Menopause Mondays: Your Guide to Vitamins and Supplements in Perimenopause and Menopause
I don’t know about you, but the thought of visiting my drugstore’s vitamin and supplement aisle is enough to send me into a stress-induced hot flash. There are just so many bottles to choose from! Which do I need, which are merely the ingredients for really expensive pee, and why on Earth are there seven-dozen different kinds of calcium?
“That’s no excuse to go running, arms waving, into the parking lot”, says menopause specialist Dr. Josh Trutt, MD, a healthy aging expert in New York City. Trutt says virtually everyone should take supplements to boost their health—especially women during perimenopause and menopause.
Why? “Getting all of your nutrients from your diet is a nice ideal to strive for, but there are some supplements that aren’t part of the diet in our culture,” Dr. Trutt says. “For example, some Asian cultures drink green tea all day long. Studies have shown that if you ingest the amount of green tea contained in ten small cups (which is what some Asian cultures consume in a day), you can lower your risk of prostate and colon cancer. I think drinking ten cups of green tea over the course of the day is in fact the best way to get the antioxidants it offers—but that’s just not part of my lifestyle, so I take it as a capsule instead.”
What’s more, during menopause, fluctuating hormone levels (compounded with that ever-increasing age!) can up your body’s need of certain vitamins. If your diet doesn’t adjust, supplements can help you make up the difference. But since those same hormones can also slash your body’s need for other nutrients, you shouldn’t just pop any vitamin you can get your hands on, Dr. Trutt says. “All medications essentially cause some alteration in our physiology. Supplements are no different,” he says. “The question is, ‘is that alteration helpful or harmful, and at what dose?’”
Never head into the vitamin supplements aisle without first finding the right info, Dr. Trutt advises. “I’ve spent years reading about vitamins and other supplements, and if I have learned one thing, it’s that Google-searching for supplement info is a terrible way to learn what you need to know. I suggest finding accredited medical doctors who blog and have a good reputation on this topic,” he says, citing mercola.com and ChrisKresser.com. Talk to your doctor about receiving a standard blood test, which evaluates levels of vitamins and nutrients including vitamin D, CoQ10, B12 levels, zinc, and copper.”
Dr. Trutt also suggests checking out Emerson Ecologics to find the best brands. “All of the companies listed there have very good reputations, and allow independent analytical testing of their products and audits of their facilities,” he says. Remember that all brands have different specialties.
If that sounds like a lot of homework, don’t worry your pretty little head. To help you find your perfect menopause supplement script, Dr. Trutt shares need-to-know intel on some of the most popular vitamins and supplements out there. Be sure to consult your doctor and have proper testing before taking any supplements.
As far as iron goes, that burger probably has all you need. “Once a woman stops menstruating, she is much less likely to need extra iron,” Dr. Trutt says. “The Iowa Women’s Health Study showed that taking supplemental iron is linked to decreased life expectancy.” Why? Iron is a pro-oxidant, meaning it induces oxidative stress and the accumulation of free radicals in the body, which can contribute to disease. Dr. Trutt’s advice: Only take iron if you need it for iron deficiency. Ask your doctor to run a simple blood test to determine your levels.
“The truth is that there are very few multis on the market that are worth taking. When you have that many ingredients mixed in, there are a lot of opportunities to get it wrong. Many blends have too much of certain vitamins and too little of others for optimal health, especially when it comes to helping women ease menopausal symptoms. Rather than cramming dozens of vitamins in one capsule, focus on getting the specific vitamins you need,” he says.
Not all K vitamins are created equal. He reccommends, MK-7 as it helps prevent osteoporosis. Since plummeting estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause can cause loss of bone mass, women over the age of 50 are at the greatest risk for developing osteoporosis, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Trutt advises taking at least 100mcg of MK-7 a day. If you are taking Coumadin (warfarin), a medication that’s typically prescribed to help prevent blood clotting, be sure to speak with your doctor before you start taking the big K. You may need to adjust the dosage of your medications, he says.
After menopause, bone breakdown outpaces the building of new bone. Calcium can help—in moderation. “Taking extra calcium can be harmful because it will deposit in your blood vessels instead of your bones—unless you take plenty of MK-7 (that last vitamin we talked about!), which keeps it out of your blood vessel walls,” says Dr. Trutt. Women older than 50 need to consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium every day to keep their bones strong, according to Dr. Diane L. Schneider, MD, MSc, author of The Complete Book of Bone Health and co-founder of 4BoneHealth.org. But before resorting to supplements, take a look at your diet and easy ways you can increase your calcium intake.
“Your ability to convert sunlight to vitamin D decreases as you age, and so you may need more supplemental vitamin D to keep your blood levels in that sweet spot of 35-40ng/mL. We know that having a vitamin D level below 25ng/mL is bad, but in one study after another, people with vitamin D levels above 45 actually die more often than people with lower levels,” Dr. Trutt says. Dr. Schneider recommends women older than 50 get 600 IU of the vitamin a day and women older than 70 get 800 IU to maintain those levels. Adequate vitamin D, along with calcium levels are helpful in preserving your bone health. Learn more about how to get the calcium and vitamin D you need for healthy bones during menopause.
Recent research from the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University shows that estrogen has a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease, possibly explaining why post-menopausal women are at a higher risk of the disease. “Curcumin has been used for centuries, is very safe, has documented anti-cancer benefits, and we think it helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Your mainstream doctor has nothing to offer you to prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. In that light, curcumin seems a very reasonable supplement for nearly everyone.” Still, “curcumin is very hard to absorb, making most brands useless,” says Dr. Trutt, who recommends taking one capsule a day of Longvida brand curcumin.
As your estrogen supplies dry up, so can your thyroid function, especially if your estrogen drop is sudden or dramatic. That explains why subclinical thyroid disease strikes 23.2 percent of postmenopausal women. Of those women, 73.8 percent suffer from hypothyroidism, according to German research published in Gynecological Endocrinology. “If you use significant amounts of thyroid hormone, you should take CoQ10 with it. Thyroid hormone can cause you to deplete your CoQ10 levels,” says Dr. Trutt, who suggests taking 100mg a day.
Estrogen is good for your heart: It helps keep blood vessels flexible so that they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow. So when estrogen levels drop, the risk of heart disease can increase. Omega-3 fatty acids, however, can help. A type of unsaturated fatty acid, it reduces the effects of inflammation on blood vessels and the heart, according to Mayo Clinic. “In patients who have high triglycerides and are taking fish oil to lower it, 2 grams a day is of documented benefit,” says Dr. Trutt. “For the rest of us, this may be an area where eating two servings of fish per week is the way to go.”
Ladies, it’s time to say goodbye to supplement anxiety… and hello to better health! Vitamins and minerals are integral to everything our bodies do and everything we can be. So when we give our bodies what they truly need, nothing can hold us back from living the lives we deserve!
Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!