The peri-menopause and menopause life stages can be times of significant and disabling physical and psychological change. The symptoms experienced are a consequence of the decline in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels compounded by the aging process. Some symptoms such as heavy menstrual bleeding are specific to the genital tract while others, including atrophic changes, can affect the genital tract as well as the urinary tract. The skin, hair and nails are also affected by aging and the decline in hormonal levels.
The decline in estrogen causes hot flushes, which at times can lead to sleep disturbance, while the decline in testosterone often leads to low libido. Other common symptoms frequently described by women include brain “fog” or impaired cognition, poor memory, emotional lability, anxiety, headaches, low energy, depression and fatigue.
If hormone replacement therapy is clinically indicated this can alleviate many of the symptoms. However, to gain maximum health benefit from this stage of life onward this must be combined with optimizing nutrition and supplementing with micronutrients.
For peri-menopausal and menopausal women there are significant health benefits to maintaining optimum levels of vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin K2, vitamin D, calcium, omega-3, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and iron. Supplementing with phyto-estrogens might also plan an important role in balancing the decline in endogenous estrogen.
Vitamin K2 is essential for supporting bone and heart health1. New studies show that vitamin K2 also has significant health benefits for its ability to facilitate the action of vitamin D. The two vitamins work synergistically so you should consider taking these two nutrients together2. Vitamin K2 is also beneficial in regulating elevated calcium levels and can be used as a solution to prevent arterial calcium accumulation (in patients with a high calcium intake) which in turn can reduce the risk of heart disease3 Western diets are often deficient in vitamin K2 which is only present in fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir. Menaquinone-7 (MK-7) is the type of vitamin K2 recommended in supplements.
Vitamin D, although actually classified as a hormone, is critical to maintaining bone and joint health. We gain it from sun exposure and our body can store it for up to a month. During the peri-menopausal and menopausal stages of life bone density deteriorates and to preserve optimal bone health daily supplementation of 800 IU of vitamin D and 1200mg of calcium is advised4. Combining this with regular physical activity of 2.5 hours per week can have significant benefits in maintaining bone strength5. The primary factors that lead to bone deterioration are declining estrogen, limited physical activity, poor nutrition and lack of Vitamin D6. The role that nutrition and supplementing key vitamins, such as vitamin D, play in optimizing health during menopause is therefore vital.
DHA Omega-3, also know as docosahexaenoic acid, is a vital nutrient for maintaining cardiovascular health, brain function, skin health, mental wellbeing, bowel function and bone and joint health. A diet high in oily fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, is a good way to increase levels of omega-3 in the diet. In developed countries excess consumption of omega-6 is more prevalent. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 2:1 but in developed countries the ratio is up to 20:1. This can lead to chronic disease and can cause inflammation and a number of other health issues7. Research suggests that a high omega-6/omega-3 ratio is a major factor contributing to weight gain and obesity8. Priority should be placed not just on increasing omega-3 intake but on limiting omega-6 intake in peri-menopausal and post menopausal women who are already prone to weight gain due to the decline in endogenous estrogen and progesterone.
A study conducted on 54 post-menopausal women by the American Association for Cancer Research showed that increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids was feasible as a primary step for breast cancer prevention9. Other research studies support this theory and suggest that maintaining the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 should be the focus when looking for effective ways to reduce breast cancer risk factors through nutrition10. The peri-menopausal and menopausal eras are when breast cancer typically presents, so increasing omega-3 intake during this period is advisable.
Research studies have shown that B vitamins can support cognitive health and reduce brain and cerebral atrophy11. In old age we experience an increase in cognitive decline so increasing our intake of vitamins and mineral, such as B Vitamins, that can support mental health and brain function is advisable. Research shows that optimizing levels of B12, B6 and folate (B9) intake could support cognitive function12.
With the prevalence of heavy menstrual bleeding in the peri-menopausal stage it is essential to exclude acute or chronic anaemia, which would cause iron deficiency. Supplementation with iron is essential in this situation.
Naturally occurring phyto-estogens are a useful first step in addressing the symptoms caused by declining estrogen levels. Good sources include nuts, soya beans and legumes.
In the peri-menopausal and menopausal stages of life it is essential to focus on nutrition and supplementing micronutrients as well as reviewing and correcting the declining endogenous hormone levels. A proactive approach, including a balanced diet, will ensure optimal health benefits from this stage of life onwards.
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