What is Menopause?
Menopause denotes the cessation of menstruation in women, which usually occurs when a woman reaches the age of fifty but may occur as early as 40 and as late as 55 years of age. Six to twelve months without a menstrual period is the commonly accepted rule for diagnosing menopause.
The most common complaints of menopause are hot flashes, headaches, vaginitis, frequent urinary tract infections, cold hands and feet, forgetfulness, and an inability to concentrate.
What causes Menopause?
Menopause occurs when there are no longer any eggs left in the ovaries. This “burning out” of the ovaries reflects the natural course of events. At birth, there are about one million eggs (ova). This number drops to around 300,000 or 400,000 at puberty, but only about four hundred of these ova will actually mature during reproductive years. By the time a woman reaches the age of fifty, few eggs remain. With menopause, the absence of active follicles (the cellular housing of the egg) results in reduced production of estrogen and progesterone. In response to this drop in estrogen, the pituitary gland increases secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
What dietary factors are important in Menopause?
The key dietary recommendation to relieve menopausal symptoms is to increase the amount of plant foods, especially those high in phytoestrogens, while reducing the amount of animal foods in the diet. Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that are capable of binding to estrogen receptors and can replace some of the effect of estrogen that is no longer being made. Foods high in phytoestrogens include soy beans and soy foods, flaxseeds, nuts, whole grains, apples, fennel, celery, parsley, and alfalfa. A high intake of phytoestrogens is thought to explain why hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms rarely occur in cultures in which people consume a predominantly plant-based diet. Increasing the intake of dietary phytoestrogens helps decrease hot flashes, increase maturation of vaginal cells, and inhibit osteoporosis.