With the menopause still very much a hot topic, together with the importance of gut health at this stage in women’s lives, I was delighted to be able to catch up with Joanna Lyall this month – founder of The Better Menopause and The Better Gut. Sharing our Studio10 ethos that midlife is a time of joy, transformation and reinvention – and going through her own reinvention from CEO roles in the media industry to retraining and building her own practice in nutritional therapy – I was keen to discover what had prompted her entrepreneurial career shift and to learn more about The Better Menopause.
First of all, can you tell us a little about both The Better Menopause and The Better Gut and the inspiration behind their foundation?
The Better Menopause has been created to do two things: firstly to empower and educate women on the many different options available to support themselves during perimenopause and menopause. Secondly to provide solutions that tackle many of the symptoms that are affecting their lives. We produce nutritional supplements specifically designed for midlife and with scientific evidence on the ingredients.
Our first product – The Better Gut Biotic Supplement – is the first of its kind to be produced especially to support peri and menopause symptoms. We chose to start with a gut health product because great gut health is the foundation to all health! If you can improve digestion, absorption and production of short chain fatty acids it has so many health benefits.
As a nutritional therapist every consultation starts with understanding a client's gut health because it is often the route of their symptoms. So it made sense for The Better Menopause to start there too …
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From a corporate CEO career to retraining in nutritional therapy and building your own private practice – what led to such an alternative and entrepreneurial move?
I have always had an entrepreneurial drive in me, which has been fulfilled through intrapreneurialism within the companies I have worked in and later specialising in working with start-ups and high growth businesses. Nutritional therapy has been a part of my life for over 20 years and has taken various forms, from private practice to ongoing learning and personal development, and an everyday tool to look after mine and my family’s health. When I looked at my life plan and vision for 2023 and beyond I had a strong desire to make nutrition much more central to my everyday life and career. At the same time it became clear that I was very much in perimenopause myself, which meant I became very aware and focused on how I might want to live differently to feel my best again. Then through a serendipitous meeting with my now co-founders The Better Menopause was born.
Has your own life experience helped to shape The Better Menopause?
My experience of how perimenopause can affect every aspect of your life with health, relationships and career has made me determined to ensure that both this generation of menopausal women and those following can have the right support, information and solutions available to them to make this a positive time of life. I know that I am always discovering new information and ideas through social media, and the importance of having role models and spokespeople on this topic is essential. So as part of our TBM proposition our content creation and curation strategy is absolutely central to where we are putting our time and energy.
You specialise in women’s wellness and hormones – what are the most common problems women come to you with in midlife?
The most common problems tend to centre on sleep, anxiety, bloating, aching body and weight gain. All of these common symptoms really impact everyday life, happiness, confidence and wellbeing.
Is hormone therapy an effective way to treat menopause symptoms?
There is plenty of evidence that HRT can be very effective, but it is not suitable for everyone both through choice and medical history. HRT has had a rocky history with misinformation that has created fear around taking it. Getting specialist advice from a qualified menopause doctor is really important. My personal experience and belief is that there isn’t a silver bullet solution for all menopause symptoms, and given this phase of life could be 7-14 years it is likely that your treatment plan will need to evolve during that time. HRT is just an option in an arsenal of many other holistic solutions, including lifestyle changes, exercise, supplements and diet.
What are the most obvious symptoms of poor gut health?
There are many symptoms associated with poor gut health including excess wind, bloating, constipation, loose stools, weak hair, brittle nails, skin changes, brain fog, low mood, poor concentration, weight gain … the list really goes on!
Can nutritional changes in diet benefit women who are going through the menopause – and are there certain foods or food groups to be avoided during this time of life?
Yes absolutely! Our metabolism changes during menopause and this not only affects how we process food but also which foods we need more or less of.
- Sugar – our ability to manage and process sugar during midlife changes and many women will become more sensitive, which leads to high insulin levels. High insulin means more sugar is stored as fat, and this is a big reason for weight gain. Linked to this is problems with high cortisol. Many women will experience increased anxiety or ability to cope with stressful situations, which results in higher cortisol levels and therefore higher insulin levels.
- Fibre – we need higher levels of fibre at around 30g a day during midlife. Fibre is key for keeping our bowels regular and for ensuring we are not adding pelvic floor pressure from constipation. Our pelvic floor walls become weaker with lower hormone levels and can cause prolapse in our pelvic organs. Fibre is also essential for feeding the beneficial bacteria in our gut, which in turns reduces inflammation, improves digestion and production of serotonin.
- Protein – we need 1.2-2g of protein for every KG of body weight in midlife. Protein supports our muscle growth and tone which will naturally decline with age. It balances blood sugar with slower energy release. This aids our ability to concentrate and keeps energy levels high.
- Fats – beneficial fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, oily fish are essential for brain health (which is affected by falling oestrogen levels), reducing inflammation, skin health and mood balance.
- Pre, pro and post biotic foods will feed the beneficial gut bacteria, which improves digestion, enhances absorption, bone health, mood, hormone balance, bloating, constipation and weight management.
Can you share with us some of your most important advice for wellness and wellbeing in midlife?
Think holistically. There is unlikely to be one huge change that will solve everything or be sustainable in the long term. Instead focus on the small changes you can make every day that will aggregate together to significantly improve your overall wellbeing. Get on top of how to manage stress, and make lifestyle changes that will allow you to nourish yourself every day. This might be a daily walk with a podcast, a coffee with a friend, meditation, breath work, a new exercise routine, a bath ritual, a new hobby or pursuing a passion that you have kept on the back burner for years! Now is the time in your life to transform in any way that you want to. Finally, listen to your body – you know what feels right for you.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
I think my Dad has been my inspiration. I saw him build his own business from our dining room and create the life he aspired to for himself and our family. He worked hard but also was present as a father. He has always supported my choices even if they felt risky at the time! I think seeing him build a business for himself instilled that entrepreneurial spirit in me.
Hardest challenge you’ve had to face?
It is in a previous life now, but building a business during the pandemic was the most difficult, rewarding, stressful and life informing thing I have done. Building a business from the ground up is tough, and doing it in the unknown is another thing altogether. I try not to have regrets and instead turn them into learning. Reflecting on what went wrong and thinking about how to integrate difficult experiences into my future strategies builds resilience and experience. I really believe that if you are not failing then you are pushing outside of your comfort zone.
Accomplishment you are most proud of?
Raising my boys. Being a parent is a huge learning experience every day. Just when you think you are cracking it there is another curve ball. Trying to be the best mother I can be while also holding on to the career I want to build for myself is challenging, but being able to do both together is something I am grateful for every day.
What advice would you give to midlife women who are beginning to feel invisible and less confident?
It is your time to shine, don’t fade away quietly. The menopause is about ‘pausing’ and reflecting on what you want your second half to look like and then grabbing it and building the life you want. The feelings of anxiety and self-doubt are real, but use them to be the catalyst for change. You are valuable and a wonderful source of inspiration to others!
Top beauty must-haves in your makeup bag?
My current must-haves are:
- PH Formula Hydra Serum
- Studio 10 Hydrafusion Daily Defence
- Beauty Pie Bronzer
- Augustinus Badar Face Oil
- Victoria Beckham Beauty Eye Liner
- Beauty Pie Japanese Fusion Cleanser
- Hourglass Unlocked Mascara
- Merit Millennial Lipstick
- Saltworks Oud Bazaar Fragrance
And finally, your favourite quote to live by?
“Aim to be 90% good 90% of the time and with the rest do what makes you feel joy.”
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