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Celebrity Health – Dr Nighat Arif

Dr Nighat Arif, resident doctor on BBC Breakfast and This Morning, suggests some lifestyle changes to help relieve perimenopausal symptoms

Maintaining a varied and nutritious diet can make a significant difference to your general health and wellbeing, and this is particularly important as you approach the menopause. Many individuals in this phase of life find themselves gaining weight – especially around their abdomen – which is often the result of the following factors:

Weight gain in the midlife years can often increase your risk of certain illnesses – such as type 2 diabetes and cancer – so it's vital that you watch what you eat and drink.

My key advice to patients is as follows:

Eat lots of fruit and vegetables

Fruit and veg should form a core part of your daily diet. My esteemed colleague Dr Mary Claire Haver, a US-based obstetrics and gynaecology physician who specialises in women's nutrition, recommends eating a 'rainbow' of brightly coloured fruit and veg. So that means plenty of orange satsumas, red grapes, green peppers and purple sprouting broccoli!

Up your intake of fibre and protein

Make sure your daily food quota includes lots of high-fibre, starchy carbohydrates (such as brown rice, wholegrain pasta and baked potatoes) as well as a variety of protein-rich foods such as oily fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes (beans and pulses).

Cut down on highly processed food and junk food

Try to reduce your intake of processed foods, takeaways and ready meals.

They may contain high levels of salt and saturated fat, and can lack essential nutrients. Some cured meats may also contain a preservative called sodium nitrate that has been linked to cancer and heart disease.

Eat sugary foods only in moderation

Foodstuffs with added sugar such as sweets, cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks – as well as those with hidden sugars, like pasta sauces and flavoured yogurts – should be consumed in moderation.

Maintain good gut health

The gut plays an integral part in the menopause phase. We know that oestrogen, together with other hormones and toxins, gets excreted into the gut before being eventually eliminated from the body via faeces. Constipation is common in the perimenopause and postmenopause, however, and if the gut microbes become imbalanced it can lead to oestrogen absorbance dominance. This can heighten menopausal symptoms, hence why you need to look after your gut by sticking to a healthy and nutritious diet.

Consider food supplements and vitamins

In order to maintain healthy joints, skin and hair during menopause – and to look after your immune system – I generally recommend the following dietary supplements to my patients:

Some of the above can be found in multivitamin tablets (which I recommend you take on a daily basis in any case), but others may need to be purchased separately.

Eat phytoestrogens

There is also some evidence to suggest that foods high in phytoestrogens – including olive oil, soya beans, tofu, miso, liquorice root tea, beans, pulses, oats, nuts and seeds – can relieve symptoms of hot flushes and can improve bone health.

Cut down on alcohol

Not only does alcohol contain 'empty' calories, it can also worsen common perimenopausal symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats and low mood. Excessive consumption also increases your risk of cancer and heart disease, among other illnesses. If you can't eliminate it altogether, stick to the NHS recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol per week.

Drink plenty of water

I can't stress how important water is. Not only does it quench your thirst, it also helps to regulate your body temperature, lubricate your joints, ease your digestion, improve concentration and stave off infections. Staying well hydrated also aids a good night's sleep. The NHS Eatwell guide suggests we drink six to eight glasses of fluid per day; some of this quota can include decaffeinated tea, low-fat milk and sugar-free drinks.

A note on making changes to your diet

Anyone with special dietary requirements (such as those with coeliac disease or type 1 or type 2 diabetes) should always talk things through with their doctor before changing their eating regime.

The Knowledge: Your guide to female health – from menstruation to the menopause by Dr Nighat Arif is published by Aster, £22, hardback.

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