As a 58-year-old mum of three, business founder and CEO coming out the other side of the menopause I thought I'd share my experiences of menopause for 'World Menopause Month' and how I managed them to keep up the trademark Kate Percy #Enerjoy! and keep smiling! Plus the few changes I made to my diet to alleviate the menopausal symptoms and to keep me on track; at work, doing my favourite exercise, running, and coping with home life...
Menopause is a normal, natural part of the ageing process, yet many women find the symptoms that accompany changing hormones very uncomfortable. World Menopause Month was created to help women 'embrace' the menopause rather than let it overwhelm them and suffer in silence!
What is the menopause?
Creeping up on us when we’re about 45 and spanning an average of 10 years, the menopause can affect your work and relationships. If you're a sportswoman, it can take its toll on your performance too.
So, the menopause. What is it? In short, it’s when our oestrogen levels decline and menstruation eventually stops. But hey, no more periods? That’s a blessing, right?
For most, this is a sadly a blessing in disguise...
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Along with the decrease in oestrogen levels comes a myriad annoying and sometimes debilitating symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog, fatigue, sleepless nights, loss of libido, weight gain and excess hair growth ... in places you’d rather not have it :(
Some women experience all the symptoms, some just a few, or even none. For many women, it's a gift that keeps on giving, with symptoms coming and going for years and years. For the lucky ones it’s all over in just a few months.
For me personally I don't think I've got away with getting through the menopause 'Scott-free', but it could have been much worse, so I do count my blessings. I've experienced terrible night sweats, sleepless nights, higher anxiety levels, hot flashes at the worst possible times like during important business meetings as well as lower energy levels in my running (as a keen runner, I found my runs were getting harder and harder and that was very frustrating). I can't remember when it started, but I reckon about 10 years ago. Sometimes I can be 'normal' for months, then another batch of symptoms rush in like a steam train!
I've managed to keep going without any medical intervention (HRT etc) and I put this down to keeping busy, physically active and looking after my diet.
Or maybe I'm just a fool and should have just swallowed a pill!
How to cope with menopause symptoms
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Although there is still much to discover, one thing is for sure; menopausal symptoms can be alleviated by making small lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to nutrition and exercise. This is certainly my experience, but it's backed by experts too.
When I interviewed leading menopause expert, Dr Hannah Short for my article in Women's Running Magazine on the menopause and running, she pointed me to evidence that eating a diverse range of a plant-based foods can alleviate symptoms, particularly leafy greens and dark-coloured berries.
"Be kind to yourself too", she recommends. "Carving out ‘me-time’ doing something you enjoy can regulate your stress response to symptoms, whether it’s playing an instrument, having a bath with essential oils or walking or running in nature.
Get outside into the morning daylight, whatever the weather, for at least 20 minutes each day. It helps your circadian rhythm as well as your metabolism.”
Menopause and your diet
Here are a few tips on how you can adapt your diet to cope with the menopause:
More plants less meat
Recent evidence suggests women who follow a plant-based diet also suffer fewer menopausal symptoms, as well as a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Your gut microbiome can be affected with a decrease in oestrogen. Focus on brightly coloured fruit and vegetables and foods and foods high in gut-friendly fibre, such as beans and lentils, dried fruit and root vegetables.
Eat Carbs and Fats!
Caveat; choose complex carbs and plant-based fats over junk food and refined carbs. Helpful choices are root vegetables, beans, lentils, oats and wholegrain bread, nuts, seeds, avocado and good quality olive oil.
Boost bone density
Boost your bone density with foods rich in calcium, magnesium, boron and vitamin K. Get outside in the sunshine to increase levels of vitamin D; take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. Think apples, pears, grapes, dates, raisins, legumes and nuts rather than red meat, salt, caffeine and fizzy drinks.
Eat more phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens bind oestrogen receptors, acting like hormone regulators. There is a lower occurrence of hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms in populations whose diet is rich in foods high in phytoestrogens.
These are found in edamame beans, soya milk, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, linseed (flaxseed), tofu, miso, broccoli, carrots, legumes, oranges and green beans.
Kate Percy's top ten 'menopause foods'
- Milled Flaxseed – sprinkle on your muesli every morning
- Edamame beans – add to salads, soups, or roast with a sprinkle of salt
- Red lentils – use in soups and dhal
- Sweet potato – cube and add to curries, soups; roast wedges with a little cumin
- Greens – as many leafy greens as possible! Make kale crisps, add spinach to soups, pasta and risotto
- Dates – for a pre-run boost, energy balls, in muesli and porridge
- Oats – porridge, birchermuesli
- Ginger and Turmeric – use in tea, curries, grate onto your porridge
- Avocados – sliced with tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil, mashed onto sourdough. Try this avocado Buddha Bowl.
- Nut butter – a dollop on your porridge, on toast as a post-run snack
Try this 'Menopause Muesli' recipe!
Makes 2 good-sized portions
Prep time – 5 minutes
120g jumbo porridge oat
15g crystallised ginger, chopped
25g soft dried pitted apricots (about 3), chopped
10g soft dried pitted dates (about 2), chopped
10g toasted hazelnuts, chopped
15g Brazil nuts, chopped into chunks
small handful of pumpkin seeds
small handful of sunflower seeds
I apple, grated
1 tbsp milled flaxseed
Your choice of milk – I love it with soy, almond or oat milk or yogurt
- Mix the oats, fruit, ginger, nuts and seeds together.
- To serve, pour the required amount into a bowl. Top with grated apple, milk and a dollop of yoghurt. Enjoy!