• Tamar Rothenberg, MS, RD

Try these nutrition tips to help with the start of menopause after breast cancer

Menopause doesn’t usually start overnight. There are a few years of the menopausal transition, sometimes called “perimenopause.” But after breast cancer, like a bad monopoly game, your body goes directly to jail - um, I mean menopause.


Woman with fan. Start of menopause can mean hot flashes
Start of menopause can mean hot flashes

Only about a third of those who are premenopausal and diagnosed with breast cancer resume menstruation. And for many women, menopause does indeed start soon after breast cancer due to:

  • Age

  • Medications to prevent recurrence and spread

  • Surgery such as removal of ovaries for ovarian cancer linked to genetic mutations

  • Preventative surgeries, such as those previvors choose to do to prevent their high risk of cancer caused by genetic mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Perimenopause often starts in the early- to mid-40s. This is when you may start feeling symptoms like weight gain—especially around the midsection—hot flashes and night sweats, difficulty sleeping, and moodiness.


One of the most disturbing side effects of menopause are sudden and recurrent hot flashes. These are common in many women, but can be more persistent for breast cancer thrivers.


Here are some expert nutrition tips to help you get through the start of menopause and throw some cold water on those hot flashes.


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woman with fan at start of menopause
Keep a fan close by when hot flashes hit

Nutrition tips for start of menopause


Stop dieting


Skipping meals or not eating enough plays havoc with your blood sugar. In two studies, women experienced a "hot flash-free" 90 minutes after eating. Also, hot flashes increased the longer the time between meals.


When blood glucose is erratic, as it is with dieting, hot flashes increase. This could also be one of the reasons why American women suffer more hot flashes than Asian women (who don't diet) and who have not emigrated to the U.S.


Work on a practice of following your hunger and fullness cues. If you're not adept at that yet, eat smaller meals more often through the day.


Ready to ditch the diet and feel confident in your food choices? Join my course, Take your next steps to your best health course. Click to learn more.


Drink enough fluids


As you age, you may slowly lose your sense of thirst. This means you can become less hydrated without even noticing it, through no fault of your own. Plus, some key menopausal symptoms may be improved simply by drinking more fluids.


Try drinking at least six 8-oz glasses per day to help hydrate you. Find a fun water bottle to carry with you everywhere. Ideally, that drink is water or herbal tea. Sip on chilled water or ice tea, such as green tea which has anticancer compounds.


Avoid alcohol


Alcohol can worsen hot flashes and make it harder to stay asleep. It is also strongly linked to breast cancer. Not to mention it can make you forgetful and confused, and can even lead to loss of muscle mass, balance problems, falls, and accidents. Plus, it's devoid of nutrients.


For a fun mocktail, see my recipe for Hibiscus Tea Sangria


Cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, hot foods, and sugar


To tamp down on hot flashes, consider avoiding common triggers like spicy foods and caffeine.


When it comes to sugar, the simplest way to cut down is to replace sugar-sweetened drinks with water or herbal tea. If the thought of cutting out all desserts doesn’t sound fair, a recent study showed that menopausal women who ate more sweets, fats, and snacks suffered from menopausal symptoms more than those who ate more fruits and vegetables. We’re talking hot flashes, night sweats, muscle and joint problems, and bladder issues were all worse for the dessert-lovers. Listen to your body, and decide what's right for you.


Sleep


Avoid eating large meals close to bedtime, particularly if you have trouble sleeping. Eating too much or being hungry leads to poor sleep as hormones and blood sugars fluctuate.


Magnesium may help with night sweats and hot flashes. But talk to your doctor and dietitian before taking any herbal remedies or supplements.


Pro Tip: Try sleeping on a coldpad pillow.


You're invited to join our new private nutrition group for thrivers on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/groups/afreshstartforbreastcancerthrivers


Eat higher quality foods


A recent study showed that menopausal women who ate the most greens had the fewest complaints about typical menopausal symptoms like hot flashes. Good nutrition lessens the severity of hot flashes.


By eating more nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables, grains, and beans, you’ll get more vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein—all of which are very important to maintain your health at and beyond menopause.



What about soy and phytoestrogens?


Phytoestrogens are the active ingredients in plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen without the dangers of estrogen for hormonally-driven breast cancer. Soy is the food with the highest amount of phytoestrogens and is often recommended for menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.


Research shows inconsistent results when it comes to phytoestrogens for menopausal symptoms. That means some studies show a small reduction in hot flashes, while others don’t. It could be that we simply don't eat enough soy. In fact, Asian women eat higher amounts of phytoestrogens and have fewer menopausal symptoms. Research is now focused on the safety of dietary supplements with high amounts of phytoestrogens for symptom relief.

Hot flashes can mean fireworks at start of menopause
When hot flashes hit, try good nutrition

Bottom line on the start of menopause and hot flashes


When it comes to nutrition for menopause a few simple changes can help you navigate the start of menopause.


Be sure to eat regularly; drink enough fluids, but not alcohol; cut down on spicy foods, caffeine, and sugar; don't eat close to bedtime; eat higher-quality food; and have soy if you enjoy it, but don’t expect it to miraculously solve any bothersome menopausal symptoms.


Subscribe! Get continuous updates on nutrition for cancer survivors. Click this button on the top of the blog page and you'll be directed to the subscribe link.


You're invited to join our new private nutrition group for thrivers on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/groups/afreshstartforbreastcancerthrivers


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