World Menopause Day 2022
At the British Nutrition Foundation, we’re keen to empower and support women through their menopause journey, through our evidence-based information about nutrition and the menopause. Ahead of World Menopause Day 2022 (18 October) we commissioned a YouGov survey that has shown us that many women are not hearing the important messages about how what they eat can influence not only their symptoms, but importantly their longer-term health. Read about our findings in our press release.
We are also delighted to be working with the British Menopause Society (BMS) this World Menopause Day 2022, to raise awareness of evidence-based diet and lifestyle information throughout the menopause.
Our Science Director, Sara Stanner, joined presenter Louise Minchin for a conversation about nutrition in the menopause on Menopause: Continuing The Conversation – a programme created by the British Menopause Society and ITN Business for World Menopause Day 2022.
Nutrition and menopause
This information is for women experiencing the menopause. It may also be useful for friends or family members of women experiencing the menopause, or anyone interested in learning more about this subject. It is also important for men to understand the menopause, so they can better support their partners, friends and/or work colleagues. Individuals who identify as non-binary, transgender or from intersex communities can also be affected by the menopause and may experience different menopausal symptoms.
We've put together a handy guide to the basics of nutrition and menopause - click on the image to download.
What is the menopause?
During the menopause, you gradually produce less of a hormone called oestrogen and, in the end, your periods stop. There are also changes in other hormones and these changes can have wide effects.
Menopause is when your periods stop for 12 consecutive months. It usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 years, however, for a few women, it can occur earlier. This is known as premature menopause.
- Premature menopause (also called premature ovarian insufficiency) is when your periods stop before the age of 40 years. Around 1 in 100 women experience premature menopause.
The menopause is a life stage that all women experience, but the timing and symptoms can be different for everyone.
What are the stages of the menopause?
- Perimenopause is the time leading up to your final period and can last for a few months or several years. During this time, your periods may become irregular as your oestrogen levels decrease – and you may experience menopausal symptoms.
- Postmenopause is the time after menopause starting from when you have not had a period for 12 consecutive months.
In some cases, the menopause can occur because of surgeries or cancer treatments and symptoms may be more sudden or severe. If you are having treatment for cancer such as cervical or ovarian cancer that removes your ovaries, then you’ll experience surgical menopause after your operation so these stages may not be relevant to you.
Oestrogen and health
Oestrogen plays an important role in the normal sexual and reproductive development of women. However, it also plays a role in other systems in our body like our bones, heart and brain.
The loss of oestrogen can lead to menopausal changes and can have an impact on our health and quality of life in the shorter term from menopausal symptoms (such as hot flushes and night sweats, sleep problems, muscle and joint pain, anxiety, depression, low libido).
In the longer term, postmenopausal women have an increased risk of:
- higher cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease and stroke)
- osteoporosis (a condition that weakens bones and makes them break more easily)
- weight gain
What are the symptoms of the menopause?
The menopause affects every woman differently. If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, you are not alone - 8 out of 10 women experience symptoms that typically last for about 4 years after their last period. Some women will experience no, or few, symptoms. However, for many, they can be quite severe and have a significant impact on everyday life.
Some common symptoms are:
- hot flushes (sudden feelings of hot or cold in your face, neck and chest) and night sweats
- mood changes (such as anxiety and depression)
- loss of memory and concentration (sometimes referred to as ‘brain fog’)
- vaginal dryness
- urinary problems
- lack of interest in sex
- sleep disturbances
- reduced muscle mass
- heart palpitations
- joint and muscle stiffness or pain.
Many women struggle to manage to work with their menopausal symptoms. Mood changes or sleep disturbances associated with the menopause can all affect your working life and overall wellbeing at work. A 2022 survey estimates that 1 in 10 women will leave their job due to menopause symptoms affecting them in their workplace. It is important to seek help or advice if your menopause symptoms are affecting your ability to work.
If you feel like you need more support to manage your symptoms seek medical advice – ideally your GP surgery can give you individual advice on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), non-hormonal medication and/or cognitive therapies, for example cognitive behavioural therapy, a talking therapy that can help with a low mood and feelings of anxiety.
The menopause is a natural life stage that can affect all women differently. In the long and short term, you can make some positive lifestyle changes to help relieve menopausal symptoms and manage some of the longer-term health concerns. These include:
Speak with your GP before taking any herbal remedies or supplements for managing menopausal symptoms, as they may have side effects or interact with other medications.
With thanks to The Menopause Charity, Age UK, Target Ovarian Cancer and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust for their feedback on our information.
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Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any personal advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.