Menopause is not a medical condition or a disease, but it can feel like it at times. Simply put, it is end of the menstrual cycle, marking the end of the child bearing years for a woman. The average age for most women in America is between 45 and 53; however there is a wide variation in the ages and the timing.
Menopause before the age of 40 is deemed premature and should be investigated for the reason. Most naturally occurring menopause is not a sudden thing but may take many years to start and end instead. It typically takes at least a year to be complete during which the woman may have occasional, light periods, or on the other side of the spectrum, heavy bleeding that can potentially cause anemia. Menopause is said to be complete after an entire twelve months have passed without any menstruation at all. After this year has passed, any bleeding or bloody discharge should be promptly investigated to rule out fibroids, polyps, lesions or possible cancer.
There are no set patterns for menopause symptoms – some women get all of the classic symptoms, some women get a few for a day or so and then are not bothered any more. Some symptoms of menopause can be more problematic than others, while some can actually lead to more serious problems. Some of the most common symptoms of menopause:
– Hot flashes (the most common symptom)
– Vaginal atrophy (thinning of the vaginal walls, loss of elasticity and dryness which can lead to painful sex and susceptibility to infections
– Increased risk of osteoporosis
For most women (60-80%) only minor symptoms are noted. Occasionally the symptoms, especially the hot flashes, become more serious and can even be incapacitating. It is important that the menopausal woman keep up with all of the required health exams including breast examination, pap smears and others. (An annual eye exam is also suggested to screen for glaucoma which becomes more problematic after the age of forty).
Why Diet is Important after Menopause
After menopause, the hormones are changed and flipped around. Estrogen, the hormone responsible for ovulation and the menstrual cycle, declines with menopause, leaving the woman with more of the male hormones instead. Both men and women tend to put on some weight, typically around their middle sections after they reach the age of about forty or so, regardless of diet, even with no change in intake or activity level. This weight may start to creep up on the middle aged person, the so called middle aged drift. Keeping the weight under control can help the menopausal woman stay healthier and more active; giving her better benefits (Staying active can lessen the risk of osteoporosis).
Every day, four thousand women enter menopause and because women are living longer than ever before, will spend about a third of their life post-menopausal. There are medications that can be taken, including replacement hormone therapy but there are drawbacks to them. There are herbal products that can be used to combat some of the symptoms but these can be dangerous and may even interact with prescription medications. Using dietary changes can ease symptoms, and can also help to keep the extra weight from piling on.
Soy Protein and Menopause
Soy based proteins have phytoestrogens which act like human based estrogens without some of the risk factors that estrogen replacement therapy can have. Some of the benefits of soy proteins:
– Reduction of hot flashes (in up to 45% cases)
– Decrease the feeling of vaginal dryness and the subsequent risks
– Decrease the bone loss
– An improved cholesterol profile. (soy protein can reduce the cholesterol level by nine points)
– Decreased risk of cancer
– Decreased risk of developing diabetes and better control of existing diabetes
– Decreased risk for kidney and gallstones
– Better control of the blood pressure
Miso and Breast Cancer
Miso is a fermented, soy bean paste which has been shown to decrease breast cancer in Japanese women. In addition, the women who consumed the most miso soup were typically free from menopausal symptoms in four to twelve weeks. According to research that was done by Japan’s National Cancer Center, those women who consumed three bowls of miso soup every day were at a 40% lower risk for developing breast cancer, while those who just had two bowls of the soup every day had a 26% reduction in breast cancer risk.
Additional Protein Sources
In addition to soy, which is the only plant based protein that contains all eight essential amino acids, making it complete, all other plant based proteins, (seeds, nuts, grains and beans) lack one or more of the essential amino acids and should be eaten in combinations that can allow for the full range of amino acids to be part of the diet.
Animal based protein on the other hand is complete and includes meats, dairy foods and eggs. Eggs are considered to be the perfect protein because all grams of protein in the egg are absorbed and digested by the body. Low fat dairy can be a beneficial way to get protein, however for those who are at increased risk for osteoporosis should be wary of skim milk’s phosphorous content which is potentially more problematic.
Protein supplements, which include soy, whey, egg and rice protein, can be used as a meal replacement or as a between-meal snack. There are additional protein supplements as well which include protein bars and protein liquid supplements.
Protein Bars – Protein bars should have enough protein to qualify as a mini-meal but should not have extra sugar which lowers the nutritional benefit. Look for a bar that has at least ten grams of protein per serving but no more than five grams of sugar. Make sure that the calorie count will fit into your actual diet plan.
Future Benefits of Protein
Research by the Ohio State University has shown that a particular protein (excitary amino acid transporter 2, EAAT2) may decrease bloating and the accompanying abdominal discomforts that it can produce. The protein does not affect the bloating itself, merely the brain’s perception of the pain that it feels. The study has been done with mice only so far, but may soon be performed on humans in hopes of using it to treat menopausal bloating as well as other gastrointestinal disorders.