The Menopause Exchange Blog

VITAMINS AT THE MENOPAUSE

A balanced and varied diet should provide all the vitamins a woman needs during her menopausal years. But occasionally a healthcare professional may suggest a vitamin supplement. This may be, for example, after a blood test revealing a deficiency or due to a poor diet. A vitamin deficiency can affect your health, including making your menopausal symptoms worse. In general though, it’s unwise, and could be harmful, to take supplements without professional advice. Here are some useful vitamins for women around the time of the menopause.

This article was included in issue 81 (summer 2019) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is responsible for calcium absorption in your gut, and is essential for bone health. During the first five years of the menopause, you can lose nearly 10% of your bone mass, so make sure your diet contains adequate calcium and vitamin D.

Vitamin D isn’t found in many foods, but it’s made in your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Recent evidence has shown that many people in the UK are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency may increase your risk of bone fractures, bone pain and osteomalacia (softening of your bones). Low levels could have an effect on your mood and may increase your risk of heart disease.

Taking too much vitamin D can lead to a build-up of calcium in your blood (hypercalcemia), which can cause nausea and vomiting, kidney stones, weakness, frequent urination, constipation and damage to your cardiovascular system.
Amount needed: All adults in the UK should take a 10 mcg (400 IU) vitamin D supplement per day between October and March every year.
Sources include: egg yolk, oily fish, fortified spreads, fortified breakfast cereals and liver.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E works as an antioxidant, especially when you digest fat. Getting enough vitamin E is associated with a reduced risk of postmenopausal hormone-sensitive breast cancers. The vitamin’s
antioxidant properties may also help to protect against cancers in general and heart disease. If you have a heightened feeling of anxiety, stress and depression during the menopause, getting enough vitamin E in your diet may help. One trial showed 400 IU of vitamin E taken for four weeks reduced hot flush frequency and severity.
Amount needed: There’s no set recommended amount of vitamin E in the UK diet, as it depends on how much you need to prevent the oxidation of certain fats. But 3mg a day should be enough for most women. High-dose supplements may be harmful and should be used with caution.
Sources include: plant oils, nuts & seeds, avocado, spinach, broccoli, kiwi, mango, tomato, wheat-germ, shellfish and squash.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a group of compounds called retinoids. Pre-formed vitamin A (retinol) is a fat-soluble vitamin stored in your liver; too much vitamin A may be harmful. Your body can also convert beta
carotene from some fruits and vegetables into vitamin A.

Vitamin A is necessary for general cell function, healthy bones and eyes and your immune system. Studies have shown that high levels of pre-formed vitamin A increase the risk of hip fractures in postmenopausal women by 20%. Beta carotene supplements may increase the risk of lower lobular breast cancer and are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers.
Amount needed: 600mcg per day.
Sources include: liver, fish liver oil, egg yolk, dairy products, orange and yellow vegetables & fruits, broccoli, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is needed for your brain and nervous system and to make blood. During and after the menopause, women often become less able to absorb enough vitamin B12 from their gut; if they become deficient, they will need B12 injections. Deficiency can lead to insomnia, anaemia, a loss of appetite, tiredness and, in very low levels, nervous system damage. It’s difficult to get enough vitamin B12 if you’re vegan, so you’ll need to take a supplement.
Amount required: 1.5mcg per day (some authorities recommend 2.4 mcg per day for women over 50).
Sources include: most animal-derived foods, including fish and shellfish, meat (especially liver), poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products.

Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) keeps your nerves working properly, breaks down proteins, help to balance your sodium and potassium levels, boosts red blood cell production, helps your immune system and is linked to cardiovascular health. It helps to make serotonin, a chemical responsible for transmitting brain signals and balancing hormonal changes.

Vitamin B6 deficiency has been linked with confusion, depression, irritability, sores in the mouth and damage to the nerves in hands, feet, and arms. But taking high doses regularly may cause nerve disorders so the UK Department of Health recommends that supplements shouldn’t contain more than 10mg.
Amount required: 1.2 mg per day.
Sources include: pork, poultry, fish, bread, wholegrain cereals such as oats & brown rice, eggs, vegetables and soya beans.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is involved in wound healing and the production of collagen, and helps your body to absorb non-meat sources of iron. Deficiency leads to scurvy (now very rare in the West). Decreasing oestrogen levels leads to lower levels of collagen, which can leave your skin wrinkled, dry and at greater risk of sun damage. Adequate levels of vitamin C can help to protect the skin. Large doses of vitamin C haven’t been proven to protect against cancers or shorten the length of a cold; these may have side effects, such as kidney stones and diarrhoea.
Amount required: 40 mg per day. Smokers may need up to 80mg/day.
Sources include: vegetables and fruit especially berries and citrus fruits.

References:

Fan Chen, Mengxi Du, Jeffrey B. Blumberg, Kenneth Kwan Ho Chui, Mengyuan Ruan, Gail Rogers, Zhilei Shan, Luxian Zeng, Fang Fang Zhang. Association Among Dietary Supplement Use, Nutrient Intake, and Mortality Among U.S. AdultsAnnals of Internal Medicine, 2019; DOI: 10.7326/M18-2478

About the author
Gaynor Bussell is an award-winning dietitian and nutritionist who specialises in women’s health, gut health and weight issues.

Created Summer 2019

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