The average age for menopause is 50 and for the peri-menopause the symptoms can start in your late 30s but more usually in your 40s. Menopause happens when estrogen and/or progesterone and testosterone decline to a point where your periods stop. This is of course completely natural and something all women must go through.
It sure doesn’t feel natural though! The symptoms range from slightly annoying to down right excruciating and can send women running to their doctors for hormones. The most commonly prescribed estrogen supplement for women is Premarin. Many doctors will describe Premarin as “natural” but in fact it is made of horse estrogen. That’s right…..let that sink in. Horse estrogen! They gather the urine from pregnant mares to create this “natural” supplement for women seeking help through menopause. The name Premarin literally comes from the words pregnant-mares-urine. On top of this lovely fact The Women’s Health Initiative in 2002 reported that researchers had observed an increased risk of breast cancer, blood clots, strokes and heart disease in women taking hormones compared to women in a placebo group who remained drug free. There has got to be a better way!
I started having perimenopausal symptoms in my mid forties. Heavy irregular periods, hot flashes….Oh it was delightful! I spent hours online and scanning the supplements at Whole Foods looking for some kind of relief. Nothing worked. Nothing that is until I started pursuing a plant based diet!
Readers of my blog know I evangelize a plant based diet because of how it has made me feel. I have more energy, my skin glows, I lost weight and my body shape changed. I could finally poop without supplements! Sorry if that was too much information but I offer it as many of you may be struggling with the same thing. All of these changes were wonderful but the biggest change occured in my complete lack of perimenopausal symptoms. The hot flashes stopped. The moodiness and crying over insurance commercials went away. My periods even returned to normal. It really got me thinking. Could eating meat have a negative impact on menopause? Is a low fat, high fiber vegetarian diet the right way to eat your way out of those nasty symptoms? I decided to do some research to find out.
Some have suggested that menopause is much easier for Asian women than for Westerners—at least while women followed traditional, mostly plant-based diets. Hot flashes have been reported by only about 10 percent of women in China, 17.6 percent of women in Singapore, and 22.1 percent of women in Japan. In contrast, it is estimated that hot flashes are experienced by 75 percent of women over the age of 50 in the United States where we eat much more meat than do these asian cultures.
The Western diet also contains much more fat than Asian, rice based diets For reasons scientist don’t even really understand, a high fat, low fiber diet causes a rise in estrogen levels. At menopause, the ovaries suddenly stop producing estrogen and that sudden violent drop in hormones is much less dramatic for Asian women who have lower estrogen levels before and after menopause. This means they experience far fewer symptoms than Western women do.
Ok, I think we are onto something here. It appears that pursuing a plant based diet really does ease menopause symptoms. Next question, are there natural hormone replacement therapies in healthy foods we eat? The answer is yes! It comes in the form of phytoestrogens or natural plant estrogens. Phytoestrogens are simply chemicals in plants that are very similar to the female hormone estrogen.
A plant based diet with loads of fruits, veggies and soy are all extremely high in phytoestrogens. Chickpeas, lentils and spinach are also very high in phytoestrogens. And finally, the star of the show are flaxseeds. Flaxseeds have the highest form of phytoestrogens and Omega 3 fatty acids. If you follow this blog, you know how I feel about flaxseed meal!
Another possible explanation for the positive impacts of a vegan diet on menopause appears to be dairy or the lack thereof. Dairy is just full of all kinds of pesticides, hormones and contaminants. Commercial milk even has bovine growth hormone in it to increase the dairy cows milk production. It seems pretty obvious that ingesting cow hormones would have an impact on the human being’s hormones when we ingest them. On top of that, cows milk is full of antibiotics to treat their almost constant mastitis ( breast infection) from over-milking.
Long story short friends, there is plenty of evidence to back up the virtues of a vegan diet and its impact on menopausal symptoms. It is true that everyone’s engine runs different and other health concerns may make a high carbohydrate and low fat diet difficult for some. For me, this is just one more reason to follow a plant based diet and load up on those phytoestrogens!
*Ho SC, Chan SG, Yip YB, Cheng A, Yi Q, Chan C. Menopausal symptoms and symptom clustering in Chinese women. Maturitas. 1999;33(3):219-27.
. Chim H, Tan BH, Ang CC, Chew EM, Chong YS, Saw SM. The prevalence of menopausal symptoms in a community in Singapore. Maturitas. 2002;41(4):275-282.
. Melby MK. Vasomotor symptom prevalence and language of menopause in Japan. Menopause. 2005;12(3):250-257.