Getting your nutrient intake right is always a challenging task- especially for women over 50.
Post-menopausal women have special needs – they are likely to suffer from hormonal deficiencies and are also more prone to heart diseases, diabetes, and cancer.
But that’s not the whole story- like other women over 50;your body starts to change in multiple ways after menopause. Your muscle mass starts to deteriorate, you put on weight, your cholesterol levels shoot up and you become more prone to depression.
What is more worrying is that you also may not understand what nutrients your body needs and what supplements should be taken to plug the nutritional deficiencies that happen after menopause.
Supplements are a buyer’s market and there are so many claims and choices, that it’s difficult to know what to pick up and what to leave behind on the shelf.
Here’s a list of top five nutrients to look out for and the best way to get them through supplementation to keep yourselffit and healthy after menopause:
Calcium is the mineral for preventing osteoporosis, as all of us women know. We need calcium supplements, especially after menopause to protect us from bone loss and stress fractures.
And this is true to a large extent— if you're not getting enough calcium from your diet, the body starts stealing it from your bones and weakens them.
But, this is not all that calcium does for us. It’s needed for other basic body functions too like muscle contraction, and nerve and heart functioning.
Another thing that the “take calcium” diktat ignores is the fact that our bodies need calcium and vitamins, as well as protein for bone health.
How much calcium is too much?
The amount of calcium you need depends on your age.
If you are a post-menopausal woman, you should get 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day as against 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day for women between 19-50 years, according to the Institute of Medicine.
The bottom line is that you do need more calcium at 50 and beyond, but the thing to do is not to go overboard because more calcium does not necessarily mean more benefit and may even be harmful to your health.
You can get the calcium you need by eating a well-rounded diet with calcium-rich foods like dairy, tofu, sardines, broccoli, almonds, and spinach.
If you are vegan or/and lactose intolerant, you definitely need a calcium supplement containing vitamin D. But before you make the trip to your pharmacy for buying a calcium supplement, do take calcium pills after a test to check your calcium levels.
You can take one 500 mg pill with vitamin D daily if your calcium level is normal that is 8.5-9 mg/ dl. But you may have to take three 500 mg calcium pills per day if you are deficient. Just remember not to take all the 3 pills at the same time as your body absorbs calcium in smaller doses.
The daily upper limit for calcium is 2500 mg for women till 50 and 2000 for women between the ages of 50-70. This in simple language means that you shouldn’t be taking more than this amount at all.
Which type of calcium supplement is best for older women?
Several different kinds of calcium compounds are being sold as calcium supplements and each contains varying amounts of elemental calcium.
You can choose between:
Calcium carbonate which usually contains 40 percent elemental calcium
Calcium citrate with 21 percent elemental calcium
Calcium gluconate with 9 percent elemental calcium
And calcium lactate with 13 percent elemental calcium.
Choosing the right calcium supplement is extremely critical for you, especially if you have other health conditions like say IBS or chronic constipation.
We at WHL would not recommend calcium carbonate supplement for you, especially if you suffer from constipation. It’s best for you to take calcium citrate as it is absorbed equally well when taken with or without food and is also recommended for older women who generally have low stomach acid, inflammatory bowel disease or absorption disorders.
It’s important to remember that all calcium supplements can also cause fewside effects like gas, constipation and bloat and finding the supplement that works is more often than not a hit and miss affair. You may also need to try a few different types or brands of calcium supplements to find one that your body tolerates the best.
Also, do remember that you need to take any supplement, and not just a calcium supplement for at least 3 months for it to work.
You also need optimum levels of vitamin D3 and K2 and magnesium for your bone as well as overall health.
However, these three nutrients are the ones that most of us are deficient in. This is more problematic if you are over 50 and taking calcium supplements as a lack of balance between these nutrients and calcium causes an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Vitamin D is absolutely critical, especially for women after 50, because it helps protect against diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and breast and colorectal cancers—all of which are more likely to crop up the older you get. Plus, it’s also essential for the absorption of calcium for strengthening your bones.
Read more about this vital mineral and its role in your health here- (link to article on vitamin D deficiency)
How do you know that you are deficient? All you have to do is to ask your doctor for a simple blood test to rule out a deficiency.
If you are deficient, you can eat more of D rich fish and fortified dairy, grains, and cereals, but generally, the vitamin D you get from food is poorly absorbed. The sun is the best source of this vitamin, but not everyone is able to make this nutrient using sun rays.
This means that you have to rely on supplementation to plug the D gap.
Experts recommend a vitamin D3 supplement as this is the type of vitamin D closest to what you would get from the sun.
You should be getting at least 800 IU per day if you are over 50, according to current National Institutes of Health recommendations.
The tolerable upper limit or the amount that will not cause harm is as much as 4,000 IU per day.
We at WHL recommend Cholecalciferol containing 60,000 IU of vitamin D weekly.
Vitamins D3 and K2 work together for your bone and heart health. There is also acorrelation between low intake of vitamin K and osteoporosis.
This vitamin helps shunt calcium into your bones and teeth along with D and that’s not all- It helps improve memory, prevents mineralization, where minerals build up in arteries to lower BP by allowing your heart to pump blood freely through your body.
The recommended adequate intake of vitamin K depends on the age and gender. Women aged 19 years and above should consume 90 micrograms a day, and men must have 120 mcg.
There is no tolerable upper limit for vitamin K.
Toxicity due to K is rare, especially from eating foods rich in vitamin K like green leafy vegetables like kale, and eggs.
Most women are generally not K2 deficient unless they suffer from celiac disease or cystic fibrosis. But, if you are deficient, we suggest that you eat more K2 rich foods rather than take supplements as these can interact with blood thinner meds, anti-convulsants, cholesterol and weight lowering drugs you may be taking. They can also lead to toxicity.
It’s quite likely that you are magnesium-deficient, like most people on the planet.
Magnesium is very important for older women to prevent heart disease as it helps your muscles work. It helps control hypertension too.
Magnesium is also good for the brain because it balances serotonin, the body’s feel-good chemical and regulates blood sugar levels.
A reduced ability to absorb magnesium in the liver places older women at an increased risk of magnesium deficiency, according to the National Institutes of Health which makes them more prone to depression, PMS, including premenstrual migraines, irritability, low mood, and cramps.Deficiencies in magnesium are also linked to heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation.
The current Daily Recommended Intake of magnesium for a 70-year-old woman is 320 mg a day.
It’s best to test your magnesium levels if you think you might be deficient. But if you're eating a healthy, balanced diet, it’s likely that you are getting all the magnesium you need from food like dark leafy greens, beans, soy, nuts, seeds, and avocados and you don’t need supplementation.
Getting more magnesium does not necessarily pose health risks but may cause diarrhea, nausea, or cramping.
Some compounds of magnesium have more elemental magnesium than others. Remember, magnesium citrate, lactate, chloride and aspartate tend to have more elemental magnesium than magnesium sulfate or oxide.
We advise that you read the supplement label carefully before buying to check for elemental magnesium levels.
The upper limit for magnesium applies to supplements only and is 350 milligrams per day, no matter what your age.
Too much of magnesium is also not a good thing as going over the tolerable upper intake level can lead to digestive problems, vomiting and abnormal functioning of vital organs.
The B vitamins are made up of folic acid, B6, and B12, and they cause some of the most common deficiencies in post-menopausal women.
It also becomes more difficult for older women to absorb B vitamins from non-vegetarian foods like meat and animal products including chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs, which have high levels of vitamin B due to depleting stomach acid levels. This makes supplementation absolutely necessary.
Make vitamin B a goal at age 40 itself and don’t wait to hit 50 before starting a multivitamin.
2.4 mg per day is the current recommended dietary allowance for B vitamins.
You don’tneed to worry about taking too much because it's a water-soluble vitamin and your body ejects what you don't need.
We hope that this easy reckoner on supplements for post-menopausal women will help all of you ladies keep your health on track even after the Big M.
But, if you have any problem after taking a supplement, stop and approach your doctor for help and advice ASAP.