Awareness of the menopause, menopause symptoms, accessing HRT and the difficulties faced by menopausal women has been in the UK spotlight since 2020. It seemed all of a sudden there were books, documentaries and podcasts everywhere - coinciding dramatically with a nationwide shortage of HRT. Now we even have an official World Menopause Day on the 18th of October!
There are roughly 128m google searches per month for best menopause supplements monthly. So, do you need extra support when you are going through menopause? If you're on hormone replacement therapy should you be looking at your nutrition? What about if you aren't on HRT? Can a healthy diet and lifestyle make a difference and stop your hot flashes and mood swings?
In this article we'll be looking at the supplements and lifestyle changes women are using to cope with the common symptoms of menopause.Let's begin.
Menopause - your inevitable hormonal transition
A woman's hormone levels will generally start to change around 46 when she enters perimenopause. Normally oestrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall rhythmically with her menstrual cycle. During this time the ovaries start to make less of these hormones causing fluctuations resulting in perimenopause symptoms. She is still having periods and is able to get pregnant.
When hormone levels are too low to stimulate ovulation, her menstrual cycle ceases and she enters menopause ( average age 52). Her menopause symptoms will overlap with her perimenopause symptoms - as in some symptoms like low moods and hot flushes will bridge both phases. The menopause phase is 12 consecutive months of no menstrual cycle. After 12 months a woman is post menopausal. She can still experience menopause symptoms for up to 10 years.
What is premature menopause?
Premature menopause or early menopause happens when a woman's periods stop before the age of 45. This can happen due to medication or naturally. Women who experience a premature menopause are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis due to less oestrogen for a longer period time.
Menopause and hormone replacement therapy
As hormonal changes continue, the body's ability to keep its normal functions intact starts to decline resulting in menopausal symptoms. A hormonal decline is not just about fertility. Oestrogen supports a multitude of biological functions which include brain function and the production of neurotransmitters, bone density regulation, the central nervous system and the the cardiovascular system. It helps to keep collagen and moisture levels in the skin optimum and cholesterol levels low. When it starts dropping you're going to know about it!!
As oestrogen (estrogen) and progesterone levels decline menopausal women can experience symptoms which include
- Hot flashes
- Mood Swings
- Brain health
- Hot flushes and Night Sweats ( hot flashes)
- Changes to the nervous system
- Sleep disruption
- Skin and hair changes
- Low mood
- Joint pain
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Declining bone health
- Higher blood sugar levels
- Higher cholesterol levels
Hormone replacement therapy primarily replaces the oestrogen hormone to help alleviate symptoms experienced when your natural hormone levels are too low. If you still have a womb you'll also need progestogen. Some women's HRT also involves testosterone. Women can purchase vaginal moisturisers which contain oestrogen over the counter as a cream for vaginal dryness. This can also be delivered via a pessary.
How does the hormonal decline affect women's health?
A woman experiences menopause symptoms in one of the busiest, stressful times of her life. She will often be at the peak of her career, raising teenagers and looking after ageing parents. Increased anxiety, low moods, fatigue and sleep disruption can lead to emotional eating and less exercise which can result in weight gain.
Higher blood pressure
Oestrogen supports your blood vessels keeping them wide and flexible so blood can flow through them easily which helps to keep blood pressure down. They become less flexible in menopause and as we age blood pressure, also known as hypertension, tends to rise. High blood pressure puts an extra strain on your heart and blood vessels which can make them weaker. Over time, this can lead to serious health problems
A higher risk of Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is where the arteries of the heart cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart. CHD kills twice as many women in the UK every year than breast cancer. Oestrogen offers some protection from CHD pre menopause but post menopause a woman risk rises.
The British Menopause Society concludes that oestrogen hormone replacement therapy may help to protect women especially if initiated in women below age 60 years or within 10 years of onset of menopause
An increased risk of high cholesterol
We can't live without cholesterol but oestrogen helps to keep cholesterol levels in check - keeping the arteries clear of fatty plaque deposits.
High-density lipoproteins or HDL known as the 'good’ cholesterol takes excess cholesterol back to the liver which makes sure it's expelled. Non-high-density lipoproteins or non-HDL, the 'bad' cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits inside the walls of the vessels which makes them more narrow and increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
An increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes
During menopause the way a woman's body stores fat changes, it is stored around her middle rather than on her hips and thighs. Excess fat is linked to insulin resistance which can lead to higher blood sugar levels and diabetes.
What are menopause supplements?
Menopause supplements are vitamins and nutrients which can help to support the body as its needs change based on the change in hormone levels. They can be in different forms such as pills, gummies, powders, drinks, meal replacement shakes and simple shakes which are taken in additional to a normal diet.
Key ingredients, vitamins and minerals
Ingredients, vitamins and minerals you'll see in menopause supplements are focused on supporting the short comings left by the decline of hormones.
- Enough calcium to protect against weak bones. Osteoporosis is a real threat in menopause.
- Vitamin D is needed by the body to absorb calcium - a bone strength building dynamic duo!
- Vitamin E- supports skin and strengthens immunity.
- Vitamin K - for blood clotting, helping wounds to heal and bone strength.
- B Vitamins - B1, B2, B3, B5 ,B6 B7, B9, B12 work together to support energy production and cognitive health which incudes fatigue, low moods, anxiety and brain fog.
- Magnesium - Supports energy production, the nervous system, digestion and the adrenal glands.
- Iron -produces haemoglobin which carries oxygen around the body, essential for energy production.
- Zinc - an antioxidant, supports immunity, collagen production, regulates stress and energy production.
- Copper - supports collagen production, immune function and nervous system.
- Chromium - helps to manage blood sugar levels ad reduce sugar cravings.
Maintains muscle mass to keep you strong. As we age we lose muscle mass which can slow the metabolism and increase fat. Includes animal, whey, pea and bean based proteins.
Fibre helps to keep the digestion system healthy and the gut microbiome diverse to support hormone regulation, nutrient absorption, immunity and cognitive health.Prebiotic fibre helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut.
Adaptogens are functional, plant based foods and herbs which help the body cope with mental and physical stress and include Maca, Ashwagandha, Lions Mane, Red Clover, Turmeric, Liquorice, Asian Ginseng, Holy basil, Hibiscus Powder and Ginkgo Biloba.
Supplements for menopause weight control
Weight gain during menopause is common as we've covered earlier on in this article. While the menopause isn't directly connected to weight gain hormones do affect fat storage, body shape and increase stress hormones like cortisol which is linked to an increase in visceral fat. Eve Biology is a menopause meal replacement which helps to control weight, target symptoms and increase gut health to support hormone regulation.Plant based with potent levels of core vitamins and adaptogens to target brain fog, anxiety, sleep, fatigue and bloating. A beetroot based prebiotic fibre, clinically proven to increase gut microbiome helps support hormone regulation and immunity.
What are the best menopause supplements?
It comes down to the best menopause supplements for each individual at any particular time. No two woman will have the same menopause, they will experience symptoms at different times and different intensities. Some women will be on hrt and some may not which will change the amount of support they need.
As hormones continue to decline post menopause a woman can present with new symptoms and no longer experience others which means her menopause supplementation routine needs to be changed. If you're using HRT, have decided not to use it or can't use it, there are plenty of things you can do to keep yourself fit and healthy during your hormonal transition.
Lifestyle changes to help you get through perimenopause and menopause
A healthy diet
A healthy balanced diet with oily fish such as sardines, herring and salmon, green leafy vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, grains and olive oil with less meat and dairy is great for lowering cholesterol, protecting heart health, losing weight, lowering cholesterol and general wellbeing. Otherwise known as a Mediterranean diet.
Weight bearing and resistance exercises
Strength based exercises can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and help to keep bones strong, exercise heart muscles ( yep - you can get breathless when you're not running around) and improve physical confidence. More muscle mean more calorie burning even when you aren't exercising. Try dumbbells, kettlebells and resistance bands.
Keep your heart healthy with a little vigorous exercise
The NHS recommends 75 minutes of vigorous exercise for adults per week to get your heart rate up. Try cycling, running dancing, rowing, swimming, aerobics, hiking or walking uphill. 'Vigorous' exercise means you breathe heavily and you can talk but definitely not sing while doing it.
Get outside and top up your vitamin D naturally
March/early April to the end of September get outside, especially when the weather is fine and the sun is shining. You can get your vitamin D naturally, The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. This can help to support calcium absorption for strong bones.
Minimise hot flushes - avoid common stimulants
Alcohol, spicy food and caffeine are associated with an increase in the severity of hot flashes for many women so cutting down on these may help. When hot flashes strike, having a cold drink can provide some relief. Wearing natural fibres for when a hot flush strikes can make it more bearable. Being overweight has been shown to be connected with hot flushes
Master stress management
Stress is one of the most common midlife symptoms and can contribute to weight gain, irritability and insulin resistance due to an increase in cortisol levels. Relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises and Tai chi can help to lower stress levels.
Partner with your doctor
If you're on HRT you should be meeting with your GP for a yearly review to discuss whether your HRT is meeting your needs and keeping symptoms under control. Your weight and your blood pressure will also be monitored by your doctor during menopause as both of these, if too high, can lead to bigger health problems. They are also on hand to advise on diet and lifestyle changes to support you.
The Bottom Line
Your hormonal transition, when it happens changes the way your body works and feels. As hormone levels drop you'll experience menopause symptoms and an increased risk of some health problems connected to your lower hormone levels.
HRT can help to alleviate symptoms but isn't a cure-all solution and menopause supplements can be useful to further support symptoms when they arise. A lot of these are HRT friendly though some ingredients like Red Clover will mean they wont be suitable for all women.
At the very least make sure you are exercising regularl for heart health and bone strength, keep to a healthy weight and you're getting enough vitamin d and calcium.