Am I Too Young to Have Menopause Symptoms?
By Teresa Wagner, RD, LD
March 15, 2016
As a woman in my upper 30s I find myself having more and more conversations with women my age about menopause symptoms. The conversations are light, and there tends to be some laughing about those symptoms, but for some women what they’re experiencing is hardly a laughing matter.
Are you are a woman in your 30s or early 40s experiencing hot flashes, mood swings, low libido, weight gain or fatigue? Do you have trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night? Is your memory not what it used to be? Have you been gaining weight even though you feel like you are eating healthy? Do you catch yourself wondering, “Could this be early menopause?”
The answer could be yes, or your symptoms may be related to what you are (or are not) eating. Let’s take a closer look at some of the symptoms of menopause and see if there is a food connection to why you may be experiencing these symptoms.
The food connection to menopause-like symptoms
Let’s begin with the most famous of menopause symptoms, hot flashes. Hot flashes occur because of fluctuations in hormones. Why would hormones be fluctuating? Insulin is the master hormone that affects the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Insulin is released in response to the amount of carbohydrates you eat. When eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), full of sugar and processed carbohydrates, blood sugar spikes and crashes (and you’re riding the blood sugar roller coaster) all day long. This way of eating can set you up for hormonal imbalance and result in hot flashes.
Night sweats and insomnia
Night sweats and insomnia can also be connected to the blood sugar roller coaster and hormone fluctuation. If your blood sugar is soaring and crashing all day, can you guess what is happening during the night? Are you are waking up every night at 3am and struggling to fall back asleep? It could be the result of a blood sugar spike and crash.
Fatigue, mood issues, headaches and more
If you're not sleeping well it’s not surprising that you may feel fatigued, irritable and emotional, have headaches and crave sugar. These feelings may also be related to low blood sugar. Eating meals or snacks made up of carbohydrates only, eating highly-processed carbohydrates or going extended periods of time without eating anything, can lead to low blood sugar. Think of how you feel when you’ve gone too long without eating. Do you have a go-with-the-flow, easy-breezy personality or are you annoyed, overly-sensitive, impatient, and/or quick-tempered?
Do you follow a low-fat diet? If you do, that may also be contributing to a low libido. Low-fat eating inhibits healthy hormone production.
Are you gaining weight or having a difficult time maintaining your weight even though you try to eat healthy? Diets that are touted as healthy by much of the medical community include 6-11 servings of grains, 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, minimal animal protein and minimal fat. The problem with these recommendations is they are far too high in carbohydrates and too low in protein and fat.
As women age, our bodies don’t burn sugar (carbohydrates) for energy as efficiently as they used to. When the sugar isn’t used by the body, it has to be stored somewhere, and that somewhere is our fat cells.
Change your eating to decrease symptoms
To decrease menopause-like symptoms, we encourage clients to eat the Weight & Wellness Way, a balanced way of eating, so there aren’t dramatic spikes and dips in blood sugar. What does balanced eating mean? At every meal and snack eat:
- Animal protein
- Healthy fat
- Carbohydrates (mostly from vegetables)
- Minor amounts of fruits, grains and starchy carbohydrates (about ½ c per meal or snack)
The important role fat plays in decreasing symptoms
Fat is not only helpful for balancing blood sugar, it’s crucial for making hormones. It’s not just fat that is required to make hormones, but cholesterol as well. According to Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, MD authors of Diet for the Prevention of Women’s Diseases, “In order to produce estrogen and progesterone as required for the reproductive cycle, the body needs adequate amounts of cholesterol, because all the sex hormones are made from this vital substance.” This contradicts what women have been told over and over: in order to maintain our weight and decrease our risk of chronic illnesses we need to avoid fat and cholesterol. But where has that gotten us? Are we any thinner? Have we had less risk for chronic disease? It could be argued the opposite is true.
The fats our bodies utilize well for hormone production are fats and oils that have a fatty origin. Think of an olive, if you squeeze it hard enough you could probably get a drop of olive oil from it. It doesn’t require a chemistry lab or major processing to obtain the oil. Now think about a kernel of corn. Imagine squeezing that kernel as hard as you possibly can. It’s tough to imagine oil being squeezed out. Or what about a soybean? Oils made from corn and soybeans require lots of processing and chemical processes to end up in the familiar bottles we see on grocery store shelves. Avoid these and stick with oils like olive oil or coconut oil. Other healthy fats to include in your eating plan: avocado, nuts, seeds, butter, and heavy cream.
If you’re experiencing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, mood swings, insomnia and weight gain, a first step is to check your eating plan. Take out the processed carbs and bad fats from your diet and ensure you’re eating in balance and incorporating enough healthy fat as outlined above. I think you’ll be surprised by how much better you feel.
For some, the idea of adding fat into the diet can be a scary concept. If that is true for you, scheduling an appointment with one of our licensed nutritionists may be beneficial for you.
For more information, listen to our podcast: Am I too Young to Have Menopausal Symptoms?