Essential Minerals - Menopause
There are three key minerals you need when managing the effects of menopause
Menopause is often viewed as ‘stage’ of a woman’s life, and as such, there is a general assumption that menopause can somehow be defined as a specific period or length of time. However, the reality for many is very different, and the build-up to the point where periods actually stop can occur over several years – with many women, their symptoms can be noticeable for up to 10 years before menopause is actually considered to have been reached. This stage is known as peri-menopause, and the symptoms can be very subtle: periods becoming more or less frequent, lighter or heavier for no obvious reason, vaginal dryness, reduced sex drive, worsening PMT symptoms, mood swings, sleep irregularities and bladder weakness. And, of course, the infamous ‘hot flashes’ (or ‘hot flushes’ – both phrases are commonly used). Clearly, menopause is a significant health challenge of varying degree for all women, and this is more so because the female reproductive process is sophisticatedly intertwined with the health and general functioning of the entire female body. And that is because of one thing: Oestrogen.
Controlling Oestrogen Levels
Oestrogen essentially controls metabolic stability. This in itself controls many everyday functions, including appetite, emotions, thinking, moving, breathing, digesting and eliminating. Because of oestrogen, the effectiveness of a woman’s reproductive system is directly linked to her metabolic health, so by understanding what drives the changes in female health at this significant milestone, we can better understand how nutrition can effectively support women through this period of transition. In addition to the symptoms most often associated with menopause that we outlined in the above paragraph, a reduction in oestrogen levels can affect other aspects of general health including blood pressure, immune, lung and intestinal health, heart function and blood sugar and cholesterol regulation. Ensuring that we have a diet that is as healthy as we can make it is just as important at the stage where our reproductive system starts to wind down as it is when we are trying to reproduce, and there are specific nutrients that we can effectively support female health during menopause.
Magnesium - the building block
Magnesium has been referred to as one of the building blocks of life. It helps to balance hormones and is directly linked to bone and teeth health, sleep, energy release and nervous system health. It also promotes good thyroid health, something which can also decline in menopause and is thought to be specifically connected to levels of oestrogen. Dark greens, nuts and seeds, avocados, dark chocolate and whole grains (especially quinoa and brown rice) are all good sources. It is important to know that there are some everyday activities that actively help to deplete magnesium - enjoying sugar, cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine can undo a lot of your otherwise nutritional hard work
Omega 3 - Essential fatty acids
Omega 3 has a triglyceride-lowering effect which can help women at the stage in their lives where they are more prone to higher levels of this component of body fat. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and acts in the same way as NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) to relieve joint pain, stiffness and arthritis. It is also believed that Omega 3 has the ability to relieve hot flashes by suppressing heat-generating inflammation and boosting the production of oestrogen. It also works to improve mood and cognitive functions.
Vitamin D - The Sunshine
Meet the ‘sunshine vitamin’! Vitamin D is another nutrient directly linked to hormonal balance, specifically oestrogen, and a deficiency can result in a wealth of symptoms including fatigue, low immunity, depression and mood swings and osteoporosis. More significantly, it is linked to serious illnesses including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Daily short bursts of unprotected exposure to sunlight is a great way to ensure that your body gets sufficient vitamin D, and this can also be supported by foods such as oily fish, brown rice, eggs, fortified cereals almond milk and orange juice.
Take Home Message
These are three of the key nutrients for managing the effects of menopause - there are others that also contribute to providing essential nutrition for older women. Calcium, vitamin B12, folic acid (vitamin B9) and vitamin E all have a part to play in health optimisation, and as with all of our advice, the best place to obtain any essential nutrient is through a healthy diet first and foremost. Supplements can provide effective support and are widely used, but should not be a first-stop shop. Good health and nutrition go hand in hand with us through every stage of our lives.
(Sources: avogel.co.uk, smarterchange.co.uk, lizearlewellbeing.com, healthyeating.sfgate.com, livescience.com, womenshealthnetwork.com)