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The Best Foods to Ease Menopause Symptoms

The Best Foods to Ease Menopause Symptoms

From hot flashes to bone health, get expert tips on the best and worst foods for menopause.

Hot flashes aren’t the only unwelcome part of menopause—the change also brings plenty of unsolicited advice. Friends and relatives who have already gone through menopause tend to weigh in with their best home remedies for unpleasant symptoms.

Most of the remedies women reach for are just focused on short-term symptom relief and aren't evidence-based, says Elizabeth Graul, MD a gynecologist at St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. Add these key nutrients to your diet instead; they may be able to both improve your symptoms and help fend off chronic illnesses.

Calcium for bone health
“Menopause causes you to lose estrogen, which leads to symptoms like hot flashes and puts you at risk for other medical conditions like osteoporosis,” explains Dr. Graul.

Osteoporosis is a bone disorder that leads to more than 1.3 million fractures in the US each year. There are usually no outwards signs, although loss of height or stooped posture can happen in some cases. That means many women don’t know they have osteoporosis until they experience a fracture.

Keep bone loss and injuries at bay by monitoring your daily calcium and vitamin D intake, Dr. Graul recommends.

Women who have gone through menopause should get 1200 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily. You can get your full calcium requirement from foods like:

  • Raw tofu: 868 mg per cup
  • Milk: 300 mg per cup
  • Green vegetables: 94 mg per cup of kale
  • Fortified juices and cereals: 112 mg per cup of Cheerios

Getting enough calcium may also help control your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol and prevent tooth loss for older adults.

A warning about calcium supplements
Women who don't get enough calcium from food alone might need a supplement. But, often, the body can’t absorb the supplement preparations found in drug stores. “I think a lot of women are making very expensive urine," says Dr. Graul. "Their body isn’t actually getting the benefit that they think it is."

For example, your body may have a hard time processing calcium doses larger than 500 mg and most people shouldn’t get more than 2,000 mg per day from all sources. Other prescriptions you might be taking and your medical history can both interfere with absorption, as well. Before trying any new supplement, always ask your doctor to recommend the best dose and brand for you.

Vitamin D to boost calcium absorption
Make sure your diet includes enough vitamin D, which your body needs in order to absorb calcium. Menopausal women should consume about 600 to 800 international units (IU) daily. It can be a challenge to get the right amount of vitamin D from food alone (so some women might need supplements), but these foods can help up your intake:

  • Salmon: About 500 IU per serving
  • Swordfish: Over 500 IU per serving
  • Canned tuna: 150 IU per 3 oz. can
  • Milk: 100 IU per cup
  • Egg: 40 IU per yolk

Another word of advice: Get your vitamin D levels checked during your annual physical. “Ask your doctor to check your blood level because we find most women have surprisingly low numbers,” says Dr. Graul.

Five plant sources of estrogen
Plant-based estrogens may offer some relief for menopause symptoms, although more studies are needed to confirm this. Experts agree that the safest and most effective way to replace estrogen is with hormone replacement therapy. However, many women opt for plant-based estrogens and some studies suggest they might provide relief for hot flashes and night sweats.

Consuming soy is probably the best way to get some type of estrogen effect, says Dr. Graul. Other food sources include:

  • Flaxseed
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Grains

Just note that it’s difficult to eat enough plant-based estrogen foods to get anywhere near the same effect as hormone replacement therapy, warns Dr. Graul. Also, women with breast cancer should be cautious with plant-based estrogen supplements because there’s not enough data to show that these products are safe for them yet, she adds.

Estrogen isn’t always to blame
When it comes to hot flashes, estrogen isn’t always the sole cause. Hot flashes can be induced by other problems like increased adrenaline levels, anxiety or higher-than-normal thyroid hormones. Certain foods can prompt symptoms too, says Dr. Graul.

Avoid these potential hot flash triggers: 

  • Spicy foods
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Refined sugars like table sugar and white bread

As your body adjusts to menopause, consider keeping a journal to document your food choices, sleep habits and activities. Looking back at what you ate or did before a symptom started can help you identify your personal triggers. Once you start noticing patterns, you’ll be able to put together your own list of menopause-approved foods.

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