With plant-based diets now being linked to reduced menopausal symptoms, nutrition experts Free Soul have analysed the most unexpected ways that going vegan could support women experiencing menopause.
From improved sleep hygiene to reduced hot flushes and anxiety, it is evident that the vegan diet offers feasible natural alternatives to managing symptoms of menopause. With experts now calling for a more holistic and individualised approach to assessing menopause care, now may be the time that more light is shed on the indisputable power of nutrition and a balanced, active lifestyle. Lucy Murray, Vegan Lifestyle Expert at Free Soul, comments: “There are a whole host of benefits associated with a vegan diet and so many of them can help to support women during the menopausal period. When done in the form of a balanced mix of foods, a plant-based diet can provide the appropriate amounts of protein, essential fatty acids and vitamins to support women going through menopause, with supplements such as our vegan protein powder for women great for helping achieve the right nutritional balance.”
- Minimising Hot Flushes
Night sweats and hot flushes, also known as vasomotor symptoms, impact 80% of women during menopause. However, adopting a vegan diet can dramatically reduce these symptoms, with the Women’s Study for the Alleviation of Vasomotor Symptoms revealing that a combination of a strict plant-based diet combined with half a cup of soybeans each day resulted in moderate-to-severe hot flushes being reduced from nearly five per day to fewer than one per day. Overall hot flushes, including mild ones, also decreased by 79%, emphasising the undeniable fact that a vegan, soy-rich diet Is the way to go when it comes to controlling those dreaded hot flushes and night sweats.
- Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Often during menopause, women experience weight gain due to declining oestrogen levels, age-related loss of muscle tissue and lifestyle factors such as diet. This internal body fat, also known as visceral fat, whilst unproblematic for many, can encourage insulin resistance and lead to health issues such as type 2 diabetes. Therefore, during menopause, it’s important to opt for a balanced diet including wholefoods, fruits and vegetables.
A recent study has uncovered that menopausal women who followed a vegan diet with no other restrictions lost more weight at a higher rate overall than those following a low-fat restricted diet, indicating that a balanced vegan diet could help to support a healthier lifestyle for those concerned with weight gain during menopause. When managed correctly, a vegan diet promotes weight loss, reduces the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol, lowers the chance of getting certain cancers such as colon cancer and manages diabetes by lowering AC1 levels.
As with any diet however, sensible choices must be made and important nutrients must be incorporated. Protein-rich foods such as tofu, edamame, soy, chickpeas lentils and nutritional yeast should always be included in a vegan diet, with vegan protein powder also a popular choice for supplementing protein intake. It’s also important to maintain vitamin B12 levels, which can be found in fortified cereals and rice to promote muscle repair and energy. Essential fatty acids from greens and whole grains, iron and vitamin D to boost cognitive function and mood.
- Quality of Sleep
Unfortunately, sleep disorders plague 39-47% of perimenopausal women and 35-60% of postmenopausal women, with the most common issues being hot flushes, insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing according to Sleep Foundation. Not only has the power of plant-based diets been proven to mitigate hot flushes to a large extent, but vegan diets may also lead to increased levels of the amino acid tryptophan which can lead to increased melatonin and serotonin, thus enhancing sleep quality and quantity. Tryptophan can be found in kale, bananas, mushrooms, peas and almonds, all of which can be easily integrated into your vegan diet and can support a great night’s sleep.
- Alleviating Anxiety
It seems that a staggering number of women suffer mental health symptoms as a result of menopause; a 2020 study conducted in Brazil uncovered that 58% of women aged 45–55 who were experiencing perimenopause had anxiety symptoms. In the same study, 62% experienced symptoms of depression.
Interestingly, the brain doesn’t use the amino acid tryptophan to support good sleep alone; it also uses it to provide feelings of happiness and positive mental well-being through serotonin production. In fact, those with a vegan diet reported less stress and anxiety than omnivores in a study investigating the effects of both diets on mood.
To encourage ideal levels of tryptophan and reduce anxiety during menopause, your vegan diet must include a combination of plant proteins along with complex carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes according to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.
- Healthier Hair and Skin
Due to reduced oestrogen production, hair can start to thin and many women can also experience drier skin. Luckily the magic of a plant-based diet also extends to improved health for both the skin and hair.
Naturally, when done correctly, a plant-based diet should increase your intake of whole foods and reduce your intake of harmful processed foods that can negatively impact health. However, when it comes to hair health, a study has shown that a plant-based diet can help to reduce the risk of androgenetic alopecia, proving that going vegan can prevent hair loss to an extent. In addition, a vegan diet is far more likely to promote a healthy scalp and in turn create a healthy environment for hair follicles to flourish.
When it comes to maintaining skin health, a recent narrative review of 20 studies on plant-based foods shows that the beneficial effects on skin include improvement in hydration, wrinkles, and elasticity. Using soy extract and drinking soy beverages (equivalent to 15 grams to 25 grams of soy protein per day) can also boost skin hydration during menopause and beyond. It is therefore clear that capitalising on the incredible benefits of these foods as part of a balanced vegan diet rich in fruit and vegetables could help to counteract the effects of menopause such as dry skin.