Menopause Health Concerns
Woman move through three distinct life phases; menarche, motherhood (or the prevention of motherhood!), and menopause. With each phase we experience profound changes. New health concerns surface as we move from one life stage to the next. Thankfully, many of the worries we had in the last stage fall away. The acne, emotional upheavals, and cramps of the teen years generally smooth out as we move into our 20’s. The endless hours of worry about getting pregnant, or NOT getting pregnant, are no longer concerns of the menopausal woman. The volatile moods of rage and sadness of peri-menopause also tend to resolve once we complete the journey to menopause. If I had to name the four biggest Menopause Health Concerns, I would say; bone health, body composition, memory and cardiovascular health.
We make our supply of bone in our youth. Combine youth with good nutrition and exercise to create a bone reservoir that provides the resources to grow healthy babies and maintain ample bone for old age. By age 20 most of our bone growth is completed. By the time a woman is 30, the goal is to hang onto the bone she built in her youth. Nutrition, exercise and avoidance of bone losing behaviors are key. In menopause, we need to be even more proactive due to the significant decrease in estrogen, a bone building and maintaining hormone. For some women, bioidentical hormones are an additional key to maintaining bone mass.
- Foods: fruits and vegetables for the vitamins and minerals listed below and for phytonutrients
- Minerals: Calcium, chromium, boron, copper, iodine, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium, zinc
- Vitamins: B (especially B12), C, D, E, K1, K2, biotin
- Macronutrients: protein
- Weight bearing exercise
- Weight training
Bone losing behaviors
- Processed foods
- Malnutrition, especially in childhood and adolescence
Similarly to bones, muscle mass is established early in life. Unlike bones, muscle mass is more malleable. If you were active as a child and young adult, you built good muscle foundations. People with good muscle foundations can more easily increase their muscle mass with exercise as adults. However, if you didn’t build muscle in youth, you can still create it at any age, it just takes more work. Speaking of more work and muscle mass; no matter what you did earlier in life, you will need to put more effort in building and maintaining muscle as you age. I have seen people in their 70s build muscle and improve body composition, but frequency and consistency of exercise is essential. Keep in mind that more muscle means more bone.
Body composition changes with age. The trend is a loss of muscle and a gain of fat. The loss of estrogen and testosterone associated with menopause can be a big hit against muscle mass. If you haven’t reached menopause, but its just around the corner, now is the time to act! Lose fat and gain muscle while you still have ample estrogen. If you have gone through menopause, never fear. You can still be successful in optimizing body composition. The biggest tip I can give you is to create metabolic flexibility by completing the keto-adaptive program.
Age associated changes in memory are well recognized. Unfortunately, we all too easily accept that our mental capacity is going to fade as we get older. Menopause is one of those times when women often experience a precipitous plunge into forgetfulness. Some change in memory is due to the rapid change in hormones. But,when we get down to the nitty gritty, we find that there are a huge number of other factors impacting memory. We shouldn’t simply accept that a decline in memory with menopause is normal, even if it is common.
- Use it or lose it. Your memory needs as much exercise as your body. Studies have shown that activities such as puzzles, word games, reading, and writing all help flex the memory muscle. Speaking of muscle, studies also show that physical exercise help your brain function better.
- B vitamins, methylation and genes. B vitamins, especially folate and B 12 are essential for brain function. A good marker for the health of the tiny blood vessels in your brain is a blood test looking for homocysteine.
- Toxic metals, such as lead and mercury, can damage your brain. Menopausal women of today, and for a couple decades to come, where exposed to lead in gas and paint during the years of bone growth. Bone is the long term storage unit for lead in your body. Bone loss during menopause can lead to toxic lead leaching from bone into your bloodstream and ultimately into your brain.
- Mitochondria are intracellular organelles responsible for cellular respiration. I know, I just got science geeky on you. Stay tuned because I’ll talk more about mitochondria in future posts. For now, just know that you want lots of healthy mitochondria to keep your brain working as you age.
And now to the last significant menopause health concern, heart health. We often think of heart disease as a male concern. Once women reach menopause, our odds of a heart attach skyrocket right up to the levels that aging men experience. A little known fact is that classic signs of a heart attach; chest pain, radiating pain and chest heaviness, are rarely noted by a woman having a heart attack. Those a classic danger signs for men. The most common heart attach symptom for women is the statement “something is terribly wrong”. Unfortunately, that statement doesn’t get much response in the emergency room! What can you do to protect from heart disease post menopause?
Run these common blood tests and consult with a doctor who can help you optimize these values.
- Homocysteine: 6-7
- hs-CRP: <1.0
- HDL: >50
- Total cholesterol/HDL: < 3.5
- HgA1C: <5.3
- Eat your fruits and vegetables
- Anthocyanins found in red and purple foods such as berries are particularly friendly
- Eat plenty of fat (I’ll talk about that more later!). Read the recent PURE study( http://bit.ly/PUREStudy) to find out why I recommend 35% of calories should come from fat.
- Avoid excess sugar from refined carbohydrates
- Get adequate K2
I want to finish up this article with a bit more about the lesser known Vitamin K2, also known as Menaquinone-7. K2 is an important nutrient for both bone health and cardiovascular health.
Bone Health and K2
K2 acts in concert with vitamin D to enhance bone health. Vitamin D is a hormone that, amount many other important functions, controls calcium metabolism. Vitamin D increases absorption of calcium and also increases deposition of calcium. What we want is for calcium to get deposited on bone. The truth is, vitamin D by itself is not that specific. Vitamin D is one of those nutrients I do recommend as a supplement at fairly high doses. But high dose vitamin D can lead to deposits of calcium in breast tissue and in blood vessels. That brings us to heart health.
If calcium deposits in blood vessels, they get stiff. Stiff vessels lead to vascular disease causing heart attacks and strokes. What to do? If you need high vitamin D for bone health, mood stabilization and immune function, what about the risk? That brings us to vitamin K2 and calcium metabolism. This important little nutrient provides the second hormonal signal, orchestrating deposition of calcium onto bone and away from arteries. Read this article that shows that “long-term use of MK-7 supplements improves arterial stiffness in healthy postmenopausal women, especially in women having a high arterial stiffness.”
Take home message here is If you take high dose vitamin D (and I suggest you do), do these two things
- always take vitaminK2 with your vitamin D3
- ask your doctor to run a blood test for 2-OH vitamin D to see if you are taking the right amount
The benefits of menopause
I know, that’s a lot of work I just outlined. It may seem like menopause is all down side with no bennies. As a post menopausal woman, I have to disagree and point out some of the things I appreciate about my body.
- No more periods (especially on those backpacking trips)
- Sex without birth control. whoopee!
- Life experience I have earned over the past 5.5 decades
- Predictable hormonal rhythms
- Naturally warmer
- Crone status as a wise woman in my community