Food + Nutrition Guest Posts

Guest Post: Nutrition, autoimmune disease and perimenopause

My name is Sandy Rasmussen and 2020 marks my 50th year. I have 3 children aged between 9 and 14 and I am also a practising qualified Personal Trainer, and I have a passion for nutrition and I love to share what’s worked for me.

Over the last ten years my life took quite a health turn following the birth of my third child.  I was diagnosed with Graves disease…hyperthyroidism. This was quite a shock for me as it meant that I was not well, or would ever be again. 

Leading up to the time of my diagnosis when my daughter was around 7 months old I had noticed I lost a nice amount of weight quickly.  I felt good and things were great. I had been managing a childcare centre while pregnant and I was looking at moving to owning my own service.  The process of this was to mortgage everything and the risk was huge. During this time, obviously I had noticed some sleepless nights and a heightened state of stress..  We ended up pulling out as it was just going to be too much to risk to push it through financially.  

It was about three weeks later that I realised the “stressed” feeling hadn’t gone away,  I was still feeling nervous, but I was tired…so tired that I couldn’t care less what was happening at 2.30 pm, I needed to sleep.  I was always going to the toilet and my motions were in between having gastro and normal (sorry folks). So, I made an appointment with my Dr and had a chat with him about all that was going on with life and I suggested it could all be in my head…he agreed that ‘maybe so, but let’s do some tests.’  So a set of bloods were done. I received the call the next week to say “I know why you are feeling this way… your thyroid is not well…you need to come and see me.”

I went in with an open mind and found out the processes to further diagnose the condition and began taking Carbimazole to slow down my thyroid function.  I waited for the tests which involved injecting me with a radioactive solution that would be absorbed by the thyroid to determine what the extent of it was and the diagnosis was given that I did indeed have Graves disease.  

The process that followed was a mix of following the advice given from the Endocrinology registrar Doctors every 3 months ( a different one every time) and my own research .  Some of the research was scary…do take a look, but what I did know was that I was going to get well and I just needed to find out how. So given that my family had a history of it (3 Aunties then after me, my sister and my brother) and my babies were dairy and possibly gluten intolerant, I thought I would start there.  The advice I got from my Dr was not useful regarding removing these from my diet as at that time autoimmune disease was not widely associated with Graves disease, but I did it anyway.  

Over the next 18 months of following my dietary restrictions and light exercise, as well as taking my meds.  I managed to reach remission….nearly 8.5 yrs now. I do believe in what our modern medical system is and what it can do.  It is more advanced than ever before but at that time I was told to take my pills and we’ll see you in 3 months. It got to the extent that I got quite frustrated hearing the same thing from the rotating registrars that some poor but arrogant fellow received the extent of my dissatisfaction…( I put that down to the increase in mood swings too). It was however a deeper journey of how best to serve what I was learning was not a bullet proof body.  I am happy to have made that effort and it has led very much to learning about what serves our bodies best. It also meant that for now I have kept my thyroid which I will value as much as ever.

Now moving forward 9 years, nearly 50.  I am staring into all that that brought with it….lovely things like hot flashes and quiet insanity and the unstoppable ability to turn into a 3 headed snake when my children were around. PMS symptoms such as irritability and breast pain. Oh that breast pain… I was so sore for two of the four weeks and over the last couple of years constantly finding lumps. This, topped off with sleepless nights and the tragic striptese at the gym every hour brought me back to investigating what would be one of the most enlightening periods (excuse the pun) of my life.  Learning again about the power of nutrition to support our bodies and our hormones. Both for our girls coming into and developing through puberty, and now as I age to cope with perimenopause, menopause and life.  Often during this time Autoimmune disease will surface as our bodies transition into a new way of being. I’ve managed to reverse these symptoms.

So, what did Iearn?  I learned that perimenopause is the direct opposite of puberty.  As puberty is our bodies creating the pathways for our hormones so is perimenopause creating new ways for our hormones depletion. The body is amazing and will do what it needs to survive… even if we try the darndest not to let it!  

During perimenopause , we generally don’t cope as well with stress because we lose progesterone, which can destabilize the HPA (adrenal) axis, or stress response system. This recalibration of the nervous system during perimenopause is why we have a 3x higher risk of anxiety, depression, and insomnia in our 40s.

We all know that whole foods are the bomb.  But what do we mean by whole foods? If you’ve listened to Dr Libby (as I have 4 times) she would say there is food and there is junk.  But what’s the difference?  

When I talk about whole foods, it’s food that is au natural!  Foods that are unprocessed and as natural as they grew. Yes, that includes meat as well.

You get me…. Ditch the processed foods.  Go for the Potato…not the McDonalds fries.  Ditch the unnatural sweeteners, go honey or maple syrup.  Ditch the margarine and go for olive oil…organic if possible.  Coconut oils and oils in chia seeds, hemp, linseeds. These are all good for the joints.

  • Eat lean meat.  As we age our livers shrink. Our livers are one of the major filter organs in our bodies…second to skin.  But the downside of our livers shrinking is that we can’t process things like fat as well. Hence the middle age spread post menopause for women… but wait, don’t go vegan, we need protein for our muscles so we can be strong and fit as we age.
  • Eat cold water fish.  Wild caught salmon will do the job nicely….not the farmed fish which are full of antibiotics.
  • Eat your greens!  We need to eat at least 7 servings of greens a day…nope, fruit is not included in this…How are you going with that?  
  • Eat your colours.  So effectively all the colours of the rainbow.  Switch out the potato for the occasional Kumera.  Yep, it includes your beets. There are so many beautiful beets out now that are not quite as earthy.
  • Keep up the good oils, as mentioned above omega 3s.. Found in hemp, chia and flax seeds.  Olive oil and coconut oils are great for our aging joints.
  • Keep your gut health in check.  We all know about Probiotics but if our gut health is not premium and ready with all the wonderful pre-biotics, we will pass probiotics out.
  • Keep up your B vitamins.  Particularly at this time of stress that we need our body to be able to cope.  B12 is great to support neurological performance. Vitamin B12 has critical benefits for the brain and nervous system. It’s needed to support normal capacities in memory, focus, and concentration.
  • CoQ10.  Supports cellular function and is one of the most significant lipid antioxidants, which combats the generation of free radicals and modifications of proteins, lipids, and DNA. CoQ10 is a mitochondrial energizer that has shown remarkable effect supporting brain cells. CoQ10 protects mitochondria, which generate the neuron’s energy and control its death, from oxidative damage.  We need our mitochondria to stay as well as they can for cellular function.
  • Magnesium.  This is important for our nervous system.  Muscle aches and pains and general well being.  Some supplements are a bit harsh on the bowel.
  • Remember your A, B, C, D, and E’s. Get your vitamins and minerals in.  I mentioned Magnesium but we need zinc…mushrooms are a good source, Vit D – get out into the sun. It’s good for the soul and the body.  Great for immunity and our aging bones. Or Supplement with Vit D3. You need to take this with fat as it’s a fat soluble vitamin. Vit A from clean sources of protein (remember the lambs fry).  
  • Bone broth.  And yep it needs to be grass fed beef or sheep.  Chicken won’t do it…
  • FAST…no not sprint but allow the liver to do its job by not eating after 7pm to 7am or 12 hours.  So it doesn’t need to be extreme.
  • For a while, ditch the coffee and alcohol.  They don’t really serve our aging bodies. Yes, the occasional wine is fine but every day is not the best for our livers.  Coffee…is a stimulant, that can be inflammatory…it over stimulates us…Switch this for a while with camomile tea and see if over time it helps with the sleep and nervousness.  It can be daunting but cut the coffee one cup a day then try it for a month and see how you feel.
  • Lastly ladies.  Exercise, move, get some resistance training in and I’m not talking about the cortisol producing HITT programmes.  Some mindful resistance training, slow and strong. The slightly challenging walk where you get a little puffed and swimming. Tai Chi and yoga depending on your body type.  But if running is something for your mind, do it!

I’ve given you quite a bit to think about! This may not cure menopause… It’s a journey and a right of passage for all of us.  However, we should be able to travel through this with ease and these are the tips and tricks that I have personally used to turn my raging rapids slide into a gentle traverse.

I’m happy to help and support you on this journey.  You can message me via my Facebook page (my website is not yet built…even though my husband is a developer…I think it’s like a builders wife!)  You can find me here. 💚

Smoothie bowl photo by Kimzy Nanney on Unsplash

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