Tag Archives: menopause

Vitamin D: Building Muscle in Menopausal Women

Vitamin D: Building Muscle in Menopausal Women

Vitamin D Builds Muscle in Menopausal Women

A new Brazilian study suggests that post-menopausal women may benefit from vitamin D supplementation to increase muscle strength and reduce frailty (1). The study, conducted at Sao Paulo State University, found that older women given vitamin D supplements were stronger and had fewer falls.

Menopause and Muscle

It is well known that going through menopause increases women’s risk of bone loss, as a result of hormonal changes that influence bone health. However, many women are less aware of the effect of menopause on muscle strength.

During and after menopause, a decline in oestrogen levels leads to a gradual and ongoing decrease in muscle mass, known as sarcopenia.

This type of muscle loss is a key health concern for post-menopausal women for several reasons. Post-menopausal muscle loss puts women at risk of frailty, falls and reduced mobility. It can reduce their independence and quality of life. Additionally, a reduction in muscle mass also leads to a lower metabolism, putting older women at risk of unwanted weight gain.

Vitamin D and Muscle Mass

Vitamin D is crucial for healthy muscle function. It acts on special receptors in muscle, helping to boost muscle mass and strength. Vitamin D also plays a role in protein synthesis and works with calcium and magnesium to enable more powerful muscle contractions.

Unfortunately many adults in the UK have low levels of vitamin D. In fact, 39% of adults have low vitamin D levels in the winter months and older adults who spend more time indoors are particularly vulnerable to deficiency (2).

Trial Results

The double-blind trial tested the effects of vitamin D supplements versus a placebo on the muscle strength and muscle mass of post-menopausal women. Muscle mass was estimated by the use of a total-body DXA (an X-ray scan), as well as tests of hand grip strength and fitness tests.

At the end of the 9-month study, the women receiving the vitamin D supplement showed a 25% increase in muscle strength, while the placebo group actually lost muscle mass. Over the 9 months, the women receiving the placebo supplements also had twice as many falls as those taking vitamin D.

“We concluded that the supplementation of vitamin D alone provided significant protection against the occurrence of sarcopenia, which is a degenerative loss of skeletal muscle, says Dr. L.M. Cangussu, one of the lead authors of the study.

Supplementing Vitamin D – Do’s and Don’ts

The ideal way to optimize vitamin D levels is through sensible sun exposure. This can be difficult in the winter months and can be especially challenging for those with darker skin who have a harder time converting sunlight to vitamin D.

Current recommendations are that anybody over the age of 65 should be supplementing 10 micrograms (400 IU) of vitamin D each day. Vitamin D3 is widely considered to be a better form to take than synthetic D2.  Taking vitamin D supplements alongside a fat-containing meal will also enhance absorption. Finally, many people prefer to take vitamin D alongside vitamin K as these two vitamins work synergistically.

References
1. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). “Vitamin D3 supplementation helps women build muscle even after menopause: New study demonstrates vitamin effectiveness in reducing degeneration and risk of falls.” September 2015
2. NICE. Vitamin D: increasing supplement use in at-risk groups. November 2014. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph56 Accessed 30/10/2015.

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Iron and Zinc Intake Linked with PMS

An iron-rich diet lowers the risk of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) according to a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (1).

The study is one of the first to investigate whether dietary mineral intake is linked with PMS. The diets of more than 3,000 American women were analysed, with women completing three food frequency questionnaires over a 10-year period. After 10 years, 1,057 of the women were diagnosed with PMS while 1,968 of the women were free from the condition. The researchers then compared the diets of the women with PMS with the diets of the women with no symptoms. The researchers adjusted for factors known to affect PMS such as calcium intake.

The results showed that non-heme iron intake is linked to a lowered incidence of PMS. Non-heme iron is the iron found in plant foods and supplements, rather than iron from animal foods. Senior research Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson said that the women who consumed the most non-heme iron from both foods and supplements had “a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of developing PMS than women who consumed the lowest amount of non-heme iron”. The results also showed that women with the lowest iron intake were almost twice as likely to suffer with PMS compared to women with the highest intake.

“The level of iron intake at which we saw a lower risk of PMS, roughly greater than 20 mg per day, is higher than the current recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron for pre menopausal women,” Bertone-Johnson says.

The researchers also suggested that iron may be related to PMS because it is involved in producing serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood.

Juice
Vitamin C intake is linked with helping the absorption of iron

While iron supplements may of course be helpful to ensure adequate intake, it’s important to ensure that good dietary sources of iron are included each day. Good plant-based sources of iron include pulses such as lentils, beans and chickpeas, nuts and seeds, dried apricots and leafy greens such as spinach and kale. Iron-fortified cereals are another rich source. Adding citrus fruit or a glass of orange juice is also helpful as Vitamin C boosts iron absorption.

Another mineral was also highlighted by the study as significant in its influence on PMS. “We also saw some indication that high intake of zinc was associated with lower risk” Bertone-Johnson explains. The level of zinc linked to a lower risk of PMS was greater than 15mg each day which again is higher than the RDA.

Zinc is needed for the proper action of many hormones and it can also lower levels of hormones such as prolactin which are implicated in PMS.

Ensuring a good intake of zinc through the diet means eating zinc-rich meats such as venison, beef and turkey, while vegetarians should emphasise foods such as yoghurt, spinach, mushrooms and oats. Zinc from plant sources is less well-absorbed and so vegetarians may benefit from a zinc supplement to ensure adequate intake. It should be noted, however, that excessive levels of zinc can be detrimental to health and should only be taken under the supervision of a health practitioner.

More research is needed in this area to confirm the results of this study. In the meantime, however, ensuring an adequate intake of both iron and zinc seems a sensible measure for those who suffer with PMS.

References

1. Patricia O. Chocano-Bedoya, JoAnn E. Manson, Susan E. Hankinson, Susan R. Johnson, Lisa Chasan-Taber, Alayne G. Ronnenberg, Carol Bigelow, and Elizabeth R. Bertone-Johnson. Intake of Selected Minerals and Risk of Premenstrual Syndrome. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2013 DOI: 10.1093/aje/kws363.

2.Image courtesy of topfer.

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Successful Weight Loss after Menopause: Four Key Strategies

Statistics surrounding weight loss often make for depressing reading. Losing weight, especially if done rapidly, causes changes in appetite-regulating hormones and brain chemistry, which can make long-term weight loss difficult. In fact, after a weight loss diet, up to 50% of lost weight is typically regained within one year, and around 90% is typically regained within 5 years (1).

However, a new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that a few simple strategies can make a big difference (2). Researchers followed 508 overweight and obese post-menopausal women over a period of four years to evaluate the most consistently successful weight-loss strategies.

Menopausal women have a particularly difficult time losing weight. Changes that take place in menopause, such as altered oestrogen levels, result in an accumulation of abdominal fat and an increase glucose and insulin levels (3). Coupled with a natural decline in energy expenditure, these menopausal changes appear to be the perfect recipe for weight gain.

Fresh fruit can help with long term weight loss.
Fresh fruit can help with long term weight loss.

The study divided the women into two groups. The first group of women attended Lifestyle Change classes run by nutritionists and psychologists. They were given detailed dietary advice and a goal-oriented exercise programme. The second group attended classes on general women’s health. The researchers then assessed the eating behaviours and weights of the women at the 6-month mark, and again after four years.

The researchers discovered that while strategies such as reducing restaurant visits and reducing fried foods were helpful in the short-term, they were not linked to weight-loss after four years.

Study leader Dr Barone Gibbs concluded that some weight loss strategies are simply not sustainable in the long-term, after initial motivation begins to decline “Maybe you can say no French fries for six months,” she said, “but not forever.”

So which strategies were helpful in the long-term? At the four-year mark, there were just four factors linked to successful weight loss:

  • Reduced consumption of meat and cheese;
  • Fewer sugar-sweetened drinks;
  • Fewer desserts;
  • An increase in fruit and vegetables.

Overall the winning dietary strategy for weight loss in the long term was found to be replacing meat and cheeses with fruits and vegetables. A simple and manageable change such as this would not only lower levels of saturated and trans fats, but it would increase levels of phytonutrients and soluble fibre, boosting digestion and even helping to curb troublesome menopausal symptoms in older women.

The simple message to take from these findings is that restrictive diets are destined to fail in the long-term, but committing to small, healthful changes can make a big difference. Weight loss needs to be viewed as a permanent healthful change in diet and lifestyle. This is especially true for menopausal women who can find weight management particularly challenging.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.

References

1. Wadden TA, Sarwer DB. Behavioral intervention of obesity: new approaches to an old disorder. In: Goldstein D, editor. The management of eating disorders. Totowa (NJ): Humana Press; 1996. pp. 173–199.
2. Barone Gibbs (2012) Short- and long-term eating habit modification predicts weight change in overweight, postmenopausal women: results from the WOMAN study. J Acad Nutri Dietetics112(9):1347-1355.e2.
3. Carr MC (2004) The emergence of the metabolic syndrome with menopause. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 88(6):2404-11.
4. Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane.

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