What causes menopause mood changes, and can the right nutrition help?
Qualified nutritional therapist Rosie Letts explains what’s going on – and how it’s possible pack your plate with powerful goodness that’s proven to balance the low moods and mood swings many women experience during menopause.
What causes low mood and mood changes at menopause?
Whilst there might be many contributing factors to your mood changes, your changing hormones are likely to be part of the problem. Research shows a clear link between the fluctuation of hormones and how you feel (3) so the hormone chaos you’re experiencing is likely to be impacting your mental wellbeing.
Thankfully, the food choices you make during this transition will have a dramatic affect on the way you feel. Below I have outlined my top tips for supporting optimal brain function and feeling happy and calm during the menopause.
Don’t skip meals
When your blood sugar is low and you need energy, a surge of adrenaline triggers glucose release. This surge can make you feel edgy and anxious. What’s more, just skipping breakfast is associated with higher risk of depression (4) – it’s surprising what a difference you’ll feel making sure you eat regularly.
Follow a low Glycaemic Load (GL) diet
Stable moods are built on stable blood sugar levels. Eliminate fast energy releasing, refined carbohydrates such as sugary drinks or snacks, white rice and foods made with white flour. Instead, aim to get most of your carbohydrates from vegetables, and add nutrient dense, fibre-rich wholegrains when necessary.
Have protein with every meal to keep you fuller for longer – chicken, grilled fish, eggs, tofu, lentils are all good choices. This can help with low mood because protein slows the release of sugar into your bloodstream and provides the building blocks of your happy hormones.
Enjoy healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds with every meal. In contrast to carbohydrates, which provide a quick burst of energy that quickly burns out, healthy fats provide stable, long-lasting energy, and that’s exactly what we want. Be sure to include Omega-3 which promotes notable mood improvement (5) and regulates hormones (6). You’ll find Omega-3 in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel; walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts; and flax, pumpkin or chia seeds.
Support your brain
Brain fog is often mentioned by menopausal women. To sharpen your memory and to stay focussed, you’ll need acetylcholine, a neurotransmittor that helps your brain send messages (7). It is found in high amounts in breast milk to support the growing brain. Adults can find choline in eggs, oily fish, avocado, almonds and liver.
Naturally lower levels of progesterone during this period are linked to lower GABA, a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. Researchers suspect that GABA may boost mood or have a calming, relaxing effect on the nervous system(8). Support GABA’s production with magnesium-rich green vegetables, wholegrains and nuts, as well as B vitamins found in meat, offal, fish, eggs, oats, brown rice and nutritional yeast.
Focus on feel-good
Most of us know that the higher the levels of ‘feel good’ serotonin – the happiness hormone – the better our mood (9). What you might not be aware of is that optimal levels have been proven to reduce irritability too (10).
Serotonin is built from a chemical called tryptophan. Milk products have been shown to quickly increase brain tryptophan levels (10), but this essential happiness-fuel is also found in a range of protein-rich foods, including:
- Wholegrains and legumes
- Seeds and nuts
- Tofu, eggs, meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
Supporting serotonin production needn’t mean feasting on only these foods though – just one serving of porridge made with 40g oats and 25g seeds or a 3-egg omelette is adequate (11).
Balanced brain food
Eating a wide range of foods will support your brain’s ability to manufacture its mood-enhancing chemicals. In addition to the foods mentioned above, aim for at least five 80g portions of fibre rich, vitamin C loaded vegetables and fruits each day (12) plus foods containing iron – red meat, dried apricots, spinach and lentils (13).
Emerging research shows a direct link between your gut and your brain. The key is your gut flora, colonies of bacteria that impact your mental wellbeing. Fibre from vegetables, wholegrains and fruit is used by the bacteria as energy, enabling them to produce compounds which positively impact the brain and your moods (14).
So make sure you eat at least six or seven portions of fruit and veggies a day – ideally unpeeled – and choose fibre-packed wholegrain options where you can. Fibre is best from fruit and vegetables in these circumstances.
Support your system with supplements
B vitamin complex
B vitamin complex supplements are highly recommended for stress, anxiety, or irritability (15). A methylated B complex could actually improve mental wellbeing (16).
Adequate vitamin D is required to absorb magnesium (17) but our levels of the “sunshine vitamin” may be low from October to May. The UK government recommends that all adults supplement with 10mcg of D3 daily.
Shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety (18) they can also reduce feelings of stress (19). Try a good quality broad spectrum probiotic.
St Johns Wort
Mind, the mental health charity, suggests that this herbal remedy could be useful for low mood because it works in a similar way to standard antidepressants (20). It does, however, interact with numerous medications so talk your GP or practitioner before taking. Find out more by visiting the NICE website.
Part of the pathway that produces serotonin, 5-HTP can be used as a supplement to produce feelings of wellbeing. It may be more effective than some anti-depressants when taken alongside amino acid L-tyrosine but the research is not yet conclusive. If you’re interested in this option, it’s best to talk to a nutritional therapist about possible short term use.
Considered nutrition: the natural way to boost menopause mood
Managing mood changes at menopause really is possible with a few careful changes to your diet – the research is there to prove it. You might find it most helpful to talk to a nutritional therapist who can make personalised recommendations, but I hope you’ll notice a difference by making five small changes.
5 nutritional must-knows to manage menopause mood
- Skipping meals or eating sugary snacks will create blood sugar fluctuations affecting your mood and ability to think clearly.
- Low GL meals 3 times a day with protein at each one should stabilise your blood sugar levels
- Eat Omega3 rich foods daily to elevate your mood
- Be sure to eat foods rich in B vitamins every day, such as green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, eggs and poultry. Your body isn’t able to store these important brain-loving, stress-busting vitamins, so it’s vital to consume them daily.
- Look to eat a wide range of foods each day including plenty of vegetables and fruit
Here are more tips for coping with your emotions during menopause.
About Rosie Letts
Rosie is a qualified and registered nutritional therapist. She has worked with hundreds of women experiencing menopausal symptoms, helping to combine nutrition and lifestyle changes that have helped to prevent or reduce the severity of symptoms including sleeping problems, mood changes, weight gain, and headaches.
Her qualifications, memberships and awards include: BSc in Nutritional Therapy – University of Westminster; ICHAN outstanding practice 2018 award; Member of the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CHNC); Member of the British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT).
1 Hickey, M. et al. (2011). Evaluation and management of depressive and anxiety symptoms in midlife. Climacteric, 15(1), pp.3-9.
2 Gibbs, Z. et al. (2014). The unique symptom profile of perimenopausal depression. Clinical Psychologist, 19(2), pp.76-84.
3 Ryan, J. et al. (2009). A prospective study of the association between endogenous hormones and depressive symptoms in postmenopausal women. Menopause, 16(3), pp.509-517.
4 Lee, S. et al. (2017). Breakfast consumption and depressive mood: A focus on socioeconomic status. Appetite, 114, pp.313-319.
5 Levant, B. (2013). N-3 (Omega-3) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in the Pathophysiology and Treatment of Depression: Pre-Clinical Evidence. CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets, 12(4), pp.450-459.
6 Nadjarzadeh, A. (2019). The effect of omega-3 supplementation on androgen profile and menstrual status in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized clinical trial. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC39413… [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].
7 Newhouse, P. & Dumas, J. (2015). Estrogen–cholinergic interactions: Implications for cognitive aging. Hormones and Behavior, 74, pp.173-185.
8 Saˇgsöz, N., et al. (2001). Anxiety and depression before and after the menopause. Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 264(4), pp.199-202.
9 Jenkins, T. et al. (2016). Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients, 8(1), p.56.
10 Young, S. et al. (2007). The effect of tryptophan on quarrelsomeness, agreeableness, and mood in everyday life. International Congress Series, 1304, pp.133-143.
11 Whitbread, D. (2018). Top 10 Foods Highest in Tryptophan. [online] MyFoodData.com Available at: https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-tryptopha… [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].
12 Travica, N. et al. (2017). Vitamin C Status and Cognitive Function: A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 9(9), p.960.
13 Nakamura, K. & Hasegawa, H. (2009). Production and Peripheral Roles of 5-HTP, a Precursor of Serotonin. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC31952… [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].
14 Liu, L. & Zhu, G. (2018). Gut–Brain Axis and Mood Disorder. [online] PubMed. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC59871… [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].
15 Glenville, M. (2014). “The Nutritional Health Handbook for Women”. 5th ed. London: Piatkus, pp.415-416.
16 Lewis, J. et al. (2013). The Effect of Methylated Vitamin B Complex on Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms and Quality of Life in Adults with Depression. ISRN Psychiatry, 2013, pp.1-7.
17 Gröber, U. et al. (2015). Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients, 7(9), pp.8199-8226.
18 Rao, A. et al. (2009). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. [online] PubMed. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC26643… [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].
19 Messaoudi, M. et al. (2011). Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation ( Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. [online] PubMed. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20974015 [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].
20 Mind, (2017). St John’s Wort | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems. [online] Mind.org.uk. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-… [Accessed 28 Jan. 2019].