How Diet Can Impact Menopause

How Diet Can Impact Menopause

Hormones are chemical messengers that can control and regulate certain parts of our health, including reproduction, the menstrual cycle, the immune system, and metabolism¹.

Balanced hormone levels are essential for maintaining normal body functions, especially during menopause.

Hormones may sound difficult to control, but there are certain steps we can take to manage them through lifestyle choices. For example, you can support a healthy hormonal balance by consuming nutrient-rich foods that support the body and limiting those that tend to do the opposite².

In this article, we’ll explain how hormones change during menopause, how our diet can affect hormonal levels, and how to take advantage of the latter to minimize the effects of the former.


Changes In Estrogen During Menopause
Three hormones are involved in female reproductive health: progesterone and estrogen, the primary female sex hormones, and testosterone, although in smaller quantities³.

Throughout a person assigned female at birth (AFAB) reproductive life cycle, estrogen regulates the development, growth, and daily function of the reproductive system. As a result, it controls the menstrual cycle and reproductive health⁴.

When the initial stage of menopause, called perimenopause, begins, estrogen may fluctuate rapidly. It drops once menopause is reached and the woman stops menstruating.

These rapid fluctuations in estrogen levels have an impact on the body and can result in hormonal imbalances⁵.

As a result, menopausal women may experience unwanted side effects such as⁵:
  • Irregular menstruation (in perimenopause)
  • Mood swings
  • Night sweats
  • Hot flashes
  • Low bone density
  • Vaginal dryness

There are various ways to ease these symptoms, including eating foods that support the body as it transitions through the various stages of menopause.


How Foods Affect Estrogen Levels

Our body needs a healthy and balanced diet to help every organ perform its functions. This fact is especially true during menopause.

However, it’s important to note that it’s not possible to get estrogen directly from any food sources.

Instead, what we find in food are phytoestrogens, which are plant-based, estrogen-like compounds that can perform similar functions within the body. As a result, they can help offset menopause symptoms by mimicking some of the effects of the hormone⁶.

Soy and flaxseed are two major sources of phytoestrogens. In soy, phytoestrogen appears in the form of isoflavones. And in flaxseed, you’ll find lignan, another type of plant-based compound that has estrogenic-like activity⁶.

Aside from mimicking estrogen, phytoestrogens like isoflavones can have other health benefits, too. Recent research from 2020 shows that soy, thanks to its phytoestrogen content, can help to address conditions like osteoporosis and obesity⁷.

Similarly, a study on flaxseed showed an improvement in menopause symptoms and quality of life in the study subjects who consumed it⁸.

Making drastic dietary changes can be a challenge. So when switching out food items from your diet, remember to introduce your body to these changes gradually.

It’s also important to remember to keep your diet relevant to your lifestyle and daily needs. It’s never a bad idea to speak with a healthcare professional if you have questions about how to best strike a balance in your diet while still providing your body with the nutrients and support it needs throughout menopause.

It’s also important to remember to keep your diet relevant to your lifestyle and daily needs. It’s never a bad idea to speak with a healthcare professional if you have questions about how to best strike a balance in your diet while still providing your body with the nutrients and support it needs throughout menopause.


Foods You Should Eat
A diet rich in nutrients your body needs can help promote good health. It may also make it easier to navigate some of the changes that accompany menopause (5).

Calcium, in conjunction with adequate vitamin D intake for absorption, helps with building bone density and may help keep the symptoms of menopause-related bone diseases at bay⁹.

Examples of foods rich in calcium include¹⁰:
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Fortified soy milk
  • Yogurt
  • Collard greens
  • Almonds
  • Spinach


You’ll likely also benefit from a vegetable-rich diet that’s full of vitamins to support your general health and wellness.

Consider veggies such as:

  • Kale
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli  

Protein helps to keep bone health up and increases satiety. Sources of proteins include¹¹:
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Turkey
  • Fish
  • Grilled chicken

Foods high in phytoestrogens may also help lessen the severity of menopause symptoms⁵. Sources including¹²:
  • Flaxseed
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Soy flour
  • Soybeans (or edamame)


Foods You Should Avoid
When considering how your diet affects bodily function, a good practice to follow is to take note of what you eat and what quantity. Then keep an eye on how your body feels afterward. 

If you don’t feel good or if you notice an increase in the frequency and severity of menopause symptoms, it follows that you should limit your intake of such foods. 

Another reason you should note how food affects you is that your doctor might ask for such information during consultations. Consider keeping a food and reactions diary on your phone or notepad for yourself and your doctor. 

That said, similar to how phytoestrogens help to ease symptoms, specific classes or types of foods can also exacerbate symptoms of menopause. This isn’t necessarily because they affect your hormone levels, but they can interact with your body in other ways to sometimes make menopause symptoms worse.

Types of foods that tend to exacerbate menopause symptoms include the following¹³: 
  • Caffeine: An increase in menopause hot flashes may be linked to caffeine consumption. 
  • Spicy foods: These may create feelings of heat that trigger hot flashes for some.
  • Alcohol: Excessive drinking may exacerbate existing symptoms (like hot flashes) and contribute to new ones (such as poor sleep).


Key Takeaways
Many women experience unwanted symptoms during menopause that result from the shift in hormones that characterize this stage of life. 

The nutrients you get in the foods you eat can, to some extent, affect how you experience menopause. A well-rounded diet that includes phytoestrogens may help you support your body and mimic estrogen’s effects to ease your symptoms.

On the other hand, spicy food, caffeine, and alcohol have the potential to worsen menopause symptoms.

Making these decisions can get overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. When in doubt, never hesitate to speak to a medical professional concerning adjusting your diet during menopause to include hormone-balancing foods and manage potential trigger foods. 



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  3. Davidge-Pitts, C., & Solorzano, C. B. (2022, January 24) “Reproductive hormones.” Endocrine Society. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from 
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  5. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.) “Perimenopause.” Retrieved July 20, 2023, from 
  6. Desmawati, D. & Sulastri, D. (2019) Phytoestrogens and Their Health Effect. Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences 7(3):495–499. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from   
  7. Tang, S. et al. (2020) Effects of Soy Foods in Postmenopausal Women: A Focus on Osteosarcopenia and Obesity. Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome 29(3):180–187. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from 
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  10. Cleveland Clinic. (2023, March 21). 22 calcium-rich foods to try right now. 
  11. Godman, H. (2022, January 1). Essential nutrients your body needs for building bone. Harvard Health. 
  12. Doris M. Tham et al, Potential Health Benefits of Dietary Phytoestrogens: A Review of the Clinical, Epidemiological, and Mechanistic Evidence, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 83, Issue 7, 1 July 1998, Pages 2223–2235,
  13. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.) “Hot flashes - Symptoms & causes.” Retrieved July 19, 2023, from