Ask Ashley: Yes! Manage Menopause with Nutrition!
Ask Ashley Koff, RD, Calmful Living Nutrition Editor
I am a 53-year-old female, going through menopause. I do not have the healthiest lifestyle. I do not exercise and could eat healthier. I could lose 10–15 pounds, but am not extremely overweight. I suffer from severe anxiety (fight or flight 24/7), which I can’t seem to shut off.
I was recently diagnosed with high cholesterol. My doctor wants to put me on statins, but I don’t like what I have read about the severe side effects—i.e., muscle pain, liver stress, diabetes. I know my diet and lack of exercise definitely play a role in cholesterol levels, but I feel my anxiety plays an even bigger role.
Your thoughts on anxiety and cholesterol, please.
I’m glad you reached out! Anxiety is powerful. Menopause too. The good news is that nutrition and lifestyle choices, like exercise, as well as breathing and sleep, can help address both; though some individuals will also benefit from medications. I can’t make that decision, but I can help you with my favorites for anxiety reduction and hormonal balance during menopause, which include the following:
1) Magnesium: Foods rich in magnesium include cacao, beans, greens and some grains; my go-to supplement is Natural Calm by Natural Vitality.
2) Caffeine: It doesn’t help anxiety and it can worsen it, so consider reducing and removing and exchanging for a magnesium-rich food or drink like those listed above. Did you know you can drink cacao (not a hot chocolate, but organic cacao nibs or powder, which can be brewed like coffee or added to a smoothie) for a stimulant boost AND magnesium?
3) Sugar: Avoid added sugar; instead get sugar from nature’s sources of carbohydrate (see my nutrition plan for a full list) and have a serving at regular intervals in the day to avoid low blood sugar or high blood sugar, which can increase anxiety.
4) Fats and Proteins: You need these (see my nutrition plan), and you need good-quality sources, including hemp seeds, olive oil, wild salmon, walnuts and more, to help the body function optimally, which will reduce mental and physical stress.
5) Take Care of You: Whether it’s baths, writing, coloring, yoga, stretching or cuddling, finding time to take care of yourself is a key way to address anxiety.
DrWeil.com features a great tip on a breath that helps reduce anxiety (breathe in through your nose for a few counts, hold for a few counts, exhale through your mouth for a few counts; repeat ten breaths minimum).
6) Cholesterol and anxiety: The good news is that the best way to begin to address your anxiety is through diet and lifestyle choices—fortunately this is also the case for addressing your heart health, including cholesterol. You note that you don’t exercise and could eat healthier, and are fearful of what statins will do (side effects). Now, this may seem like tough love, but you did e-mail me. You aren’t leaving your doctor any choice on how to help you as it relates to your cholesterol. We could say, “Let’s try diet and lifestyle changes for three months before statins,” assuming there’s no high-risk reason you need statins ASAP; and you need to do #5 (take care of yourself), which means looking at diet and lifestyle choices to see if improvements reduce anxiety as well as cholesterol. If your anxiety is so crippling that you can’t move forward on any of these—which is awful for you, and I want you to know you are not alone and also that this can be addressed—you need to work with a professional who can help you with therapy and potentially medication.
Ashley Koff, RD
Ashley Koff is an internationally renowned registered dietitian on a mission to improve the health of people across America and beyond through raising public awareness of the value of quality eating. Visit her site at: www.ashleykoffapproved.com