By Joan Kent, flashes

I”™ve posted recently about dietary influences on PMS, and thought it might also be appropriate to discuss menopause and how your older students can use food to help alleviate symptoms.

Brain chemical changes of menopause resemble those of PMS: reduced serotonin and beta-endorphin. So in a sense, menopause is almost permanent PMS. (No comment.)

The most common menopause sign is the occurrence of hot flashes. Hot flashes are best eliminated by limiting or avoiding dairy foods, animal fats, red meat, caffeine, white flour, alcohol, and fried foods. The most significant change you can make, however, is to eliminate sugar. That may need to include fruits. Sure, you”™ve heard me rail against sugar before. But anecdotally, I can tell you that I had hot flashes only 3 times — always after I had indulged in fruit (beyond my usual apple or two per day).

Getting enough calcium is important for bone health. Nondairy sources of calcium include broccoli, kale, kelp, mustard greens, dandelion greens, turnip greens, collard greens, and sesame seeds.

Keeping insulin secretion low can help with calcium retention. Minimize insulin by limiting the foods in the “hot flash” list above. Eat only when you”™re hungry. Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Avoid high-carb meals (or a high-carb diet generally). Make carbs COMPLEX (sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, etc.), and eat lean protein and unsaturated fats with every meal or snack.

Phytoestrogens are another good way to alleviate menopause discomfort. Celery, parsley, nuts, seeds are foods that contain phytoestrogens. Soy contains phytoestrogens, although soy is a somewhat controversial food. Let”™s table that debate for now and include fermented soy (miso, tempeh, natto) in the phytoestrogen-containing group.

Eat an all-starch snack, such as brown rice or a potato, about an hour or so before bed. This is designed to shift brain chemistry and help the brain make serotonin, which has a relaxing effect and is also the precursor of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Eat ½ to 1 teaspoon of acidophilus yogurt daily. Note the small amount. Even if you”™re avoiding dairy, this won”™t be enough to cause hot flashes, and the probiotic benefits are worth it. Other probiotic foods include real sauerkraut and kimchee.

Eat “good” fats to control cravings for sugar and other carbs. Examples are nuts, nut butters (unprocessed, without sugar), seeds, and avocados; also olive, canola, and walnut oils. More below.

Essential fatty acids are great to add to your diet. (Essential means we can”™t make it in the body and have to get it from food.) Cold-water fish, ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil, and walnuts supply a good array of EFA. Another, somewhat surprising, way is to eat lots of leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and other greens in the nondairy calcium list above. We don”™t think of leafy vegetables as containing fats — and they don”™t contain much — but every bit of the fat in them is an essential fat, alpha-linolenic acid.

Stress management techniques can help. Chronic stress worsens symptoms, increases insulin secretion, decreases serotonin and beta-endorphin even more, induces depression, and increases appetite and food cravings. Stress management techniques can include meditation, acupuncture, and heat to raise body temperature (sauna, steam, whirlpool, hot bath or shower).

The #1 stress management technique is exercise! Exercise raises beta-endorphin and serotonin, minimizes insulin secretion by making muscle more sensitive to insulin (so we produce less), improves mood, and reduces insomnia, fatigue, and food cravings. Encourage students who have symptoms to use your classes to help manage them.

Here”™s to eating right and regular indoor cycling classes as part of a lifelong health strategy, not just to combat menopause discomfort.

Joan Kent

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