It is widely discussed in naturopathic health circles that some cultures do not suffer with menopause symptoms.
The ‘Change of Life’ is just not a problem for them; for example, rural Japanese ladies do not have a vocabulary for the kind of symptoms experienced by women in the West – and yet, when they move to live in USA, they start to get the same range of unpleasant physical, mental and emotional symptoms as their American neighbours.
I have discovered that if you eat processed carbohydrates, sugars, and refined starches, you make the symptoms worse. It seems that the body is particularly sensitive to our unnatural diet at this delicate time of life.
Dropping Levels of Oestrogen and Progesterone
We all know that the female body starts to wind down its production of the reproductive hormones, oestrogen (the egg-preparing hormone) and progesterone (the pregnancy maintaining hormone once conception occurs), anytime from the 40’s onwards; for some, it starts even earlier than that. It is the dropping levels of these hormones which start to reveal the symptoms we all dislike.
Modern medicine focuses on replacing the lost oestrogen with synthetic hormones – more about that later. What should also be considered is the progesterone levels which have gone into a tailspin ahead of the oestrogen.
Progesterone is dubbed the happy hormone as this is the one that makes things bloom – the middle section of pregnancy is a flush of progesterone; shiny hair, clear skin, that feeling of mother bountiful, the bloom of pregnancy before the sheer volume of it becomes a burden!
Oestrogen is the one that gets the eggs ready for release and can lead to swollen breasts, that heavy feeling and can make you irritable (perish the thought!).
What we miss the most is the progesterone to keep us happy in the winding down of our reproductive phase. Diet is very important but so is stress.
There is a flowchart which shows the development and cascade of various hormones from the master hormone, which is ….. cholesterol. It is quite a complex chart but I will try to give a simple explanation. This is an extract from The Steroidogenic Pathways from Genova Diagnostics testing laboratory.
Look at the large black lozenge shapes and the ones with yellow, red and blue borders. Those names should be familiar. The green and purple background is the Anabolic, up-building section and the orange and pink show the Catabolic phase. Once progesterone is made, it either travels to the right to the reproductive part of the picture, or, it gets hi-jacked at 17-OH-Progesterone and dragged downwards to Cortisol, ringed in red, yellow and blue in our diagram. Once there, it won’t make it out to reproduction; it is dissolved in the response hormone for stress, the cortisol. Stress stops us from reproducing, repairing, rejuvenating. A sobering thought.
Two key things emerge from this chart:
- We need cholesterol to make our hormone ‘stuff’. Being on low-fat regimes for the last 40 years has deprived our bodies of the essential fats that they need for healthy hormone levels. This may also be a factor in the dropping fertility rates that we have seen over the past 50 years, most accurately measurable in men (women are opting to have fewer babies that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t if they wanted to have more). So if we are not eating good fats – they are not called essential fatty acids for no reason – then we are depriving our bodies of the basic materials needed to make our hormones.
- The chart shows that our hormone pathways roughly divide into two zones, the anabolic – for building up, repair, regeneration, reproduction, rejuvenation – this mode is all about upbuilding and creating; and the catabolic – for breaking down, mobilising and using resources, think cata-strophe, it is all about survival in extreme conditions.
When we are in stressful living conditions, we are in our catabolic mode; we switch on our sympathetic nervous system which puts us in Fight or Flight response. If this is how we spend most of our time, our hormone resources are being used up to make Cortisol, the long term stress response hormone. It leaves no resources to make progesterone to be used for repair, regeneration, reproduction, etc. This is known as the “Cortisol Steal”.
Dietary steps you can take:
Eating low fat foods has led to the ingestion of more starches, sugars and refined carbohydrates. Reverse this process and see if your symptoms reduce. Eat avocados, coconuts, coconut oil, butter (make sure all are organic and good quality fats), raw cheeses, nuts, seeds, oily fish and if you buy organic meats, eat the fatty bits where the flavour is usually the best.
Cut down carbohydrates and especially white ones; white flour, white bread, sugar, they are all refined and we shouldn’t be eating them. Choose all your carbs as wholefoods, unrefined, unsifted and as nature grew them, brown rice, wholemeal bread, wholemeal everything. Give up the biscuits, cakes and chocolate bars, they are most likely adding to your symptoms.
You can live without sugar completely, there are lots of good foods made with stevia, erythritol and xylitol which will give you the sweet taste without the sugar.
If you have a day without refined carbs, chart your hot flushes and your night sweats and see if they are linked. You may be pleasantly surprised. Keep a food diary and mark up your symptoms alongside.
Take up meditation, yoga or any kind of regular exercise to counteract the stresses in your life – or recalibrate your life altogether to reduce your stress levels as it may be harming your health to stay stressful (it certainly is!).
If you consider that your body is being starved of the raw materials to make your hormones (the good fats), and the hormone levels are dropping rapidly, you are then adding refined carbohydrates which play havoc with your blood sugar levels, and then you add synthetic hormones to the picture in the form of synthetic HRT. HRT can be obtained using bio-identical hormones rather than synthetic ones and it is always good to ask for these – but particularly hard to get them in UK, sadly.
But remove the stresses from your body and your life – add the good fats and take away the refined starches and sugars and see if you can feel better without resorting to HRT. It might just work….
Recipe for wheat-less bread using mixed, organic seeds only:
Keto Seed Rolls
Use unground, whole seeds as they need to be freshly ground up for this recipe.
These were done using black chia seeds so they are a bit dark; use white chia for a lighter looking roll. But they are nice and soft and springy like wheat bread buns.
60 g organic golden linseeds
120 g organic sunflower seeds
80 g organic pumpkin seeds (the dark European ones make a very dark bread, use paler Chinese ones if preferred)
40 g organic sesame seeds
40g organic chia seeds (White CHIA makes a prettier bun than black ones)
2 tablespoons baking powder (gluten free)
3 tablespoons organic Almond Flour
3 tablespoons psyllium husk powder
2 tablespoons gellan gum (you can use other baking gums or vegan gelatin powder)
1 teaspoon Sunshine salt (Dr Sarah Myhill sells this)
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon or a few grinds of black pepper
Around 500 mls of warm water + a small beaker of extra water
Preheat oven to 200-220°C
Put all the dry ingredients into the Thermomix or a Nutri-Bullet-style grinder. You may find it easier and more efficient to grind in small batches to get a better, even grind. Tip the ground up batches into a large mixing bowl.
Thoroughly mix the dry meal through with a dry balloon whisk to even out all the ingredients.
Have a small beaker of extra water to hand.
Have your spatula in your hand – make a well in the centre and pour in all 500 mls of water.
Quickly mix in the dry ingredients to the water as evenly and quickly as possible. It will be very wet at first and very quickly go thick like dough. If it starts to clog together in big dry lumps and leaves dry pockets, quickly add more water but don’t overwork it.
The seeds will take up the moisture and the dough will start to thicken into dough really fast. You could always refer to the video to get the hang of what this should look like [video link here]
Tip the whole sticky lump out onto a large piece of baking parchment sprinkled with seeds (poppy, sesame).
Wet your hands to handle the dough and keep a saucer of water handy to keep wetting your hands
Gently coax into a log shape (no need to knead).
Cut your log into equal slices and briefly mould each one into a round bun shape.
Place on a baking sheet with baking paper dotted with sesame seeds.
They will swell a little, so leave them spaced about 1” apart, but if they touch during baking it makes them look like real bread buns!
Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Allow to cool and place on a rack.
Wrap in waxed paper if still warm, or put in plastic bags when cold. Freeze individually for quick thawing access.
Keep in the fridge. Eat within 3-4 days if not freezing.