Managing Hormones Naturally Through the Menopause Diet Plan

November 20, 2021

This is a recording of “The Menopause Diet Plan,” a Zoom meeting held on September 10, 2021, sponsored by Dinno Health.

Below is an excerpt of a discussion with Hillary Wright, MEd, RDN and Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-authors, about the menopause diet plan to naturally help you manage hormones. Hilary Wright is a registered dietitian and the author of “The PCOS Diet Plan and The Prediabetes Diet Plan.” She is the Director of Nutrition Counseling for the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF and is a Senior Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA. Elizabeth Ward is also a registered dietitian with more than 30 years of experience counseling patients and writing about nutrition and health. She is an experienced recipe developer and food photographer and the author or coauthor of several books, including “Super Nutrition After 50,” “Live Longer and Better,” and “Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy.

Elizabeth Ward:

Thanks for having us today. We’re going to give you a brief overview of our most recent and only project together ever, “The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness.” We are both postmenopausal women so we write what we know and we use the science and personal experience to guide other women. 

We are going to talk about hormones today because we get a lot of questions about: What are hormones? How can I manipulate them to my benefits during menopause? 

Hormones are chemical messengers. They are released into the bloodstream by glands so you can think of them as carrier pigeons, in a way, and blood carries these hormones to their target organs and tissues. Then these organs and tissues receive the messages and they act on the messages from the hormones. Basically hormones direct your whole life. They help regulate the most basic functions that make life possible including growth and development, and reproduction, of course. Also your mood and your metabolism. So you can see how hormones would play a big role across the lifespan but also in menopause as well.

Estrogen is really the hormone of concern during perimenopause, all the menopause transition years, and also after menopause. Menopause is all about changing levels of hormones and estrogen is the number one hormone that we talk about. The ovaries produce the most estrogen. They also produce progesterone which is necessary during your childbearing years. The adrenal glands and fat tissue also make estrogen but they make much less. So it’s not like you don’t have any more estrogen once you hit menopause, you do. You just have much less. So during your 40s, if it’s a natural perimenopause transition and not a surgical one or due to any other illness or other situation, your ovaries release less estrogen, your periods become irregular.  Your time frame can last up to 10 years. It typically starts in your late 40s but we know women that are noticing changes in their early 40s and that’s really why we say don’t wait. Don’t wait till menopause hit you like a freight train. So technically you’re not postmenopausal until you’ve missed your period for 12 months in a row and not due to illness, medication, pregnancy or breastfeeding. As I mentioned, estrogen doesn’t completely disappear to menopause. You have estrone, which is a weaker form of estrogen, remains present in the body. 

You really don’t have to tell perimenopausal women too much about the effects of less estrogen because it becomes really obvious as you experience it. But one thing I don’t think people know is that nearly every tissue in the body, including your heart, your brain, your bones, breast, and colon, has estrogen receptors, which is why there are so many changes across the board when estrogen levels drop. It’s not that you just don’t get your period anymore. A lot of your tissues change. Your metabolism seems to change, although Hillary and I do say in the book that even though you’re gaining weight, we’re not really–I don’t think the science is quite there about whether it’s actually menopause the reason why you’re gaining weight or if it’s aging in general, but we do know that the distribution of the weight to the belly is really related to menopause. Sleep difficulties, mood swings, fatigue, changes in digestion – I know you deal with this a lot with your patients as well. Muscle loss, which again has an aging component, changes in memory and brain fog, which you like to say that we have a lot. We’re surviving here. We risk chronic conditions such as osteoporosis and heart disease because estrogen is actually protective when it comes to heart disease. Women on average don’t develop heart disease for 10 years, 10 years later than men. The thinking is that the estrogen is protective, and also hot flashes which is the number one concern. 

So I’m going to talk about hot flashes because I just, again, want everyone to be on the same page. Well, what is it? It’s really just the sudden onset of heat that seems to come out of nowhere and you’ve heard the term night sweats. Those are hot flashes that happen at night. So you may be having night sweats but really nothing during the day. A lot of women complain about that so why does it happen? Well, fluctuation in hormone levels that affects the part of the brain tells that part of the brain that regulates your thermostat, your kind of internal thermostat, that you’re overheating mistakenly, so your body overreacts or try to cool you off and you start sweating, sometimes profusely. You can have them after your period ends too, so it’s not just like, oh, I hit menopause and I’m not going to have a hot flash again. So hot flashes and trouble sleeping, we find go hand in hand a lot, and they happen to also be the two biggest problems linked to the transition to menopause. One of the only ways, from a medicinal standpoint, to treat hot flashes is through hormone replacement therapy. It’s the most effective treatment. Again that’s up to you and your health care professional. We talk about this in the book that Asian women report fewer hot flashes and menopausal symptoms. It could be because they eat more soy and soy has estrogen-like compounds called isoflavone. So there are plenty of good reasons to eat soy but you know we have to tell you that the science has not identified any consistent effect on hot flashes. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. 

Watch the video to get a full discussion on:

  1. what hormone is responsible for menopause,
  2. symptoms frequently experienced during menopause,
  3. treatment options for hot flashes,
  4. what stress can do to your body,
  5. insulin resistance and associated risks,
  6. creating a balanced diet.