Sunita, an active 43-year-old professor, suddenly started feeling lonely, lost and depressed. She would feel hot at odd times during the day and became, as time went by, increasingly withdrawn. She had started gaining weight. She lost interest in sex, she craved for sugar, experienced water retention, couldn’t exercise as she used to, lost her temper more often and felt constantly tired and moody.
Diagnosing the problem
She came to me after she had been to every spa and after trying every fad. I told her she was going through perimenopause — the time just before menopause. It usually begins when a woman is in her early forties. For some years before a woman stops ovulating, her body slows down the production of hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Hot flashes are one of the most common symptoms of peri-menopause. They occur anytime of the day, even during sleep. Other symptoms include mood swings, sudden cravings for junk food, irregular or heavy periods, swollen breasts and depression.
At any rate, experiencing even one or two of these symptoms can make a woman feel quite overwhelmed. But the good news is that while the physical and biological changes accompanying the symptoms cannot be avoided, wise food choices can help manage the symptoms. A proper diet should be augmented with nutritional supplements and regular exercise to minimise the effects perimenopause.
The right food choice
Simple dietary tips can help ease the sweat rush of hot flashes. Often hot flashes occur after an intake of alcohol, coffee, tea, colas and spicy food. So avoid these.
Have foods rich in phytoestrogens like soy beans, carrot, beans, legumes and yam that bind with the estrogen receptors.Take brahmi (a herb) to calm your nerves.
Vitamin A and E supplements also help reduce hot flashes.
Manage mood swings
While mood swings are common in menopausal women, the hormonal changes that cause them can also land women at the other end of the emotional spectrum of clinical depression. Low estrogen and serotonin levels are linked to depression. Food has a direct relationship with mood swings. Limit the intake of caffeine and alcohol since caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant. They suck vital nutrients out of the body.
Increase intake of fibre-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain food such as breads, rotis etc. Gama linolenic acid supplement helps.
A weighty issue
A dip in the estrogen levels causes a slowdown of metabolism. Thus excess calories get converted to fat and get deposited around stomach, hips and breasts. Hormonal changes make it difficult to lose weight during menopause. The best way to beat weight gain is to eat 40 per cent less carbs after you hit 40. Eat proteins like dal or paneer, soybean, sprouts, eggs, tofu, fish in your meals.
Perimenopausal symptoms are easily managed by simple dietary changes. So don’t worry about hitting 40. Remember to still have the time of your life.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a Mumbai-based nutritionist.