Key tips for healthy aging through menopause | Nutrition + Dietetics
While most people think that menopause is just the onset of hot flushes and mood swings, there is more to consider in the nutritional aspect of women in this stage of life. This process is usually reached naturally around the age of 45-55 years old, however for others it may occur prematurely due to surgery (e.g., hysterectomy), cancer therapy or primary ovary insufficiency, resulting in a cessation of menstruation. A resulting decline of oestrogen and progesterone levels occurs as women start to experience hormonal changes in their final menstrual period that prevent the ovaries from releasing any more eggs. As oestrogen plays a major role in protecting bone integrity, this drop in level leaves women more vulnerable to developing osteoporosis. Along with this increased risk of bone
What are the usual symptoms?
· Hot flushes
· Memory and mood changes, and vaginal changes.
There are also nutritional issues to consider in terms of weight gain and bone health.
What can you do to help these issues? Eating nutritious food and moving regularly in ways that you enjoy will help to your nutrient needs and manage excessive weight gain. To reduce the risk of deteriorating bone health as you age, special consideration of certain dietary nutrients in addition to physical activity is necessary. A greater focus is on protein intake and specific nutrients to support declining muscle mass and bone loss.
Calcium - This mineral is essential for bone health to bind the collagen fibres for a strong and resilient skeleton. Inadequate intake of calcium is relatively prevalent in women, especially those following a diet which excludes or limits dairy products. This consequently leads to an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, colon cancer and other muscle and nerve issues. Dairy products contain highly absorbable amounts of calcium that is said to be aided by the presence of lactose. For those following a vegan diet, a focus on green leafy vegetables like brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower is necessary to reach the recommended daily intake. Calcium-fortified beverages and products like tofu, are also encouraged in this population.
Vitamin D - Vitamin D is an essential hormone in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth. The majority of Vitamin D is produced in the skin in response to sunshine. It is recommended at individuals expose their hands, face and feet to sunshine at least 2-3 times a week for 10-15 minutes for adequate conversion to the active hormone form. For those with darker skin or have fat malabsorption conditions the recommended exposure time may be increased up to 30 minutes. Fortified milk, margarine, eggs and oily fish can provide dietary sources of this vitamin; however, they are not as well absorbed as UV exposure. Vitamin D needs are higher in the older stages of adulthood as the skin’s ability to covert Vitamin D into the active form slowly lessens.
Fun fact! Put your mushrooms gill side up in the midday sunshine for 15-120 minutes for an increased Vitamin D content to reach the recommended daily intake.
Phosphorus -This mineral works with calcium and vitamin D as a major component of bone structure, in addition to its essential function in energy metabolism and the nervous system. Deficiencies of phosphorus is rare as rich sources of this mineral can be found in a variety of foods, in particular protein-rich products like dairy, meat, grains and cereals.
Magnesium - Another essential nutrient is magnesium, which assist in calcium absorption. It is found in chlorophyll, and as such, plant foods such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains have high contents of this nutrient. Its role in calcium metabolism contributes to bone structure and mineralisation, as well as aiding in nerve and heart function. Studies have linked diets high in magnesium with a reduced risk of developing Metabolic Syndrome* through improvements in insulin action.
Now that you’ve got the basics of what to consider when going through and beyond menopause, here some tips on how to best prepare your body.
· Include a wide variety of fruit and vegetables into the diet, with a focus on brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, cabbage and bok choi) to support reduced oestrogen levels and bowel movements,
· Increase your intake of calcium-rich foods (Increased recommendation from 2 and a half, to 4 serves of dairy/ day will meet increased requirements, where 1 cup of calcium-rich milk, 40g cheese or ¾ cup yoghurt is a serve),
· Include high-quality sources of protein at main meals and snacks to satisfy appetite and support muscle health,
· Get at least 15 minutes of daily sunshine,
· Engage in weight-bearing and resistance exercises to improve or maintain strength, flexibility and coordination
* Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions that often occur together and increase your risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. The main components of metabolic syndrome include obesity, high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, low levels of HDL cholesterol and insulin resistance.