Menopause: Basic Ayurvedic Fundamentals of Wellness

Three key principles to long-term balance and wellness in Ayurveda are broadly summed up in three lifestyle tactics:

Reducing ama (toxins)
Balancing/strengthening digestion (agni)
Significantly lowering stress
Each of these plays a powerful role in supporting long-term, life-changing wellness, according to Ayurveda.

To accomplish these goals, Ayurveda offers you lots of enjoyable options. Each of these choices has the power, in the Ayurvedic model, to gradually, naturally support and restore Ayurvedic balance in mind and body. These lifestyle choices include changes to diet; stress-reduction practices like yoga, exercise and meditation; and traditional Ayurvedic herbals, to name just a few.

Digestion is a central long-term, priority focus of Ayurveda. Great emphasis is placed on keeping digestion (agni) balanced. In this sense, ‘balance’ means functioning at its absolute optimum. That’s because digestion (agni) is the engine of transformation and assimilation. This transformation ‘engine’ isn’t found just in the stomach — it is found in every cell in the body. It is an extremely intelligent engine, too. It transforms and metabolizes food nutrients and food intelligence into you, and selects out that which isn’t useful to the body and mind. Depending on the strength of agni, the ‘transformation engine,’ either toxins (ama) or ojas (the beneficial biochemical of balance) will be created. Ojas is the finest and most-valued by-product of digestion in Ayurveda, supporting immunity, happiness, the feeling of connectivity (union or yoga) and emotional stability.

If you are prone to Pitta-based problems, such as hot flashes or excessive irritability, follow a Pitta-pacifying diet: avoid foods that are spicy, such as chilies, cayenne and black mustard seed. Salty foods and foods that are sour, such as yogurt (unless it is diluted and sweetened in a drink called lassi) and sour fruits such as ketchup, mustard, and other salad dressings and condiments made with vinegar should also be avoided.

Favor foods that are bitter, astringent and sweet, as these are cooling to Pitta dosha. Bitter and astringent foods include most vegetables. Sweet foods include rice, milk and cream, sweet lassi, and wheat products. Sweet, juicy fruits such as pears and plums also pacify Pitta dosha. Cook with Pitta-reducing spices, such as cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, fennel and small amounts of cumin seed.

If you experience Vata-related symptoms of menopause such as memory loss or vaginal dryness, you'll want to work at bringing Vata dosha back into balance. For this, you'll want to eat foods that are cooked, warm, and unctuous (meaning that they have a small amount of good fats such as ghee and olive oil). Eat foods that are sweet, sour and salty, as this balances Vata dosha.

Apana Vata, which governs the genito-urinary tract, elimination, and menstruation, is a key area to attend to when preparing for menopause. Drink plenty of warm water throughout the day. Eat plenty of cooked, leafy greens, as this helps elimination and is also a good source of calcium. For both Pitta and Vata imbalances, a breakfast of cooked apples and prunes and figs is a good way to start the day, as it balances the doshas and cleanses the digestion.

It is also important to keep your digestion strong and free of ama. Avoid eating foods that are packaged, processed, frozen, canned or left over. Eat organic foods that are cooked fresh each day. The bulk of your diet should consist of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and legumes and light dairy products such as milk, lassi or paneer for protein. This type of light but nourishing diet will aid your digestion and avoid the build-up of ama. Avoid heavy foods such as meat, cheese, yogurt and frozen desserts like ice cream, especially at night.
  • Eat foods that are easy for the body to digest, suitable for your Ayurvedic body type and the season.
  • Eat the main meal at mid-day, when the digestive fire (agni) is strongest.
  • Favor fresh organic foods. Avoid leftovers.
  • Avoid cold or iced drinks with meals, as these decrease the digestive fire.
  • Increase intake of Vitamin D as this is an important for incorporating the calcium into the bones. Ayurveda advises 15 minutes of sun exposure daily to at least 15% of the skin area. This is equivalent to the face and arms. Postmenopausal women need about 400 to 600 IU daily; for those who are never in the sun, the larger dose (600 IU/day) is better.

A balanced and individualized diet is required to maintain the structural and functional integrity of the various bodily tissues. For example, the amino acids hydroxyproline and glycine are needed for collagen production, B12 is needed for nervous function and hemoglobin production, and hundreds of other examples exist. Osteoporosis risk, as we all know, can be averted by an adequate intake of calcium starting as a teenager. Along with adequate dietary protein, calcium builds bone density, mass, and tensile strength which peaks in the mid-20’s. This bone density then decreases by about 0.5% per year.

As women reach menopause it is still vitally important for there to be adequate calcium in the diet. It is recommended that postmenopausal women consume 1200 to 1500 milligrams of elemental calcium daily. The average American women aged 50-65 currently averages about 700 mg/day. Calcium is best obtained from low-fat dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt) unless it cannot be tolerated for some reason. Although green leafy vegetables do contain some calcium, it is generally unrealistic to expect to get the full 1500 mg from that source alone. If sufficient calcium is not found in the diet, a calcium supplement is an excellent idea. Taking up to 1500 mg of calcium in the carbonate or citrate form in divided doses with meals will not increase the risk of kidney stones, but adequate water intake is certainly advised. Do not take calcium together with food containing high fiber or iron content.
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