7% of Japanese women suffer from hot flushes, compared to approximately 8 in 10 women in the UK.
Omega 3 fish oil menopause benefits
The end of a woman’s reproductive years may be called the menopause, but for many of us, it feels more like a big, fat full stop. A full stop to a life without aches and pains. A full stop to restful sleep. A full stop to youth. A full stop to health.
But does it really have to be that way? After all, the menopause is a totally natural occurrence that happens to all women lucky enough to live to middle-age. Why should our health and wellbeing suddenly take a nosedive, along with our fertility?
Debilitating hormonal symptoms such as night sweats, depression and joint pain are not the inevitable consequences of the menopause. For proof of that we only have to step outside of our own Western culture and examine the experience of women around the world, particularly those in the East.
Did you know that Chinese women, for example, have a consistently low chance of developing any menopause symptoms at all? Or that Mayan women actually look forward to menopause as a time of newfound freedom and status? Or that hot flushes are so rare among middle-aged women in Japan there’s not even a name for them?
Even the way the menopause is described is different in the East. The Japanese word for menopause (konenki) translates as both ‘renewal years’ and ‘energy’.
It’s a far cry from the experience of menopausal women closer to home. A survey carried out by ITV’s Tonight programme found that a quarter of UK women suffered from hormonal symptoms so severe they’d even considered leaving their jobs. Half of the women surveyed thought that ‘the change’ had made their lives significantly worse.
Here in the West we seem to have accepted the idea that the end of menstruation brings with it health consequences that range from the inconvenient and embarrassing (hot flushes, brain fog and grumpiness) to the serious (heart disease and arthritis). So why do women in other cultures suffer so much less than we do?
Some experts think the answer to that may be found in our lifestyles. And in particular, on our dinner plates. So could our diets play a role in some of the menopausal symptoms we seem to be prone to here in the West? And if what we eat can worsen our symptoms, is there anything we could eat that would improve them?
Let’s take a closer look at Omega 3 and the menopause to find out.
Omega 3 fish oil and the menopause - how does it affect you?
So why does the amount of Omega 3 we’re eating matter when it comes to soothing the hormonal chaos brought on by the menopause? Well, according to a recent study carried out by the University of Leeds, a diet rich in fish oil has such a big impact on our hormones, it can even delay the menopause altogether.
The comprehensive study, carried out over four years on more than 14,000 women in the UK, found that those having a daily portion of sardines or salmon experienced the menopause up to three years later than the average age - something which has serious implications when you realise that going through the menopause earlier puts you at a much greater risk for osteoporosis and heart disease.
Can Omega 3 fish oil help the menopause?
Taking Omega 3 can help hormonal health at any age, but fish oil benefits the menopause particularly. It’s worth remembering that essential fatty acids are the building blocks of hormones themselves and you can only get them from your diet. Without a healthy supply of Omega 3, the body won’t be able to produce the hormones it needs - not great news when your hormones are fluctuating anyway.
But that’s not all. Omega 3 also has a role to play in hormone transport and communication and they even affect hormone receptor sites, so that fewer hormones are needed to trigger the same intended response.
Is Omega 3 fish oil natural HRT?
Is it time to reach for the fish oil instead of the HRT? Omega 3 is thought to have the same estrogen-regulating effects as the soy that’s proved so beneficial to Japanese women.
According to BreastCancer.Org, Omega 3 fatty acids are a good source of lignans, compounds that have a weak estrogen effect. This is thought to help reduce your risk of developing the estrogen-dependent type of breast cancer, but can also help with menopausal symptoms caused by too little or too much estrogen, like hot flushes and painful periods. When weaker estrogens take the place of stronger estrogen at receptor sites, these sites are less likely to be overwhelmed, so they respond more moderately.
How does Omega 3 fish oil benefit the menopause?
Menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms differ greatly between women. While one person may report anxiety, palpitations and memory fog, for another it’s mood swings, breast pain and insomnia.
But there is some good news. Here’s a look at some of the ways Omega 3 can relieve your menopausal symptoms.
Omega 3 fish oil menopause benefits number 1: hot flushes
That creeping feeling of warmth as it spreads across your back, chest and face can be more than just uncomfortable. For some people it can be debilitating, affecting sleep, their moods and their work. Alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods and sugar can all be triggers. But could Omega 3 cool things down?
Studies have shown that while Omega 3 may not affect the intensity of a flush, it can halve the frequency at which they occur. In a Canadian study, 120 women who had on average 2.8 hot flushes per day were assigned to two groups. One group took an Omega 3 fish oil supplement that provided 1,050mg of EPA and 150mg of DHA, while the other took a placebo. After eight weeks the women in the Omega 3 group were reporting far fewer hot flushes than before.
Omega 3 fish oil menopause benefits number 2: vaginal dryness
Declining female sex hormones have a lot to answer for. Vaginal dryness is another common complaint and it’s thought to be experienced by one in four women during the menopause. Not only can you become itchy and painful, it can leave you more prone to infections and urinary discomfort, and sex might be uncomfortable too.
You could try over-the-counter lubricants or an estrogen cream prescribed by your GP, but getting more Omega 3 into your diet could treat the problem from within. That’s because, from your eyes to your joints to your skin and yes, even your vagina, fatty acids are known to help lubricate the body. Not only that, they can help blood flow and circulation to the area as well.
Omega 3 fish oil menopause benefits number 3: insomnia
Hot flushes really don’t make for a great night’s sleep. But even if you don’t suffer with any night-time overheating, you may be surprised to find that getting a good night’s sleep can become more challenging during your perimenopause. The reason? Those declining hormones again. Progesterone is produced when you ovulate and it’s known as the sleep-producing hormone. When you don’t ovulate your levels of progesterone decrease, as well as your chances of a good night’s sleep.
Omega 3 has been shown to benefit insomnia, with diets rich in essential fatty acids linked to better-quality sleep in children. But there’s growing research that shows fish oil has a soporific effect on adults too. It’s all down to melatonin, the hormone that governs your circadian rhythm and sends signals to the body that it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep.
Research shows low levels of the Omega 3 essential fatty acid DHA can lead to melatonin deficiency and that increasing your levels of DHA can help melatonin levels rise. Something which may just tip the balance in your favour and help you get some much-needed shut-eye.
Omega 3 fish oil menopause benefits number 4: osteoporosis
Did you know estrogen has a role to play in strengthening bones? That’s why women who go through premature or early menopause are encouraged to eat plenty of calcium and vitamin D, and take weight-bearing exercise to stave off osteoporosis later on. According to the NHS, women can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the five to seven years after the menopause.
The National Osteoporosis Society also reports that a diet rich in Omega 3 is important to bones because it helps your body absorb other vitamins, increasing bone mineral content.
Omega 3 fish oil menopause benefits number 5: mood swings and depression
Depression affects twice as many women than men anyway, but the risk is even greater during the menopause, which brings with it emotional symptoms such as sadness and irritability. Omega 3 fish oil contains large amounts of essential fatty acids DHA and EPA, which can help build brain cells as well as regulate levels of serotonin to smooth out moods, keeping you feeling stable.
Read our guide for more about how Omega 3 fish oil benefits depression
Omega 3 fish oil menopause benefits number 6: painful periods
Thought you were meant to be having lighter periods as you ran out of eggs? Sadly, your ovaries may not want to go quietly. Heavy, painful periods can be a common symptom of perimenopause, but you can counteract this by taking a good Omega 3 menopause supplement.
Menopausal menstrual pain is caused by ‘bad’, inflammatory prostaglandins, but Omega 3 can counteract them by producing its own anti-inflammatory ‘good’ prostaglandins. In fact, studies show that Omega 3 works even better than painkillers like Ibuprofen to reduce this type of menstrual pain.
What are the best Omega 3 supplements for the menopause?
Agnus Castus, St John’s Wort, Red Clover… your shelves may be groaning with natural menopause supplements already, but Omega 3 fish oil should really be up there with them, according to women’s health expert, Dr Marilyn Glenville.
“A good Omega 3 fish oil supplement will help with symptoms such as dry skin, lifeless hair, cracked nails, fatigue, depression, dry eyes, lack of motivation, aching joints, difficulty in losing weight and forgetfulness,” she told Scottish publication, Press and Journal.
But what should you look for when choosing the best Omega 3 fish oil for the menopause? You’ll want a supplement made of wild, oily small fish that’s screened for contaminants such as dioxins and PCBs and publishes its results. You’ll also need a clinical strength product with adequate amounts of Omega 3, as most of the trials that showed beneficial results on hormonal symptoms used high amounts of EPA and DHA, the active ingredients in oily fish.
To really see a benefit in your symptoms you’ll need to take a clinical strength fish oil daily, such as our Lion Heart liquid or capsules. That’s because other fish oils on the market don’t contain nearly as much hormone-soothing EPA and DHA.
So, can Omega 3 fish oil really help my menopause?
Having a diet rich in Omega 3 is important for hormone balance at any age, but at a time of such rapid fluctuation as the menopause, it’s essential.
But while taking natural supplements for the menopause is a great start, Omega 3 should only be part of your lifestyle overhaul. If you’re suffering from hot flushes, identifying common triggers (like caffeine, alcohol and sugar) and avoiding them can be helpful, as well as upping the levels of estrogen-balancing lignans and flavonoids in your diet, by eating more soy, chickpeas and flax.
Exercise has also been shown to be invaluable, improving sleep, boosting mood and reducing your risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer.
Then, with all of these hormone soothers on your side, you’ll be well-placed to greet the menopause not with dread, but as an exciting new chapter in your life.