The symptoms of perimenopause span everything from mood swings, depression, and fatigue, to sleep issues, brain fog, memory loss, and hot flashes (including night sweats). Ranging in severity from person to person, these are all hallmarks of what can be a difficult time—according to Medichecks, which provides at-home menopause blood tests, 70 percent of women going through the perimenopause say it has affected their self-worth, while 46 percent say it has damaged their career. That said, a growing number of famous faces—Gwyneth Paltrow included—are getting real about perimenopause, and speaking about the symptoms they suffer openly.
While greater awareness of this key hormonal phase in a woman’s life is slowly growing, there is still a widespread lack of understanding of how to manage menopause symptoms. As well as HRT (or hormone replacement therapy), and regular exercise, one area to consider is your diet. With an increase in retailers creating menopause-specific sections in-store and online, here Vogue speaks to the experts to discover their recommendations on the dietary choices to make, along with the best menopause supplements to take, to ensure you’re supported throughout.
1. Look after your gut
Gut health is important and helps with myriad key systems within the body. “Research has discovered a special subset of microbes in the gut microbiome, called the astrobleme, which play a crucial role in detoxifying and eliminating hormones,” says author and nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik. “Oestrogen, as well as other hormones and toxins, are excreted through bile from the liver into our gut, where it is eventually eliminated from the body via our feces. This is why constipation can result in an estrogen dominance that is often common during perimenopause and postmenopause.” If the gut microbiome is out of balance, it can result in hormones—and notably estrogen—being reabsorbed, which can then heighten menopausal symptoms.
The gut is also responsible for making and managing neurotransmitters, such as serotonin (responsible for happiness), dopamine, and melatonin, all of which have an influence on mood and sleep, so it’s important to keep the gut happy for a healthy body and mind.
2. Take a women’s multivitamin
To maintain energy and mood, women’s health and emotional wellbeing expert Judith Forsyth says it’s important to take a good mix of vitamins, especially B6 and B12. “These are also often combined with botanicals, such as Siberian ginseng (for energy) and alfalfa to help with hot flushes,” she says.
3. Eat phytoestrogens
Red wine, coffee, strawberries, nuts and seeds, oats, wheat, licorice root tea, and olive oil are all phytoestrogens, otherwise known as plant-based compounds, which have properties akin to those of estrogen itself. There is some evidence to suggest that they can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce hot flashes.
4. Protein is important
Eating enough protein is paramount, it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, makes us feel fuller, and plays a critical role in the production of neurotransmitters. Kalinik advises aiming for 1g per 1kg of your weight as a daily target (or the size of your palm). “Eat a wide variety of foods,” she says, advising everything from free-range poultry and oily fish to eggs, yogurt, and cheese. “Plant-based sources could include tofu or tempeh, as well as pulses and legumes.”
5. For better sleep
Magnesium is a great supplement to try if you’re struggling with shut-eye since it helps relax muscles and promotes a deeper and more restorative sleep, while also balancing blood sugar levels. “Some studies have also shown that foods high in the amino acid glycine (found in milk and cheese), can also help menopausal women sleep more deeply,” says Forsyth. “Another good botanical to incorporate is valerian root.”
6. Boost your polyphenols
“Try to add in foods that can provide diversity and a polyphenol boost at every meal,” explains Dr. Federica Amati, nutritionist and chief nutrition scientist for Indi Supplements. “For example, mixed herbs and spices added to scrambled eggs; frozen berries in overnight oats; a handful of mixed mushrooms added to a stir fry; nuts and seeds blended with fresh basil, rocket, and extra virgin olive oil to make a quick pesto; or a spoonful of kefir added to vegetable soup—the aim is to have 30 different plants per week, which provide different types of prebiotic fiber and polyphenols to ensure a healthy, diverse gut microbiome.” She is emphatic that eating lots of different plants is key to significantly improving symptoms of menopause.
7. Consume fats with every meal
Crucial for hormone production, Kalinik advises eating a portion of dietary fat at every meal. “Sources of healthy fats include oily fish, grass-fed meat, eggs, olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, organic butter, ghee or coconut oil,” she says.
8. Vitamin D
A drop in estrogen and calcium levels during perimenopause means that bone health can suffer. Taking a vitamin D supplement (at least 600 IU) helps maintain it.
9. Omega 3
Providing anti-inflammatory and joint health support, omega-3 fish oils are a good supplement to incorporate into your diet. They can also help with cognitive health.
10. Consider a menopause-specific supplement
To help mitigate the effects and frequency of physical symptoms, such as hot flushes, Forsyth recommends a menopause supplement that “ideally contains a blend of ingredients like evening primrose oil and soy isoflavones.”
11. For depleting collagen levels
As perimenopause hits, your skin and hair can be impacted due to the aforementioned decrease in estrogen, which causes collagen levels to drop. Seek out supplements that cater to hair, skin, and nails, delivering collagen, biotin, and zinc to help strengthen and support them both.
12. What to avoid
Caffeine and alcohol. “Watch your intake of these as both can worsen peri and post-menopausal symptoms and increase cortisol, which can lead to further hormonal imbalances and disrupt sleep,” says Kalinik.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.