It appears more women are trying to take control of their perimenopause and menopause symptoms. 
The topic, Menopause and Nutrition was a key discussion for the second year in a row at the South Central Women's Health Expo hosted by Genesis House last month. In fact, the session was back by popular demand.

Halee Verzyl is a clinical dietician with Southern Health-Sante Sud. She feels the topic's popularity is being driven by women talking more openly about it, but also starting to take more control over the changes they're experiencing.

"It used to be kind of like a taboo topic where women shouldn't be talking about these symptoms that we're going through," said Verzyl. "Because everybody's a little bit different, the symptoms for everybody are going to be a little bit different. So, I think it's just talked about more. And with social media as well. I think a lot of influence comes from different practitioners that are also on social media that are Raising awareness and a voice about that, which is becoming more talked about and something that people want to try and address if they can relate to lifestyle factors."

Those lifestyle factors, added Verzyl, include exercise, stress and sleep management and nutrition. 

When it comes to perimenopause, Verzyl says there still isn't a lot of good research out there for people to draw from. Perimenopause is the phase where our hormones begin to change as we move towards menopause, and that's where we can start to see some of the symptoms we associate with that stage in life. They include hot flashes, sleep disturbances, irritability, irregular menstrual cycles and maybe, a bit of weight gain. 

"The studies that we do have are kind of not well built," explained Verzyl. "So, they're either smaller sample sizes, sometimes there's a placebo effect related to them and again, because women are very different related to our hormone fluctuations, the nutrition recommendations can really vary from person to person."

However, she noted some of the research indicates some things like caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods could be triggers for hot flashes. 

"So, when it comes to those food groups, usually what I say is try cutting them back in half and see if you notice a difference in your symptoms. If you don't notice any difference, then they're probably not a trigger for you. If you do notice a difference, then they are likely a trigger. Just kind of playing around with it a little bit to see how it might impact you. Maybe you can have coffee in the morning, but not in the evening kind of thing."

Phytoestrogens can also ease symptoms, according to Verzyl.

"These are essentially components of plant foods that have a similar structure to the human hormone, estrogen, but they differ in that the estrogen from these phytoestrogens have a much weaker effect, so they don't impact our bodies as much as the hormone that our bodies naturally produce." Some of these phytoestrogens include soy or legumes like beans or lentils, whole grains, flax seed and fruits and vegetables. "Again, there isn't good research around it, so it's hard to make a really strong recommendation with it, but trying to add a little bit more of these phytoestrogens in for about two to three months can vary from person to person but you might notice an improvement in your symptoms."

"The one thing I will mention, if we're looking at those phytoestrogens or phytoestrogen supplements such as soy, please talk to your family doctor or your primary caregiver in the event that you have a history of breast cancer, sometimes that doesn't always mix well. So, we do want to be cautious and make sure we're not putting you at a higher risk," added Verzyl. 

The last thing is herbal supplements.

"Again, not enough evidence to to recommend one way or the other but, for the most part, they do seem to be safe," said Verzyl. "So, you could trial and error them to see which ones may or may not work for you." The most common ones Verzyl says she sees people try are soy red clove or primrose oil.

Post menopause brings its own set of challenges, like increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. However, the nice thing about this stage of life, noted Verzyl, is that there is more research on it.

During this phase, estrogen and progesterone, hormones that often help support lean body mass and bones, decline. This makes it more difficult for women to retain lean body mass and to repair bones and build strong muscles. As a result, Verzyl says prioritizing protein is important. 

"I do find that most people meet their protein needs, but it seems to be heavily weighted towards their supper meal instead of kind of throughout the day. So, if we can spread it out throughout the day, it helps our body digest and absorb the nutrients from the protein, better helping to build that lean body mass and maintain that lean body mass and strengthen our bones and muscles."

She recommends incorporating protein at breakfast with eggs, peanut butter on toast, or Greek yogurt mixed with some nuts and seeds. 

The other thing with protein, noted Verzyl, is that it can help manage chronic diseases like diabetes. She explained, protein helps to slow how quickly sugar is released into the blood stream and says ingesting it throughout the day can help manage blood sugar levels over that period of time. 

Meantime, two big nutrients that help with increased risk of bone loss, lean muscle mass and the risk for osteoporosis, added Verzyl, are Vitamin D and calcium. But what about something like collagen, which appears to be a very trendy supplement lately. 

"There's not a lot of good research around it," noted Verzyl. "It might help for some people, but not everybody. So, you could try it and see if it helps with your strength and muscle mass building or maintaining, and then you kind of know if it works or if it doesn't."

Overall, Verzyl agrees, there could be more research into women's health on the whole.

"And we are starting to see a little bit more coming out. It is still smaller studies, but we are starting to see a little bit more coming, especially in the role of our gut bacteria related to menopause and our mood. So that is an interesting one that's starting to come out."