to achieve your five-a-day, you may want to reconsider.
A study involving over 6,000 women found that those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet – or simply ate more fruit – were almost 20 per cent less likely to experience troublesome hot flushes and night sweats than those who ate the least fruit. These provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, plant hormones and fibre and are important for long-term good health.
Opt for yoghurt
The plant hormones (isoflavones and lignans) found in fruit and veg are activated by bowel bacteria. Different women metabolise these plant oestrogens in different ways, depending on the balance of bacteria within their intestines. Those who possess good amounts of probiotic bacteria are able to metabolise one of the isoflavones found in soy (daidzein) to a more powerful oestrogen called equol to obtain more health benefits than non-equol producers.
Eating live bio yogurt – or taking a probiotic supplement helps to ensure you activate the maximum level of plant hormones.
Yoghurt also supplies useful amounts of calcium, and soy versions are available to boost your isoflavone intake (select soy yoghurts fortified with calcium).
Drink tomato juice
Tomato juice offers unexpected benefits for menopausal women. A study involving 93 women with menopausal symptoms found that drinking 200ml of unsalted juice, twice a day for 8 weeks, improved anxiety, heart rate, triglyceride levels and boosted their metabolic rate so they burned more calories overall – an average of 169 kcals per day more after eight weeks, compared with the start of the study.
Tomatoes contain a powerhouse of antioxidants with beneficial effects on ageing skin. Extracts from the clear jelly surrounding tomato seeds – which have been formed in a pill called Fruitflow – also reduce unwanted blood clotting and are as effective as mini-aspirin – but without the side effects.
Take vitamin K with your calcium and vitamin D3
Many women take a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement to help maintain strong bones. If you do, it’s a good idea to add in vitamin K. In bone, vitamin K is needed for the activation of osteocalcin – a calcium-binding protein. Vitamin K also inhibits unwanted calcification of soft tissues, such as artery walls, to reduce calcification and hardening of the arteries. Good food sources of vitamin K included cauliflower, broccoli and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and some lettuces.
Researchers who tracked the dietary intakes of over 16,000 women over the age of 49 found that every 10mcg increase in vitamin K intakes reduced the risk of heart disease by 9 per cent.
Try Healthspan Calcium and Vitamin D supplement which includes vitamin K1.
If people are on warfarin, you need to maintain stable intakes of vitamin K which is a warfarin antidote.
Boost your magnesium intake
Magnesium helps to regulate blood pressure and heart contraction, and low levels can lead to spasm of coronary arteries and abnormal heart rhythms.
Research from 16 trials, involving over 313,000 people, shows that good dietary intakes of magnesium are associated with a 22 per cent to 44 per cent lower risk of ischemic heart disease. Good food sources include whole grains, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, beans, dark green leaves and seafood. Tap water is also a good source in hard-water areas.
Take Evening Primrose Oil for your skin
Evening primrose oil helps to solve dry, itchy skin problems and improves redness, elasticity, and moisture levels. As an added bonus, a study involving 56 women showed that taking 1 gram evening primrose oil per day, for six weeks, significantly reduced the severity of hot flushes compared with placebo.
Lack of essential fatty acids is a common cause of dry, itchy skin – especially on the shins – for which evening primrose oil brings rapid relief.
Consider herbal medicines
Black cohosh is a traditional herbal remedy to relieve hot flushes and has beneficial effects on mood, anxiety and sleep quality. Sage leaf extracts are also popular for relieving menopausal hot flushes and night sweats. In a study involving women who experienced at least five flushes a day, sage leaf extracts reduced the frequency of mild hot flushes by 46 per cent, moderate flushes by 62 per cent, severe flushes by 79 per cent, and very severe flushes by 100 per cent.
The intensity of flushes fell by half within 4 weeks and reduced by 64 per cent within eight weeks.
Dr Dick Middleton, pharmacist and chair of the BHMA said: “Black Cohosh and St John’s Wort, when used together, also seem to be particularly effective at relieving menopausal mood swings.
“It’s important to ensure you choose a product with the correct species and parts of the plant to gain a medicinal effect. The only way to guarantee this is to always look for products that display the THR logo on their packaging to guarantee quality.”