Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels cause the menopause symptoms we’ve all heard about, the mood swings, forgetfulness, hot flashes and night sweats. These menopause symptoms can last 4-5 years or more, as the ovaries gradually make less of these hormones. Eventually, the ovaries stop producing progesterone and reduce estrogen levels significantly, but the adrenal glands and fat cells also produce estrogen. They gradually take over as the main sources of estrogen, maintaining it at a much lower level.
Estrogen plays important roles in women’s health by
• naturally protecting women from heart disease. When estrogen declines, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases.
• protecting against osteoporosis by decreasing the rate of bone breakdown. With the reduction of estrogen, bones begin to break down faster than the body can replace them. Calcium-rich plant foods help, as do strength training and weight-bearing activities.
Studies show that animal-based or synthetic hormone replacement therapy during and after menopause may not be the answer, however, since they increase the risk for breast cancer within as little as two years of use.
Phytoestrogens, on the other hand, are natural replacements provided by natural plant foods. Plant foods, such as soy and Chinese yam, are rich in phytoestrogens. With polysaccharideand antioxidant-rich sage, raspberry and licorice, they support the immune system, relieve menopausal discomfort, aid calcium absorption, support healthy bone structure, improve memory and lower cardiovascular risks.
Chinese yam is a starchy tuber native to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Yam contains saponins, tannins, polyphenols, vitamins, sugars, amino acids, uronic acid, chelidonic acid, sitosterol, batasin, and dioscin and more. Traditionally, Chinese yam is used to nourish, tonify and invigorate the spleen and restore the body. Yam also contains diosgenin, which is a phytoestrogen that the body converts into progesterone.
As an added bonus, the abundant antioxidants in Chinese yam, particularly from dioscin, may help to delay visible signs of aging. And yam helps to release glycerol, which may reduce the amount of fat in the body and reduce cellulite!
Sage does more than add flavor to foods! It helps to reduce hot flashes and night sweats. The high levels of potassium and magnesium found in sage also help replenish minerals the body loses through perspiration during hot flashes. Sage is also rich in vitamins A, C and K, calcium and iron.
The high antioxidant capacity in sage comes from rosmarinic acid and luteolin-7-O-β-glucopyranoside. Apigenin, a flavonoid, provides estrogenic effects as well as calming anxiety. The phytoestrogens in sage include genistein, daidzein and formononetin, which help to counter low estrogen levels during menopause.
Rich in phytoestrogens, raspberries help maintain hormonal balance, and relieve hot flashes and other symptoms of imbalance. It also relaxes and lubricates the uterus and relieves dryness of the vaginal tract during menopause.
Ellagitannins, anthocyanins and vitamin C contribute to the antioxidant activity of raspberries, which it around 50% higher than strawberries and ten times that of tomatoes. High in fiber, raspberries also help reduce cancer-causing hormones in menopausal women.
Ginkgo contains both phytoestrogens that help restore hormonal balance and heart-protective terpenoids that have antioxidant properties and help improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels and reducing platelet stickiness. It is most often used to support immunity due to its antioxidant activity. Ginkgo also increases natural killer cell activity, improves oxygen delivery throughout the body and contains quercetin, which can inhibit estrogen-activated bladder, breast and ovarian tumors.
Licorice has over 334 potentially healthful substances, including phytoestogens, phytosterols, flavonoids,
isoflavonoids, chalcones and saponins. As an adaptogenic herb, licorice improves the body’s response
to stress and helps to maintain normal levels of cortisol. It also supports the adrenal glands, and contains
isoflavones that have estrogen and progesterone balancing compounds.
Maintaining the health of the adrenal glands is vital during and after menopause. However, years of poor eating
habits and stressful lifestyles may have already worn out your adrenal glands. Symptoms of adrenal stress are
similar to those of menopause—depression, irritability, fatigue and mood swings. Adaptogenic herbs, such as
licorice, help the body adapt to stress, and extend the activity of adrenal hormones in your body.
Living a Better Life During and After Menopause
As is the case with so many health issues, eating a proper diet that includes those foods that support your
specific needs means a happier, healthier life. The science of Nutritional Immunology helps us to understand
which plant foods provide the nutrition we need—no matter what stage of life! With the knowledge it provides, women can enjoy a graceful and natural transition through menopause.