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The Menopause Exchange Blog


Minerals are as essential in the diet as vitamins, but often not given as much attention. Surveys show that many women are deficient in several important minerals, and menopausal women are no exception. However, we get too much of certain minerals in our diet and that too can be harmful to our health. Let’s look at some essential minerals and their function in the body:

This article was included in issue 78 (autumn 2018) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Calcium helps to maintain strong bones and teeth as well as supporting the normal functioning of nerves and muscles. The rate of bone calcium loss increases during the menopause, putting women at risk of osteoporosis, yet it’s believed that one in 10 adult women don’t get enough calcium. The National Osteoporosis Society recommends a daily intake of 700 mg of calcium in postmenopausal women, which should be increased to 1000 to 1200 mg in women with osteoporosis. Calcium is found in milk, cheese, yogurt, fromage frais, most green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified dairy-alternatives such as soy drinks and yogurts (check the label) and canned fish (containing soft bones).

A recent study assessed the effects of a product containing isoflavones (plant oestrogens), calcium 500mg, vitamin D and inulin (a form of fibre) for 12 months in menopausal women. The results showed favourable effects on menopausal signs and symptoms, including hot flushes, physical and sexual health, and a rise in good cholesterol levels.

Magnesium plays a role in the production and regulation of hormones, preventing excess cortisol, increasing insulin sensitivity, and allowing the production of thyroid hormone. It can help to slow aging by reducing oxidative stress, supporting production of the protective antioxidant glutathione, and keeping telomeres (the ends of chromosomes) long, tight, and together, which also reduces the risk of cancer.

Magnesium is deficient in the diet of around 35% of women. There’s evidence that having enough magnesium can offset weight gain that can occur during the menopause, help alleviate menopausal symptoms (especially low mood) and also help with bone strength. Food sources of magnesium include wholegrains, dark, leafy greens, nuts and edamame beans.

Iron forms part of the blood’s haemoglobin, where it carries oxygen throughout the body. Iron-deficiency anaemia is associated with feeling tired and cold and is often the result of heavy blood loss during menstruation (less of a risk at the menopause). Less iron is required in the diet after the menopause, and some studies have shown that having a high iron status during the menopause is associated with an increased risk of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. It’s not recommended to take iron supplements routinely unless prescribed by a healthcare professional. Food sources include shellfish, spinach, liver and other organ meats, legumes, red meat and some fortified breakfast cereals.

Zinc is important to perimenopausal women for bone formation. This mineral helps the absorption of vitamin D and may help slow bone loss as well as boost the immune system. Food sources include lamb, chickpeas, mushrooms, cashews and pumpkin seeds.

As a population, we consume too much sodium. Sodium mainly comes from the salt in our diet (sodium chloride). A high salt intake is associated with an increased risk of blood pressure, stroke and osteoporosis (three conditions that already have an increased risk at the menopause). It’s therefore important to try to keep salt intake to 6g/day.

Potassium can counter-balance the effect of excess salt on stroke risk and is believed to help preserve bone mineral density in post-menopausal women. People are often deficient due to a low intake of fruit and vegetables. Food sources include avocado, spinach, sweet potato, wild-caught salmon, dried apricots and bananas.

Phosphorus is involved in nearly all biochemical reactions taking place in the body. It combines with calcium to form a mineral crystal that gives strength and structure to our bones and teeth. But while phosphorus is essential for bone health, too much of it isn’t a good thing as it must work in delicate balance with calcium in our bones and blood. The average Western diet tends to have more phosphorus than calcium and this can be detrimental to bone health. Large amounts of phosphorous are found in meat, soft drinks and processed foods.

Other minerals

Surveys show that selenium and iodine can be low in women’s diets. They’re important for thyroid function, which can decline with the menopause. Selenium may play a protective role in vascular disease, possibly because it’s an important element in protecting against free radical damage in the body. Food sources of selenium include seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products. Iodine is found in milk or other dairy products (including ice cream, cheese, yogurt and butter), seafood (including fish, sushi and shellfish) and kelp or seaweed. As well as calcium and magnesium, a deficiency in the minerals zinc, copper, fluorine, manganese, iron and boron can speed up bone loss at the menopause.

Dietary reference values for women
Calcium: 700 mg per day
Phosphorus: 550 mg per day
Magnesium: 270 mg per day
Potassium: 3500 mg per day
Iron: 14.8 mg per day (19 to 50 years) / 8.7 mg per day (50+)
Zinc: 7.0 mg per day
Copper: 1.2 mg per day
Selenium: 60 mcg per day
Iodine: 140 mcg per day

About the author
Gaynor Bussell is a dietitian specialising in women’s health. She offers Life Coaching (GBLifeCoach) to patients, helping them with a whole life approach to their issues.

Created Autumn 2018

Copyright © The Menopause Exchange 2019


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