We’ve covered a lot of ground on the relationship between your microbiome and menopause. What we haven’t touched on yet is how to translate these insights into practices that support your health and wellbeing. That’s what we’ll do here and in the final post.
We’ll create a roadmap more so than a recipe. Roadmaps offer guideposts, letting us choose what direction works for us. Recipes give us specific directions. Recipes can be helpful in the kitchen. But in life, we each have our own way and need to honor that. Otherwise, our efforts won’t work.
If the recipe for health says I need to get out and walk every day, but I have a bum knee, that recipe won’t work for me. If the recipe for good sleep says I need to turn the lights out at the same time every day, but I’m a nurse working different shifts, I’m likely to feel a little hopeless about my insomnia. And goodness knows there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to eating. Plus, the body’s needs are fluid. They change. Especially through a transition like menopause.
Three pillars nurture the microbiome: eating well, moving often, and restoring. We explore those here. In the last post, we’ll discuss probiotics as an addition to eating well. These same pillars that nurture the microbiome are practices we already know nurture our body and wellbeing.
The human body came into the world eating from the world, not from factories. It’s best to return to that.
There is no need to fad-diet to feed the microbiome, support gut health, and nourish the body. The tried and true works best.
Which means eating good food. Good food is . . .
Fresh. Rainbows of color. Not too much meat. Prepared at home.
We’ve been fooled into believing food is fuel. This idea goes way back to Descartes, who likened the body to a machine. It’s nothing of the sort. Neither is food fuel.
Good food is synergy. You can get energy from junk food, often in excess. You won’t get vital nutrients that synergize with the body. You benefit from that synergy with Earth-grown food. Earth-grown food is plant-rich and colorful. It’s language the body understands and sings to.
Junk and fast foods are dead food. They wreak havoc on the microbiome and gut. These junk and fast foods are dead food. They wreak havoc on the microbiome and gut. These foodstuffs kill friendly microbes. They reduce the types and numbers of microflora partnering in the body’s natural processes. Destroying microbes hinders the capacity to regulate sex hormones and produce feel-good hormones.
Dead foods also damage the inner lining of the gut. That sets up inflammation there. Gut inflammation leads to leaky gut, which leads to systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation leads to many troubling symptoms during the menopause transition and aging: weight gain, hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, moodiness, forgetfulness, and so on.
We invite you to begin imagining feeding the microbiome in the same way you feed your body well. The microbiome flourishes on fresh, fiber-rich plant foods: veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds, as well as whole grains and legumes. When the microbiome flourishes, it supports the production and regulation of a host of hormones and the immune system, healthy metabolism, and countless other processes across the body.
It helps to keep circling our thinking back to our biology. Human biology is not made to sit in front of a screen for hours on end. If that were so, we would look like a head on top of a box of shoulders sprouting two hands to manipulate that screen. That’s not the body we have. Abled bodies need to move arms and legs and spine. Bodies that have limitations to movement ask to move, too, in ways the body is able.
Movement is muscle activity. Muscle activity quiets inflammation and, as strange as it may sound, supports a healthy microbiome. Everything’s connected. Everything works in tandem.
What’s good for the human body is good from our partner microbiome. What’s good for our microbiome is good for us.
Muscles itch to move: to flex and stretch and swing arms through the air, carry feet across the ground, reach, lift, tug, push and pull, bend and sway, dance and play. You don’t need me to tell you what the World Health Organization recommends when it comes to movement, or what the American Heart Association says. We all know about the need for physical activity. The trouble is, in modern life, we’ve come to equate physical activity with the word exercise – a fine endeavor for some, an ugly word for many.
It can smack of chore. We have enough must-do’s already and a severe lack of play. What forms of movement might feel playful in your day? What enchants you or helps you shed stress?
Movement is the body’s way of giving us over to the freshness of youth and of being lost in time.
If you have aches and pains that keep you from moving as you might like, if your body is limited in ability, find your way into subtle movements. However subtle, your body will respond to your communion with her.
Rest and Restore
This one might be the hardest. Perhaps it’s a hangover from that old Enjoli ad: “I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.” Maybe we can. And at what cost?
As women, we are so hard-wired to give that it can hurt us.
The menopause passage pleads with us to pay attention to this one and get some rest. The body needs no less than 7 hours of sleep every night to regenerate.
We also need to restore. Restoration comes with meditation, yoga, play, taking a walk in a park, listening to birdsong, reading a nourishing book, cuddling with a pet, sitting by a fire, making art, soaking in a long hot bath, watching the night sky . . . the things we usually have to give ourselves permission to do.
These are the times we feel, Ahhh . . . I’m home. They’re the times we lose the sense of time, the creative juices flow, and we feel most alive. Doing nothing can bring a sense of inner quiet and deep restoration, but nothing means no thing. So no devices. The idea is to put the world aside and just be.
Restoring produces feel-good hormones. When those hormones start flowing, they, in turn, boost the microbes that produce them.
It’s a rather complex process, but all-told, it’s a beautifully positive cycle. We’re meant to play and enjoy ourselves, and yes, even do nothing. You might say that restoration feeds the gut. You’ll notice that you actually feel a shift inside your abdomen when you restore.
What Sisyphus Can Teach Us during the Menopause Transition
We can’t keep the clock from turning, moving through the menopause transition, and getting older. Trying to do so is akin to Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. It’s going to roll back down that hill every damn time. That’s the part of the Sisyphus tale we have visions of.
But there’s another part to the story. That is, Sisyphus made play out of the whole charade, laughing every time the boulder rolled down the hill. I quite like to think about nurturing good health in our middle years and beyond as Sisyphean laughter-medicine. Laughter, it turns out, is good for the gut. It tells microbes to produce more feel-goods.
But that’s not the only reason we mention Sisyphus’ laughter. We do so to say that we are not powerless about how we transition through menopause and aging. We have some say in the matter. Caring for your partner microbiome translates across the body, and what supports your body’s health helps you feel well.
Gateway to Vibrant Wellbeing
- What images, sensations, words, or reflections stirred as you read about nurturing your microbiome through wellbeing practices?
- Of the three pillars to nurture the microbiome, what seems the most natural to lean into and what seems the most challenging?