Even though menopause is a natural part of the life cycle, many women experience discomfort during and after menopause as their hormones establish a new balance. One of the major influences on a woman’s hormonal makeup during this realignment is her diet.

“To start, every woman needs to eat the way our ancestors ate, close to the earth, consuming lots of high-quality, nourishing whole fresh foods,” said Dr. Susan Lark, co-author of the new book, Dr. Susan Lark's Hormone Revolution. “Where women eat closer to the earth, such as Asians and Pacific Islanders, and consume more plant-based foods, they have fewer menopause symptoms.”

She said the gold standard is the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains, and fats such as olive oil. It is also low in white flour, sugar, and the saturated fats found in dairy products.

Lark, a physician specializing in preventive medicine for women’s health, believes that even within the Mediterranean diet, a woman still must choose the foods that support her individual hormonal profile. For a woman to understand her profile, she must examine two important factors:

— Brain chemistry – Neurotransmitters, natural chemicals that relay electrical messages between nerve cells, are crucial for the production of sex hormones. There are two neurotransmitter pathways that support your overall health. The first leads to the production of inhibitory neurotransmitters, which quiet down the processes of your body. The second leads to the production of excitatory neurotransmitters, which stimulate them.

— pH levels – This refers to the level of acidity or alkalinity within the body. Healthy cells have a slightly alkaline intracellular pH of just above 7.00. Not only are the cells of the body alkaline, but also the blood that circulates throughout the body must maintain a slightly alkaline pH of 7.35 to 7.45.

When there is an imbalance in the production of inhibitory/excitatory neurotransmitters, it also affects the body’s pH level, and women become either:

Estrogen deficient-fast processors – The level of excitatory neurotransmitters in this type of woman is too high. Estrogen deficient-fast processors suffer from weight loss and need to retain more fluid in their bodies, and to build more moisture content back into their bones and connective tissues. They require a more alkaline, vegetarian-centered diet that helps their bodies expand and build. Some good foods include: pumpkin, sweet peppers, spinach, carrots, squash, tuna, beef, most cheeses, and whole milk.

Estrogen deficient-slow processors – The level of inhibitory transmitters in this type of woman is too high. Estrogen deficient-slow processors retain fluid and have bigger, denser bodies. These women need to limit, dry, and contract this expansiveness through a more highly acidic diet. Some good foods include citrus fruits, strawberries, blackberries, sauerkraut, cucumbers, and yogurt.

Larkin added that women shouldn’t try to control their menopausal symptoms through food alone. She recommended using the following supplements:

— Soy supplements (100-150 mgs daily) – Isoflavones, found in soy supplements, act like estrogen in the body. The effects of isoflavones are 50-times weaker than natural estrogen hormones, causing a balancing effect in the body when the level of estrogen is low during menopause. They have been found to reduce hot flashes and increase bone density, said Larkin.

— Bioflavonoids (2,000-3,000 mgs daily) - Found in citrus rind and buckwheat, bioflavonoids are believed to protect the collagen structure in the skin, giving a more youthful appearance. They also fortify blood vessels, which helps prevent varicose veins, she said.

— Flaxseed (10 grams or 2 teaspoons daily) – Lignans, found in flaxseed, are natural chemicals that mimic estrogen. They are also weaker than natural estrogen and create a balancing effect if estrogen is low. They have been found to be especially effective in combating vaginal dryness and skin wrinkling, according to Larkin.

This story was reviewed by Dr. Manny Alvarez