Maintaining Nutrition During Cancer and Menopause

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager Emeritus, Oncology, Social Work

NOVEMBER 09, 2023

One relatively common side effect of chemotherapy for women in their 40s is menopause. Women can move from having regular periods to full-blown menopause after only a few cycles of treatment.

One common and unpopular result of menopause is weight gain and more difficulty in losing pounds.

For women on the younger side of the curve, periods may return once treatment concluded. On the other hand, they may not, and older women likely are done with that part of life. There has been a lot written about dealing with menopause: how to best manage hot flashes, mood swings, lowered libido, or vaginal dryness. Only recently have I seen some articles focused on nutrition tips for women going through this experience.

Let’s begin with the reminder that BIDMC has an excellent nutrition department, and there are dieticians who can consult with you about this or any other diet questions. Oncology patients often meet with a dietician to discuss diet during chemotherapy treatment, tips for weight loss or gain, or tricks to stimulate appetite.

One common and unpopular result of menopause is weight gain and more difficulty in losing pounds. Most of us can remember the delightful years of our youth when we could eat whatever and whenever we wanted and usually not gain an ounce. If too many cocktails or ice cream cones did add a pound or two, it was pretty easy to lose them. Sadly, those days are done for most of us.

We know that our bone health can be compromised by loss of estrogen and menopause. Some hormonal treatments for cancer (e.g., the aromatase inhibitors for breast cancer) contribute to this problem.

It is, therefore, important to think about ways to include Vitamin D and Vitamin K in our diets. Both contribute to calcium absorption, which is critical for maintaining strong bones and reducing the chances of osteopenia and osteoporosis. It is easy to Google a list of foods that are high in these vitamins: leafy greens, dairy, fatty fish, and eggs are examples. Sometimes it is recommended that women add vitamin supplements to their diets, but it is always best to try to get what we need from real foods.

If you have read this far, you have realized that these suggestions are not very different from the standard advice about a healthy diet. At this time in life, eating well is one thing you can control and do for yourself to enhance and sustain your physical and psychological well-being.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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