The consumption of whole milk has generally been decreasing in the UK, and in 2020/2021, the average purchase of whole milk was 311 milliliters per person per week.Compare that to 2001( 511 milliliters per person) and we’re drinking roughly 40% less. As you enter menopause, you might be wondering whether a dairy free diet would be better for you. There’s a lot of conflicting information online, so working out what’s best for you can be a bit of a minefield.
In this article, we will look at the pros and cons of dairy consumption in menopause, so you can weigh up whether a dairy-free diet is the right option for you.
First of all, what is dairy?
Dairy products are those made from animal milk, or produced in the mammary glands of cows . This includes cow, sheep and goat milk, cheese, yoghurts, and butter.
Does dairy contain hormones?
Dairy products contain small quantities of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and androgens. Hormones like estrogen are fat-soluble, so they’re present in higher quantities in high-fat dairy products such as full-fat milk. The level of hormones found in dairy is very small compared to the quantities of the same hormones that are produced by the body. So, consuming milk, cheese and yoghurt is unlikely to significantly alter your natural hormonal balance.
Dairy and menopause
Menopause is defined as the natural transition in a woman’s life when her periods stop. Once 12 months have passed since your last period, you’re officially in menopause. However, some symptoms linger for several years afterwards.
It is well known that your hormones are out of whack during perimenopause and menopause. And you might have heard that dairy can make the problem worse. But there’s no need to switch to a dairy-free diet just yet – evidence shows that there are plenty of benefits to consuming it in menopause.
The pros of consuming dairy in menopause
Estrogen helps strengthen the bones. And as estrogen levels decline, bone health can suffer, with many women suffering breaks and fractures and eventually being diagnosed with osteoporosis. Dairy products contain a crop of nutrients that are beneficial to bone health, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins D and K. That’s why many menopause supplements contain whey protein – a byproduct of cheese manufacturing which is high in calcium.
Increased muscle mass
Women tend to lose muscle mass during menopause, which can lead to weakness and weight gain. One benefit of consuming milk is that it’s high in protein – and protein is essential if you want to maintain strength as you get older.
Sleep problems are common in menopause – fluctuating hormone levels lead to things like hot flashes and anxiety, which can keep us up at night. One study found that foods high in amino acids can help menopausal women to sleep better. Amino acids are found in a whole host of dairy products, like milk and cheese, so consuming these may contribute to deeper sleep.
Decreased risk of premature menopause
Premature menopause – menopause that happens before the age of 40 – comes with a list of health risks including a higher chance of developing cardiovascular disease. If you’re not yet in menopause, it’s worth considering whether dairy products can help warn it off for a little longer. It’s not the hormones found in dairy products that have this effect, though – it’s vitamin D and calcium. According to one study, women with the highest intake of these two nutrients had a 17% reduced risk of early menopause.
The cons of consuming dairy in menopause
Many dairy products are high in calories, so consuming too much can lead to weight gain. And, as you’re probably aware, menopausal weight gain is one of the most frustrating symptoms there is. Milk, cheese and butter are often high in saturated fat, which can lead to high cholesterol, too. There are lower-fat options, though – switching to skimmed milk or opting for reduced-fat cheese are two ways you can help cut down the calories.
Increase symptoms of autoimmune diseases
There is evidence to suggest that consuming dairy can help people who suffer from autoimmune diseases – even sending them into remission. This evidence is purely anecdotal, however. This is particularly relevant to menopausal women, as hormonal changes around this time can increase the symptoms of autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism – and vice versa.
Despite the very small quantities of hormones found in dairy products, some women do report that consuming them makes their hormonal imbalance worse. This can ramp up some menopause symptoms, such as headaches and mood swings.
The bottom line
There are many benefits to consuming dairy in menopause – it can boost bone strength, improve sleep quality and maintain muscle mass. Consuming too much high-fat dairy can contribute to weight gain, though, and some women find that the hormones in dairy can lead to further imbalances. All in all, it’s generally recommended to consume dairy in menopause as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Are there hormones in cow’s milk?
Cow's milk contains hormones including estrogen, progesterone and androgens. Because they’re found in such small quantities, they’re unlikely to have any effect on our natural hormonal balance.
Should I follow a dairy-free diet plan in menopause?
It’s recommended that menopausal women consume plenty of calcium and protein, so eating dairy products can help achieve this. However, many women choose not to. You can still get the recommended levels from other foods, like spinach, broccoli, and kale.
Is whey protein dairy?
Because it’s derived from milk, whey protein is considered a dairy product. However, whey protein powder does only contain a very tiny amount of lactose.