Nutrition and Dietary Supplements for Menopause
Soy foods contain isoflavones that appear to reduce hot flashes, improve cholesterol, and may decrease bone loss. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) recommends including soy foods in the diet, rather than soy supplements to help reduce menopausal symptoms. There is some concern that large amounts of soy can affect breast cancer risk and thyroid function, though there is not enough evidence to avoid soy at this point. However it is best to
Flaxseed contains omega-3 fatty acids and plant-based lignans that may help reduce symptoms of menopause, protect against breast cancer, and prevent heart disease.
Calcium The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that postmenopausal women consume between 1,000 and 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day to boost bone mass. Foods rich in calcium include dairy, green leafy vegetables, black strap molasses, almonds, and dried beans. If adequate amounts of calcium are not being obtained through the diet, calcium supplements may be necessary. While calcium is available in many forms,calcium citrate appears to be more easily absorbed from the intestinal tract than other forms.
Vitamin D, along with calcium, is essential for building and maintaining healthy bones. Calcium can only be absorbed into the body when vitamin D is present. As levels of vitamin D diminish with age, calcium deficiencies can arise, increasing the risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures. The recommended dietary intake for vitamin D is currently 400 IU per day for women between the ages of 50 and 70 years and 600 IU for those older than age 70. Sources of this vitamin include sunlight, fatty fish, dairy fortified with vitamin D, and supplements. Most women can meet their vitamin D needs with moderate exposure to the sun and with supplements.
Magnesium helps the body absorb calcium. These two nutrients should be taken together in a 2:1 ratio, calcium: magnesium (for example, 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium and 500 to 750 milligrams of magnesium per day). Rich sources of magnesium include tofu, nuts (particularly Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, black walnuts, and pine nuts), pumpkin and squash seeds, peanuts and other legumes, green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, soy bean flour, and black strap molasses.
Boron helps the body process magnesium. Studies suggest that 1 to 3 milligrams of boron per day is needed to maintain normal levels of magnesium. If normal levels of magnesium are not present, the body is less able to absorb calcium. Menopausal women may take boron supplements in an attempt to boost levels of calcium in their blood and prevent bone loss. Adequate amounts of boron can be obtained through foods such as vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
Vitamin K Studies suggest that 45 milligrams of vitamin K per day may help prevent bone loss. Vitamin K can be found in green tea, turnip greens, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, asparagus, and dark green lettuce. Because this vitamin, in both supplement and dietary forms, helps blood to clot, it must not be consumed by those taking blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Preliminary studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of fish oil or flaxseed) help to improve cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease.
Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, may help women avoid serious medical conditions associated with menopause. For example, studies have shown that over the long term (10 years or more), 250 to 500 milligrams of vitamin C taken one to two times per day decreases the risk of heart disease and increases bone mass. In addition, 400 to 800 IU of vitamin E per day lowers the risk of heart disease and, possibly, other age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease and macular degeneration. Large population studies also strongly suggest that intake of food sources of vitamin E such as wheat germ, nuts (particularly walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts), vegetable oil (including canola, corn, soybean, and safflower), spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, and yams also decreases the risk of a stroke after menopause.
Herbs The information available to date suggests that menopausal symptoms may be alleviated for some women by using herbs, particularly black cohosh and chasteberry. Symptom improvement is different for each woman, however, some women have a noticeable improvement in symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia, while others notice no change or only experience relief for a short period of time.
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa is used to relieve symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, irritability, mood swings, and feelings of depression. This herb is considered a safe and effective alternative to estrogen when hormones are not chosen.
Chasteberry (Vitex-agnus castus) offers an option for women who would like a safe, natural approach to reducing menopausal discomforts. Chasteberry has a rich history of use as a remedy for women, with the first medicinal accounts recorded by Hippocrates in the 4th century B.C. Today, chasteberry is widely used and accepted as a treatment for symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause.
Dong quai, (Angelica sinensis) in combination with other herbs, has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine to relieve symptoms of menopause. While there continue to be reports of improvement in symptoms using this herb, the effect of using dong quai by itself varies from woman to woman. Clinical studies comparing dong quai only to a placebo do not confirm a specific benefit of this herb. In general, however, dong quai is thought to be safe for relief of menopausal symptoms, particularly if hormones cannot be used.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) contains high quantities of plant-based estrogens called isoflavones that may improve menopausal symptoms, reduce the risk of bone loss, and lower the risk of heart disease by improving blood pressure and possibly by increasing HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol).
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) may be used by menopausal women to reduce stress, improve general well-being, decrease feelings of depression, and enhance memory. This herb is thought to have estrogen-like activities, although not all studies support this assertion.
Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa): Many women claim that wild yam (when used as a cream) improves menopausal symptoms, particularly vaginal dryness. While this extract has been converted to progesterone in laboratory test tubes, the value of wild yam for menopausal symptoms has not yet been fully evaluated in people or even in animals.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis): Some women report that evening primrose
oil diminishes the frequency and intensity of their hot flashes, but these
claims have not been proven by scientific studies.