In a new scientific review*, the British Nutrition Foundation looked at how diet and supplements can help with managing common menopausal symptoms, including hot flushes, night sweats and changes in body weight. Over one in four (29%) of those who have experienced symptoms of menopause have tried herbal remedies to ease their symptoms**, and almost three in ten (30%) have tried vitamins. However, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of most of these in combatting menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. The scientific evidence suggests that the best change you can make to your diet to help manage common menopausal symptoms is to follow a healthy, balanced dietary pattern. And it’s a bonus that this will also support bone and heart health too after the menopausal transition, when women have a greater risk of osteoporosis (weak bones) and heart disease.
With one third of the UK female population currently estimated to be perimenopausal or postmenopausal and one in ten women leaving their jobs due to suffering menopausal symptoms***, it is no wonder solutions for easing symptoms are commonly sought. According to the British Nutrition Foundation’s recent online YouGov survey**, over a third (32%) of GB adults would search the internet for advice on diet and lifestyle during the menopause, and one in ten (11%) turn to social media. However, there can be a lot of misleading and false information online and on social media, and it can be challenging to know what advice to follow.
Over half of women in the UK seek complementary therapies or alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to manage their menopausal symptoms. A team of nutrition scientists at the British Nutrition Foundation, a leading nutrition charity, set out to discover what the science says to help those going through the menopause understand the level of evidence behind different dietary approaches they may make to manage their menopausal symptoms. In this new narrative review, published in Nutrition Bulletin, the authors looked at the role of dietary patterns and supplements (including vitamins, fatty acids, herbs and botanicals) in the management of common menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats, changes in bodyweight and shape, depression and anxiety, cognitive changes (or ‘brain fog’), and sleep disturbances.
The review found that healthier dietary patterns (such as Mediterranean style diets) may help to reduce the frequency and severity of vasomotor systems, such as hot flushes, as well as helping to manage body weight or body shape changes that many of those going through the menopause experience. Importantly though, it also highlighted where the evidence doesn’t stack up. There is limited evidence available to suggest that dietary patterns or taking supplements, such as B vitamins, may help alleviate psychological symptoms during the menopause, including depression, anxiety and cognitive changes. Some studies show that herbal or botanical supplements, such as black cohosh and St John's Wort, might help alleviate symptoms such as hot flushes. However, there are some concerns about the various preparations available, their safety and potential interactions with other medicines and so it is worthwhile talking to a healthcare professional if you are considering these.
Soybeans and soy foods have attracted a great deal of interest for their potential in managing hot flushes and night sweats. However, the study results are mixed. Although there is some evidence that they may relieve such symptoms, it’s unclear whether soy compounds from the diet and supplements have the same effects.
So, what should women suffering with hot flushes, changes in their body weight and low mood be eating? The evidence suggests that the way to go is a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, beans and other pulses, and has a higher proportion of healthier fats from foods such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. This is not a new diet, and it’s actually the sort of dietary pattern already recommended to us all in the Eatwell Guide, the UK’s healthy eating guidelines.
What’s more, women who have gone through the menopause are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke, and osteoporosis (weak bones). The added bonus of following a healthier dietary pattern is that it can help to reduce the risk of developing these conditions. A healthier diet can also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers in later life, especially if dietary changes are combined with other positive lifestyle changes, like increased physical activity. Therefore, supporting women to adopt healthier dietary patterns before, during and after the menopausal transition, is likely to help ensure improved health throughout life.
Sara Stanner, Science Director, British Nutrition Foundation who was on author on the review said, “Going through the menopausal transition can be a challenging time, with both physical and psychological symptoms occurring for many that can have a negative impact on daily lives and quality of life. Our new review highlights that there may be small changes we could make to our daily eating habits to consume a healthier dietary pattern that could help us maintain a healthy weight and possibly help alleviate symptoms such as hot flushes. But there is no ‘magic bullet’ when it comes to diet and supplements in managing menopausal symptoms, and it’s important that those going through the menopause are supported and given access to the information and tools needed to make the right changes for them.”
Commenting on the review, Sara Moger, Chief Executive, British Menopause Society added, “Although the internet and social media give us quick access to information, it can also be quite overwhelming and a difficult place to know where to go for evidence-based information. We have long advocated for the dissemination of good quality and accurate information about the menopause to support those who are navigating this life stage and we’re pleased to be working with the British Nutrition Foundation to do so. This latest review provides a thorough update on the evidence looking at how diet and supplements can help with managing common menopause symptoms, debunking some common myths and showing that a healthy, balanced dietary pattern is really key.”
The full review is available to read in British Nutrition Foundation’s international, peer-reviewed journal, Nutrition Bulletin.
To find out more about what a healthy, balanced dietary pattern looks like for those going through the menopause, and for more evidence-based information on food, nutrition and lifestyle during the menopause, please visit the British Nutrition Foundation's menopause webpages. You can also hear from those sharing their lived experiences of the menopause and how diet and lifestyle play an important role in their symptom management.
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For further information or interviews, please contact Eisha Sharma at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7557 7930.
Notes for the Editor
* Yelland S, Steenson S, Creedon A and Stanner S (2023) The role of diet in managing menopausal symptoms: A narrative review. Nutrition Bulletin. Available online 16 Feb 2023.
This narrative review is based on a literature search for relevant articles in English to assess the current evidence for the influence of dietary factors in alleviating common menopausal symptoms. These includes vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes and night sweats), changes in bodyweight and composition, sleep disturbances, psychological symptoms (anxiety, depression and cognitive changes), joint pain, skins changes and urogenital symptoms. The team focussed on prospective cohort studies, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and systematic reviews, including meta-analyses, where available. Reference lists were searched to identify additional relevant articles. Preference was given to studies defining menopausal status, or those including midlife women. Dietary factors impacting long-term health issues previously reviewed elsewhere, including bone health and cardiovascular disease, were not considered, although dietary factors are important in the aetiology of these conditions.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2342 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 30th September - 3rd October 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
*** Menopause and the Workplace report by the Fawcett Society and Channel 4. (2022) Available at https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/menopauseandtheworkplace
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