Menopause is a time of change and an important change in nutritional requirements too. And for those women in ‘perimenopause’, the transitional stage prior to menopause when oestrogen levels start to fall, a focus on gradually adapting your diet to meet the needs of menopause is a good idea.
The symptoms of menopause and perimenopause, caused by hormonal changes, can vary dramatically between women in terms of severity and type. The most common symptoms are hot flushes and night sweats.
However other common symptoms are mood changes (including irritability and anxiety), muscle and joint pain, changes in hair and skin quality, sleep disruption, headaches and digestive disturbances.
Any of the above symptoms can be most distressing and disruptive to the quality of life. And probably the most significant physical change caused by menopause is an increased risk of Osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is the thinning of bones that can lead to fractures; unfortunately there are no warning symptoms of this disease. Prior to menopause oestrogen is important for bone health and there is a direct relationship between the lack of oestrogen during perimenopause and menopause (and beyond) and the greater risk of Osteoporosis.
Oestrogen Production & The Adrenal Glands
Prior to the onset of ‘perimenopause’, and subsequent menopause, women will produce sufficient oestrogen (the female sex hormone) from both the ovaries and adrenal glands to support a wide range of body functions. And this importantly includes essential support for bone health (such as bone mass).
When women get to perimenopause oestrogen production from the ovaries slows and finally stops at menopause. However the adrenal glands should continue to produce oestrogen at around 40% of previously combined levels – and this should be sufficient to continue to maintain bone mass and as such bone health.
However in modern society the burdens on the adrenal glands in terms of diet and particularly stress affect the function of the adrenal glands in many women – and as such significantly reduce the production of oestrogen.
The common failure in many women to produce sufficient oestrogen from the adrenal glands at menopause and beyond has led to a dramatic increase in osteoporosis post menopause. It is the antioxidant qualities of oestrogen that help to maintain bone health and prevent ‘breakdown’ at bone level.
Osteoporosis & Nutrition
Seeking to maintain a healthy bone density with appropriate nutrition becomes increasingly important as falling oestrogen levels increases the risk of bone-density loss.
Suitable levels of calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2 and vitamin D (D3 if you are supplementing) and other minerals are needed to ensure healthy bones. Foods rich in the plant phyto-oestrogens such as pulses, beans and soya are believed to assist in maintaining the hormonal balance. Exercise, such as regularly walking, is important for your bones too.
Vitamins D and K2 plus the minerals calcium and magnesium are all important for bone health at all stages of life. Vitamin D contributes to the maintenance of normal bones, the utilisation of calcium and phosphorus and normal blood calcium levels. Calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones; Magnesium contributes to the maintenance of normal bone and teeth whilst Vitamin K contributes to normal blood clotting and the maintenance of normal bones.
Practitioner Leaflet on Osteoporosis
We have included a pdf of our practitioner osteoporosis leaflet below and this provides much more detail on this subject and specifically in relation to the menopause. We also include a link (below) to a previous detailed article on Vitamin K2 which includes information on its role in bone health and suitable food sources.
Please note the section on calcium supplementation and ‘calcium concerns’ provided in the pdf below (pages 6 to 7). Recent research has raised concerns with calcium supplementation and the potential for cardio vascular problems and an overview of this important matter is covered in the pdf.
When looking at supplementing with calcium we would not recommend the common calcium carbonate supplements which are not soluble in the hcl acid of the stomach. High doses are therefore likely to increase the risk of kidney stones and arterial calcification.
Conversely calcium supplements from organic calcified seaweed have a porous and hydrolised surface area because of years in the ocean and this helps it to be very soluble in the hcl acid of the stomach; this permits uptake into food calcium metabolic pathways for optimum end organ fate.
We provide a link below to a previous Cytoplan article on recent research that raised concerns in regards to high intakes of calcium in women and heart disease. This article also provides a link to the British Heart Foundation who commented on the research.
Vitamin C is an essential component in collagen formation and bone growth. Recent research has further highlighted the potential importance of good levels of vitamin C in respect of bone health – and this would seem to have particular relevance for women, the menopause and osteoporosis. Collagen formation is vital for durability and flexibility of the bones.
We cover vitamin C and bone health in brief in the pdf below and look forward to future research in relation to this issue.
Women frequently choose to take a vitamin, mineral and natural nutrient supplement to help support the appropriate nutritional levels during perimenopause, menopause and beyond. Supplements specifically tailored for bone health are popular in these age groups too.
If you are considering this please make sure you select a formula that has been specifically tailored for your age, gender and health. If in doubt consult a suitably qualified health professional/ practitioner.
General Diet & Exercise from perimenopause onward
Most typically for women during their late 40’s you may experience some perimenopausal type symptoms. Now is a good time to consider your future health and the effects of a changing hormonal balance on your health and bones.
Foods rich in the plant phyto-oestrogens such as pulses, beans and soya are believed to assist in maintaining the hormonal balance. Your diet should be rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and the recommended portions of oily fish per day.
Include foods that are naturally rich in calcium. Plain live yogurt, dark leafy vegetables, broccoli, tofu, almonds and seeds will provide additional sources when included in your healthy diet. Reduce your intake of processed and convenience foods, saturated fats and empty calories provided by sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolate.
Switch to a dark high cocoa solid chocolate and include two squares a day for your indulgent treat. Exercise is important too for your bones; walking is an ideal exercise, some regular exposure whilst walking to sun light will also top up your vitamin D levels. Be sun safe and be sure that you do not burn, but remember if you are wearing a sun screen this can block vitamin D uptake too.
General Diet & Exercise at Menopause and Post Menopause
It is even more important to take good care of yourself by eating well and exercising regularly to maintain flexibility and strength. Continue to eat the ‘menopause and bone protecting’ foods you ate in your 40s, adding even more antioxidant and calcium-rich foods as falling oestrogen increases the risk of bone-density loss.
Your joints may become less supple at this age and sometimes people find they are more susceptible to digestive upsets. Oily fish eaten twice weekly will help to ease stiff joints, as will fish and krill oil supplements thanks to their Omega 3 fatty acids ‘EPA and DHA’ content.
For vegetarians and vegans flaxseed and flaxseed oil supplements are one of the richest non-fish sources of Omega 3 and an excellent and popular alternative to Fish Oil for vegans and vegetarians. Flax oil is the richest source of omega 3 in an edible oil.
As we get older we often eat less and for those who do consume less food, this can impact on nutrient intake. It is vitally important to ensure that your diet is as nutritionally rich as possible.
Soy Isoflavones & Phyto-Oestrogens
Soy isoflavones are a flavonoid (plant based, i.e. fruits and vegetables) the structure of which is believed to mimic the hormone oestradiol working as a hormonal balancer. Much of the research with soy isoflavones has centred on the times during and post menopause and this includes their beneficial effects to the bone.
As the name would suggest Isoflavones are found abundantly in soy products. However these are not to everyone’s tastes and they are increasingly popular in supplement form, primarily as part of a multi-formula. Please also note the rich content of Vitamin K2 in fermented soy products.
Soy isoflavones are one form of ‘phyto-oestrogens’, the plant phyto-oestrogens such as pulses, beans and soya (e.g. chick peas, soya beans, lentils and pumpkin seeds) are believed to assist in maintaining the hormonal balance. Phyto-Oestrogens are natural compounds that are remarkably similar to oestrogen.
If you are experiencing any of the common symptoms of menopause and perimenopause and are concerned please consult a doctor immediately, particularly if you consider the symptoms are not related to the menopause.
If you have any questions regarding this article, any of the health topics raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.
You can also download the PDF document with the following link (sorry – it may not work for every browser): Cytoplan Osteoporosis Leaflet.pdf
If you would like the pdf emailed to you please ask Amanda (Amanda@cytoplan.co.uk)