Functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner Aline McCarthy joins the latest episode of the Unprocessed podcast to discuss the intersection of gut health and menopause – you might be surprised to learn how deeply interwoven these two elements are. Let’s take a look at some of her tips to navigating what can be a confusing and isolating time – and why it’s never too early to start preparing.
Aline McCarthy draws inspiration from her own personal health journey, from her struggles with autoimmunity and digestive problems to her years of sleepless nights – and now she’s here to help other women. The nutrition practitioner possesses an in-depth understanding of the formidable hurdles associated with chronic pain and inflammation, supporting people through her platform the Wellness Witches. In her role, Aline is dedicated to empowering women in navigating the intricate terrain of hormones and gut health.
While the interconnectedness of the gut with the entire body is widely acknowledged, this episode delves into the intricate relationship between gut health and the perimenopausal phase, with Aline offering strategies for everyday life to prepare for this transitional period – this means you won’t have to go in blind, as so many women do in a society that is often uncomfortable talking about women’s health. This leaves so many people confused and unequipped during this transformative time – but it doesn’t have to be this way! Tune in to the latest Unprocessed podcast episode to get the full picture with Aline – until then, we’re going to give you a look into some of her invaluable insights and her top tips to navigate menopause and gut health.
Preventing Brain Fog in Menopause
“Having a healthy digestive system is good for your brain, exercise is amazing for your brain. Getting good nutrition is important, but being insulin resistant is a problem for your brain; if you’re on a blood-sugar rollercoaster you’re going to start having cognitive issues.”
Aline unpacks the significance of the gut-brain connection and its role in menopause – this
bidirectional communication system between the gut and the central nervous system is crucial for maintaining overall health and plays a significant role in various bodily functions, including the prevention of brain fog during menopause. Here's why it's important and how you can improve this connection:
Hormone Regulation: Menopause is a phase marked by significant hormonal changes, particularly a decrease in oestrogen levels. The gut can influence the metabolism and regulation of hormones, including oestrogen. A well-balanced gut can help support hormonal balance during menopause.
Mood and Cognitive Function: The gut-brain axis influences mood, cognitive function, and mental clarity. Changes in gut health can lead to imbalances in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) and contribute to symptoms like brain fog, mood swings, and cognitive decline.
Inflammation: An imbalanced gut can lead to chronic inflammation, which is linked to cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative conditions. Reducing gut-related inflammation can support cognitive health during menopause.
A diet rich in fibre, prebiotics, and probiotics can promote a healthy gut microbiome, which in turn will boost the gut-brain connection. Proper hydration is another element for healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. But it’s not just about what we’re eating or drinking – chronic stress can negatively impact the gut-brain axis. Stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can help manage stress and support gut health, along with the following:
- Regular Exercise: Physical activity promotes a diverse gut microbiome and reduces inflammation. Aim for regular exercise to support both your gut and cognitive health.
- Adequate Sleep: Quality sleep is essential for gut health and cognitive function. Aim for 7-9 hours of restorative sleep each night.
- Limit Sugar and Processed Foods: High sugar and processed food consumption can disrupt the gut microbiota and lead to inflammation. Reducing or eliminating these from your diet can improve the gut-brain connection.
“We forget to eat or we quickly drink coffee and that’s not going to give you a healthy brain,” Aline says, reminding us to take caution when skipping meals in favour of snacks or coffee.
Beware Insulin Resistance
“When the cells in your muscles, fat and liver don’t respond well to insulin, a hormone that controls our blood sugar, if our cells and orans can’t take the glucose from our blood, we see metabolic issues starting to happen – the most common one midlife women complain about is belly fat they can’t shift.”
Insulin resistance during menopause is a concern because it can have several significant health implications for women. Menopause is a natural phase in a woman's life when her menstrual cycles cease, typically occurring in the late 40s or early 50s. During this time, hormonal changes, particularly a decline in estrogen levels, can lead to various metabolic and physiological changes, including an increased risk of insulin resistance. Here's why it's important to be aware of insulin resistance during menopause:
- Weight Gain: Like Aline said, many women experience weight gain during and after menopause due to changes in hormone levels that affect how the body stores fat, often leading to increased abdominal fat, which is associated with insulin resistance. Are you noticing a pattern here? One thing has a domino effect on the next.
- Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Insulin resistance means the body's cells don't respond well to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. This can lead to elevated blood sugar levels, potentially increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Cardiovascular Health: Insulin resistance is a risk factor for heart disease. During menopause, there is an increase in cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol profiles. Insulin resistance can exacerbate these risks.
Looking After Your Liver During Menopause
"Your liver metabolises oestrogen – we see an increase in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease because people are eating too much processed food and sugar, the most common cause of fatty liver is not alcohol anymore,” Aline says. “The easiest first step to take the stress off your liver is to cut down on sugar, cut down alcohol, both disrupt your blood-sugar levels.”
Here are some tips Aline shares on how to look after your liver during menopause:
Maintain a Balanced Diet: Eat a diet rich in whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. These foods provide essential nutrients, antioxidants and fibre that support liver function. Proper hydration is essential for the liver to flush out toxins and metabolise hormones effectively. Drink plenty of water and consider herbal teas or lemon water for extra liver support.
Limit Alcohol Intake: Excessive alcohol can strain the liver and disrupt hormone balance. If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation, and consider reducing your intake.
Watch Your Sugar and Processed Foods: High-sugar and processed foods can contribute to fatty liver, which may exacerbate hormonal imbalances. Limit your intake of sugary and processed foods.
“We grab sugar or alcohol because our body is craving something to calm down – once we get blood-sugars stable, we get better energy throughout the day, you’ll be less stressed and you’ll need less alcohol to calm you down.”
Healthy Fats: Include sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and fatty fish in your diet. These fats support liver health and hormonal balance.
Regular Exercise: Physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, reduce inflammation, and improve liver function. Aim for a combination of cardio and strength training exercises.
Stress Management: Chronic stress can affect liver health. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises.
Phytoestrogens: Certain foods like soy and flaxseeds contain phytoestrogens, which may help balance hormone levels. Include these in your diet.
Liver-Supportive Herbs: Some herbs, like milk thistle and dandelion, are known for their liver-supportive properties. But if you’re interested in trying these, whether in the form of teas or tablets, consult with a healthcare provider before adding supplements to your routine.
Keen to learn more? Aline shares what you need to know about how to navigate menopause and the best ways you can begin preparing now, no matter how young you are, right here in the Unprocessed podcast. Check out the episode HERE.