09 Dec Vegan Menopause
At 55, I smugly thought the menopause nightmares my friends moaned about had largely passed me by. I truly believed I’d escaped the flushing, the emotional upheaval, the anxiety, the sleeplessness and the gamut of symptoms that come with perimenopause and menopause. I thought I was one of the lucky ones. And then, it hit me. Like a tonne of bricks.
I was at an all-male meeting on a building site when a flash of hotness crept over me and dizziness overtook my thoughts. I thought I was going to faint. Apologising to the builders, I told them I needed to sit, that I was feeling really unwell.
The poor confused, concerned gents ushered me to a chair, got me water and eventually the feeling passed. My first thought was that I had a funny turn; that is must have simply been something I ate.
However, a few days later it happened again and then almost overnight I was experiencing hot flushes – the ones my friends had told me about, where you want to rip off your clothes and sit in your fridge. They came in thick, fast and unpredictably, embarrassing me in meetings and/or social situations with a beet-red face and sweat dripping off me, frequently followed by unnerving chills.
In bed, I didn’t know if I needed air conditioning or an electric blanket. My libido took a nosedive – I had zero interest in sex. I had an overwhelming need to be a grandmother. Both scenarios were equally as difficult for my husband, who is not in menopause or even ‘man’opause, and my son who is currently single and doesn’t have babies on his radar.
As my libido and zest for life plummeted, my anxiety levels skyrocketed. It was only when I began worrying that my dog would get eaten by a python in the bushy park behind our house that I realised I might be going slightly mad. I mean, I’ve never even seen a snake, and my dog lives inside with us, except for our morning beach walks, when she is safely on leash.
It was then I realised I needed help and support. We all do when these things hit us, so I implore you – never be afraid to reach out. Sure, menopause is not a disease, but it is a pretty dramatic shift in female hormonal balance and medical support is exceptionally useful.
I am lucky I have a beautiful doctor, Dr Ruby Bloomfield, who has a wholistic approach to women’s health. I did take some short-term anxiety medication and went on Promensil, which is a vegan herbal menopause herbal supplement.
There are myriad other options your doctor can offer you, depending on your symptoms and hormone levels and imbalances. If you want your medications to be vegan, be sure to let your doctor know, as there are many that are sourced from animal hormones or may use animal products in capsule casings and the like.
Your medical support will be personal and unique to you and your doctor. It’s not something I can recommend, as that is the role of a medical professional. However, as a dedicated believer in food as medicine, and a qualified vegan food coach and counsellor, I took a deep dive into my wholefood health books and started to look at what other natural support I could offer my body and soul to guide them through this journey ‘they’ kindly call “the change of life”. I didn’t want it to take over my life. I believe that my vegan diet is the reason menopause for me was so delayed. I also believe it is the reason a herbal supplement and a mild anti-anxiety medication put me back on track within weeks, not months or years.
I have also unearthed some great techniques for managing my menopause symptoms and I wanted to share them, as they have been invaluable to me. I hope they help you, too.
Cut Back on Coffee
I love coffee. In fact, I have a morning ritual where I take my dog and my Keep Cup, grab a takeaway almond milk latte and stroll the beach. From there, I used to have another one or two throughout the day. The trouble is, it simply aggravated my hot flushes! There was no way I was going to give up my beloved coffee though, so I cut down to a small size one on our morning walks. It has really made a difference.
Cut down or eliminate alcohol, as like coffee, it can trigger flushes, as well as other symptoms of menopause, like anxiety and sleeplessness. Thankfully, imbibing less is a growing trend, and these days, I am addicted to vegan mocktails, especially the ones at Bodhi Restaurant and Bar. They feel glamorous and leave you with clear headed and anxiety-free the next day. If looking at your alcohol consumption is a challenge you may want to seek some additional support. Sam Tomlinson from Seeking Sobriety is a sobriety coach who runs virtual, one-on-one support sessions to help you achieve your goals in this area.
This amazing superfood is rich in essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of most hormones. It is great for boosting immunity, as it is also contains vitamin A and antioxidants in plentiful amounts. To easily incorporate Spirulina into my daily routine I have it my breakfast smoothie.
Have Some Hemp
Omega 3 and 6 are vital for eye and brain health, both of which we need to support all throughout our lives. However, as we age, they become even more essential to support our bodies. Hemp is a fantastic and easy way to get your fix of these essential fatty acids. I throw the seeds into smoothies and salad dressings and sprinkle them on my soup. I mash them into avocado served on toast and add them to dips. Generally, I do find the seeds easier to eat when they are added to a wet ingredient. Hemp oil is not an oil to use for cooking, as it has a really low smoking point, but it is excellent cold in salad dressings.
Eat Vitamin and Mineral Rich Food
It’s always important you do this throughout life, but especially so when you’re navigating this tricky time. This can be achieved through a mostly raw food diet. The raw food principle also helps with menopause. If you can’t face all raw, then lightly steaming food is just as nurturing. Around the time most of my symptoms hit, we had just moved to a new house and I wasn’t cooking and prepping our food as much as usual. Going back to a more whole food based vegan diet, lots of raw salads and vegetables has supported my body getting back on track.
Look for foods rich in vitamin A, which is important for vision, immune support and supple skin. You’ll find it in carrots and other orange and yellow vegetables, as well as lentils, tomatoes, wholegrain and high fibre foods, such as breads, wheatgerm, cereals, rice, pasta, polenta, couscous, oats and barley. It’s also found in tofu, nuts and seeds.
B Complex vitamins are really important too, for healthy neurological function, hair growth and health, amino acid metabolism and so many essential bodily functions that there are far too many to list here. Many are tricky to get as a vegan, as the most readily available sources are unfortunately meat and animal products. However, there are great products that are fortified with them, such as tofu and some soy milks. You can also get some great B-Complex supplements, like VegLife B Complex.
Vitamin C is also really important, obviously for immunity but also for skin, bones, and connective tissue health, wound healing and iron absorption. It’s readily available from capsicum, oranges and other citrus fruits, as well as blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, broccoli and sprouts.
Magnesium is an important mineral, as it helps with heart health and muscle relaxation. It also helps ease anxiety and is actually responsible for over 300 metabolic processes. Thankfully, it is relatively easy to get from foods such as green leafy veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds and legumes. However, if you think you’re deficient, your local compounding chemist will be able to supply capsules or tablets that are vegan.
Hydration is the key to keeping everything lubricated and working well and to keep your skin as dewy as possible. Every time you feel miserable and want to reach for cake or other such comfort food, or even a glass of vino, drink a glass of mineral water instead. Squeeze some lemon into it, too, which will help support the liver. Menopause is a time where weight can quickly creep on and make you feel even more miserable. Staying hydrated helps stave off sugary cravings, or cravings for junk food and yes, alcohol.
Promensil is my go-to herbal supplement. It contains red clover isoflavones, which are converted by the body into phytoestrogens, and help with the drop in oestrogen that peri-menopausal and menopausal women experience. Chat to your doctor about this as a choice for you. Personally, I felt it made an incredible difference to my mood and the hot flushes.
I get up at 5.30am every morning and walk. It is a fantastic habit to get into and the endorphins really help with anxiety and mood/emotional upheaval that comes with menopause. Not to mention, it is a great way to control weight. Yes, the first few weeks of early rising are tough. But if you tough it out for three weeks you will have created a habit. These days, I crave my walking time. It helps my mind, tones my body and for gives me meditative ”me” time, allowing me to set my intention for the day ahead. I have recently added another 30 minutes in the evening and it’s the perfect way to wind down after the day.
Thinning hair is one of my least favourite symptoms of menopause. However, I discovered Aveda’s Invarti and it’s made a huge difference for me. It is targeted to significantly reduce hair loss and thicken the hair that you have. I have been using it for a year now and have definitely seen results.
Try to Avoid Stress
I know … Stress is often unavoidable in our busy lives. If you are suffering (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) try to observe where your stress is coming from and question whether if it is a changeable option. Sometimes rethinking your job, where you live and even who you live with might be worth considering if it will lighten your load and reduce your stress.
Menopause for me, was also a reminder that life can be cut short through illness or accidents. It made me realise that it is an enormous privilege to live long enough to reach this stage of life. It caused me to do a great deal of reflecting on my life and what I wanted to achieve.
I realise for me, sharing my passion for veganism isn’t just about better health, although I sincerely believe this food choice is the most nurturing. It’s also about the fact that we are visitors in this world with a short time span to achieve some change.
I know I am passing through and to that end I want my voice to be one for animals who through our misguided need to “factory farm” are living lives filled with abject cruelty … lives of just days or weeks of existence, often never seeing the sun, over-bred in sheds, only to then meet a cruel ending for human consumption. It’s worth looking at your “change of life” to see if you can also “change a life”. You don’t need to be 100 percent vegan to do this. I realise many people are not ready for that step. However, if menopause is impacting your life, you will find a diet incorporating more vegan choices will impact your health in a favourable way and at the same time reduce the demand for animal products.
Food Coach and Publisher Catherine Carr