Easing Menopause with Diet

Oh menopause. The “change,” as they say. This season of life is so often regarded as a very challenging time for women, one filled with hormonal upheaval, mood changes, temperature dysregulation, and undesired fluctuations in weight. Basically, it sucks. But does it have to?

Numerous books and websites have sought to offer solutions to the maladies of menopause, including ideas such as herbal treatments, essentials oils, stress reduction techniques, exercise plans, and of course hormone therapies. All of these can offer help in various ways and certainly ease the symptoms. The one area that can have the biggest impact, particularly in not only easing symptoms but also in delaying menopause, is diet. What you put in your mouth every single day really matters, and it matters not only during menopause but years before you even go through the “change.”

So which foods are best? The advice is to eat a well-rounded diet, one that is chocked full of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. This will ensure you are getting adequate amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium and trace minerals, all of which can ease menopausal discomfort and keep your bones healthy. Omega 3 fatty acids can be another beneficial addition.

Here is a quick “eat this, not that” guide to get you going on a hormone-healthy diet plan!

EAT THIS

Vitamin A:
Carrots, red peppers, kale, winter squash, sweet potato (these tubers have estrogen-like effects when eaten), watermelon

B Vitamins:
Fruits, veggies, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy

Calcium:
Dairy products, plant milks, leafy greens, beans, nuts, tofu, broccoli

*Calcium absorption tends to decrease as we age. Be sure to get a wide range of calcium-containing foods in your diet. Don’t forget that in order to get calcium where you want it (in your bones!) it needs its cofactors friends for optimal usage. These nutrient buddies include Magnesium, Vitamin D, Boron, and Vitamin K.

Vitamin E:
Nuts & seeds (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds), spinach, avocado, butternut squash, mango, sweet potato, tomato

*This vitamin is critical as it stimulates the production of estrogen.

Vitamin C:
Oranges, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, pineapple, parsley, grapefruit, mango

Vitamin D:
Sunlight, fortified foods, sardines, salmon

*It is notoriously hard to get adequate amounts of this nutrient from food and sunlight, especially here in the northwest. In this rare case, a supplement is highly recommended.

Magnesium:
Nuts, whole grains, spinach, pumpkin seeds, figs, avocado, banana, chocolate

Vitamin K:
Dark leafy greens, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, prunes, cucumbers, spring onions

Boron:
Beans, berries, sweet potatoes, figs, prunes, plums, avocado, apples, pears, peaches, grapes, nuts

*This trace mineral not only helps calcium get into the bones, but research has also shown it can help balance hormone levels and ease menopausal symptoms.

Manganese:
Whole grains, beans, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, oats

Omega 3 fatty acids:
Salmon, mackerel, sardines, mussels, flax seed, chia seeds, hemp hearts, walnuts

NOT THAT

Here are some specific things to avoid for optimal hormonal support. I’m sure these will come as no surprise!

  • Sugar and other refined carbohydrates
  • Fast Food
  • Factory farmed animal meats
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

Hopefully you have identified some foods you can start including regularly in your diet that you may not already be eating. On the flip side I think we all can all identify foods we should remove from our normal routine! Also, do note that many of the healthy foods are cross-listed, meaning that they have a host of important nutrients in them. Non-processed foods are a powerhouse of nutrition and may just be the extra boost you need to delay or alleviate those pesky hormone-related symptoms.

Aflatoxin Exposure: Reason for Concern?

peanutsI’ll admit it. I haven’t been paying much attention to aflatoxins. Sure, I’ve seen news clips about them here and there, particularly related to peanut contamination (and rather sensationalized at that), however instead of digging further into the health implications I more or less put my fingers in my ears. “La la la la la.” I mean honestly, like I need one more thing to worry about, especially when it relates to peanuts, the most child friendly food on earth.

But I keep seeing the topic pop up and it’s become clear I can’t … and shouldn’t … ignore it.

What are aflatoxins? Let’s consult Wikipedia for a thorough commentary on the topic. “Aflatoxins are naturally occurring mycotoxins that are produced by many species of Aspergillus, a fungus.” They are toxic and “among the most carcinogenic substances known.”

Alright, my fingers are out of my ears. You had me at carcinogenic. Enlighten me, Wikipedia. Where are these fungus friends found? Or more to the point, how in the world do I avoid them?

“Aflatoxin-producing members of Aspergillus are common and widespread in nature.” It appears they can contaminate grains before harvest or during storage and naturally reside in soil and decaying plants. It can, however, invade all types of organic matter when conditions are ideal for its growth, ie moist and warm.

As it relates to food, aflatoxins tend to contaminate some foods more than others. Peanuts, as I mentioned earlier, are a biggy. Peanuts tend to provide favorable conditions for aflatoxin production both during growth and storage (Interestingly, Valencia peanuts seem to be the one variety resistant to mold growth.). Other foods/products include cooking oils, cassava, corn, cotton seed, millet, rice, sunflower seeds, tree nuts, sorghum, wheat and various spices. Aflatoxin-related compounds have even been found in the products of animals who fed on contaminated grains (think eggs, milk, meat).

But rest assured folks. It isn’t all doom and gloom. We have the FDA, right? Our protector of the food supply surely has knocked this vile microbe out of the food supply. Well, sorta. Like most things harmful to our natural body processes, the FDA has set maximum levels for ingestion. Basically, we can’t reasonably eliminate it without major economic consequences, but we can keep it to a minimum. Not exactly reassuring, but ok. The thing is you can still eat a considerable amount of aflatoxin-laden foods if you aren’t eating a varied diet or simply, by some cruel coincidence, happen to love a wide variety of foods that support aflatoxin production exceedingly well.

This then begs the question, what exactly does happen with aflatoxin ingestion? Wiki wiki, what say you?

“High level aflatoxin exposure produces an acute hepatic necrosis, resulting later in cirrhosis, and/or carcinoma of the liver.” So in other words, it’s possible your liver will slowly stop working and die. Or get cancer. Maybe both. Seriously?

The good news? “Adult humans have a high tolerance for aflatoxin exposure and rarely succumb to acute aflatoxicosis.” Succumb? You mean die? Well that’s good, but still, I’d prefer to avoid exposure altogether if possible and avoid that gray area between sick and succumb.

Also, Andrew Weil has this to say. “The U.S. government tests crops for aflatoxin and doesn’t permit them to be used for human or animal food if they contain levels over 20 parts per billion. While we don’t know much about the dangers of long-term exposure to low levels of aflatoxin, my colleague Kathleen Johnson, a dietitian here at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, points out that there hasn’t been an outbreak of liver cancer among U.S. kids, who as you know, consume enormous amounts of peanut butter (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA115491). Phew, no liver cancer in kids.

What about an increased risk into adulthood? Hard to say, but some studies do indicate that there is a slight increase in risk, especially when there are other liver complications such as Hep B.

What to do? The best we can realistically do is limit our exposure as much as possible. Even if we were to grow and process our own food (make our own grains, harvest our own tree nuts, etc) how do we know the fruits of our labor aren’t somehow contaminated by this prevalent fungus byproduct? We don’t, and that’s why at least at a very base level I am thankful to have some sort of protection with the FDA. But more to the point, we can limit our ingestion of foods known to be contaminated.

So while initially I was about to throw out every peanut-containing product in my house, I will now take a rational yet still protective approach. This likely means we use less peanut products. We’ll make sure that the potentially aflatoxin-contaminated foods that we do eat are stored properly and consumed in a reasonable amount of time. We’ll continue to eat a healthy diet, rich in antioxidants, to help ward off illness and naturally detoxify the body. In fact, one article noted this little gem: “Medical research indicates that a regular diet including apiaceous vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, celery and parsley reduces the carcinogenic effects of aflatoxin.” A healthy diet can cover a multitude of sins.

Rather than cause you excessive worry I hope I helped enlighten you about this potentially carcinogenic substance in our food supply. It’s just one more reason a healthy diet is so important. Eat well. Exercise daily. Enjoy life.