Nutrition Care During Menopause
Nutrition is a very important component in treating symptoms of menopause. A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans (especially soy), nuts and healthy oils, and limited in animal fat and refined sugar can be extremely beneficial.
Poor nutrition is implicated as a contributing factor in 5 of the 10 leading causes of death in women, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and diseases of the liver and kidneys. It’s also a key factor in osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), putting women at risk for fractures. Together with nutrition, physical activity is also essential for preventing these diseases.
Women of all ages can strive to get the nutrients they need by eating a healthy diet with servings from all food groups. For those women who are unable to meet their nutritional needs on a daily basis, supplements can help. Older women have increased needs for calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B-12. Taking a supplement together with good food choices ensures women that they are meeting the current dietary recommendations.
After 50, women need more calcium to maintain bone strength (1,200 and 1,500 milligrams a day). This is the same amount girls and young women need to build bones. In dietary form, older women can fulfill their increased demands for calcium by drinking extra milk (an 8-ounce glass contains 300 milligrams of calcium). They can also get 300 milligrams of calcium by eating an 8-ounce cup of yogurt or 1 to 2 ounces of cheese. Some brands of orange juice are fortified with calcium, in the same amount per serving as milk, yogurt or cheese.
Exposure to sunlight triggers vitamin D formation in the skin, but older women don’t convert sunlight into essential vitamin D as efficiently as they did when they were younger. Women 50 to 70 years old should consume 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. Women over 70 need even more; the recommended amount is 600 IU daily. Most multivitamins provide 100% of the recommended amount of vitamin D. A glass of milk provides 100 IU of vitamin D, but vitamin D is not available in yogurt or cheese.
It is recommended that older women get 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B-12 daily. This vitamin is present in all animal products, such as meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk. It is also less efficiently utilized by our bodies as we age. Most multivitamins provide at least 2 micrograms of vitamin B-12.
Many of today’s “foods for women” contain soy, which is being studied for its ability to help prevent heart disease. Soy also has a weak estrogenic effect. Phytoestrogens – chemicals found in plants such as soy – can mimic the human hormone estrogen. It’s unknown at this point whether the similarities between the estrogen-like substances present in soy have the potential to stimulate estrogen-dependent human breast-cancer cells.
Until more is known, women who have had estrogen-influenced breast cancer should use soy in moderation. As for soy’s ability to reduce hot flashes after menopause — a lot of studies are being done, but the results are inconclusive.
“Women’s” Foods and Vitamins
Compare food labels. Remember that whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy products provide the most health benefits. Make sure to carefully evaluate vitamin labels too. Many supplements are tailored to meet the needs of adults in the middle age range, and might not be appropriate for older adults. For instance, older women should avoid vitamins with iron unless a physician recommends extra iron. Speak with your nutritionist or primary care physician about which supplements may be appropriate.
Use Herbals Cautiously
There are many herbal remedies for women’s health, there are no general recommendations. Some women try black cohosh for relief of hot flashes, but this herb should not be taken for longer than six months. Also, some women take valerian to thwart insomnia.
Some herbs can interfere with or intensify the action of blood thinners and other drugs, so you should always ask a health practitioner before taking any herbal products.
Eating a variety of foods, supplemented by a multivitamin, is the best way to get the nutrients needed during the stages of menopause.