Updated: Jul 8
Foods for menopausal symptoms
Recently, I was asked a great question, and one that I get often as a primary care physician: “What foods could potentially alleviate menopausal symptoms?”. Women, this one’s for you, but men, stick with me cause your wives, moms and daughters are counting on you.
Although menopause can reek havoc on a women’s physical and mental health, this particular person was inquiring specifically about vasomotor symptoms, also called hot flashes or “flushes”, where sudden blood vessel dilation causes a rapid increase of heat-generating blood flow to the skin. This bothersome symptom can affect up to 75-80% of post-menopausal women, but I’m happy to inform those affected that there are some options other than meds. Let’s address menopausal hot flashes in more detail.
What is menopause?
Menopause is the medical condition describing women who haven’t had menstrual periods in more than 12 months. It’s a normal biological process, and the average age of those affected is 51. Peri-menopause, seen in the months and even years before menopause, can lead to many uncomfortable symptoms including irregular periods, hot flashes, sleep and mood disturbances and vaginal dryness, just to name a few. These symptoms are caused by the sudden drop in estrogen levels that happens when ovulation and menstrual periods stop.
Treating menopause with diet?
Studies have already shown that a plant-based diet can reduce many of the symptoms of menopause. Most of the benefits are attributable to soy protein and its phytoestrogen content, as well as the increased fiber intake, but we also know that animal products contain hormones that can increase menopausal symptoms.
Soy for menopause
Soy products, including tofu, tempeh, soy milk and edamame (whole juvenile soybeans, mature soybeans contain even more isoflavones) contain phytoestrogens, which are phytonutrients only found in plants. Although there’s a lot of fear surrounding soy and its role in stimulating cancer growth, studies have debunked these conspiracies a long time ago. Phytoestrogens in soy, called isoflavones, are a special type of estrogen-like molecule, called SERMs (selective estrogen receptor modulators), meaning that they have pro-estrogenic effects on tissues that need it and anti-estrogenic effects on tissues that don’t. Studies have shown that populations with the highest soy consumption have the lowest rates of estrogen-dependent cancers, like breast and endometrial cancers.
Also, only 10-20% of post-menopausal women in China and Japan experience hot flashes, while 75% of North American women will have them. This has been explained by these Eastern populations’ high soy intake.
Studies done with whole soy foods, like the recently published WAVS trial, and even studies with isoflavone supplements, have shown dramatic reductions in menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, without any of the risks associated with hormone replacement therapy. High soy intake does not increase breast cancer risk, and most studies actually show protective effects.
The protective properties of fiber
There are a million good reasons to eat more fiber and we probably evolved on diets containing more than 100 grams per day. Even though the minimal recommended daily intake is a pitiful 15-30 grams, it is widely known that 95% of people don’t even consume that low amount.
Increased fiber intake has been also shown to decrease post-menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and mood disturbances. These effects are partly explained by the beneficial compounds produced by our gut bacteria (microbiome) after feeding on fiber that has reached our colon. These compounds then make their way in our bloodstream and even cross the blood-brain barrier where they can exert their effects on mood and sleep. It‘s also believed that complex interactions between circulating hormones and gut micro-organisms could explain the benefits of a high fiber diet. So eat your fruits and veggies, cause studies have shown they decrease menopausal symptoms.
Foods that aggravate menopausal symptoms
Just like foods can alleviate menopausal symptoms, some can aggravate them. Coffee will often make hot flashes worst. There’s also lots of studies linking meat and animal product consumption with increased menopausal symptoms. Processed carbs, added sugars and alcohol have been found to worsen symptoms, so eating whole and unprocessed foods can help. Spicy foods have been reported to worsen symptoms in some, but not all, and studies on this are inconclusive, so listen to your body and experiment with different types of spicy foods.
Doctor’s orders for menopause
If you’ve been paying attention, you will notice a pattern. High soy intake, high fiber intake and high fruit and veggie intake have all been associated with improved menopausal symptoms, while high intake of added sugar, processed food and animal products have been associated with increased symptoms. The pattern is easily recognizable. A diet incorporating whole plant foods, and in particular soy, have been studied, and shown to decrease menopausal hot flashes.
To learn more about the association between food and menopause, check out my website plantbaseddrjules.com
Check out my website plantbaseddrjules.com and look for the “How To” section in the menu. There, you’ll find tips and tricks that helped me on my journey towards a plant-predominant diet. Everything there is completely free, no catches! If you're looking for quick, easy and healthy plant-based recipes, check out plantbaseddrjules.com and download my free recipe eBook!
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Plant-Based Dr. Jules 💚🌱
Thanks for reading! If you’ve made it this far, you’re a part of the few who recognize that your health is no one’s responsibility but your own. Life can only be enjoyed and lived fully when you have optimal mental and physical health. Keep taking care of yourselves.
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Plant-based Dr Jules 🌱💚
Barnard ND, Kahleova H, Holtz DN, Del Aguila F, Neola M, Crosby LM, Holubkov R. The Women's Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms (WAVS): a randomized, controlled trial of a plant-based diet and whole soybeans for postmenopausal women. Menopause. 2021 Jul 12. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000001812. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34260478.
Messina M. Soy foods, isoflavones, and the health of postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jul;100 Suppl 1:423S-30S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.071464. Epub 2014 Jun 4. PMID: 24898224.
Martín Salinas C, López-Sobaler AM. Beneficios de la soja en la salud femenina [Benefits of soy in women's health]. Nutr Hosp. 2017 Oct 15;34(Suppl 4):36-40. Spanish. doi: 10.20960/nh.1569. PMID: 29156930.