The aging process is associated with many changes in hormonal and physiological function, some of which are gender-related. In women, one of the most dramatic hormonal changes is the striking reduction in estrogen production that accompanies menopause. This period of life has special nutrient requirements.
Menopause occurs when a woman stops having her monthly period. By definition, a woman is menopausal after her periods have stopped for one year. The 1 to 5 years that precedes menopause is called perimenopause. During perimenopause, a woman’s body adjusts to a waning and then absent menstrual flow, as well as to the associated bodily changes that result from lower estrogen levels.
Eating a Healthy Diet
Although researchers continue to study the special nutrition needs of menopausal women, it is generally agreed that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains and lower in fat and calories is a wise choice for women at midlife.
Estrogen levels decline during menopause, and this reduction makes bone more susceptible to calcium loss. Increased calcium intake and moderate weight-bearing exercise may be able to minimize the development of osteoporosis. How much calcium should you take each day? The recommended daily dose is 1,200-1,500 mg a day, plus a vitamin D supplement (400-900 units a day), which helps the body absorb calcium.
Prior to menopause, estrogen helps protect a woman’s arterial walls from fat and cholesterol buildup by raising the levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and lowering the levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. As menopause drives down estrogen levels, this protection disappears and leaves women as vulnerable to heart disease as men. To compensate for this loss of protection, women should adopt a diet that is low in total and saturated fats and cholesterol and high in complex carbohydrates, such as grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Because caffeine can increase the number and intensity of hot flashes and has also been implicated in osteoporosis, it is difficult to recommend caffeine use at menopause.
But, what about alcohol? While coffee may worsen hot flashes, drinking alcohol in moderation (1-5 drinks per week) may offer some benefit in reducing hot flashes.
Watch What You Eat and Keep Fit
Menopause is associated with reducing resting- and physical activity-related energy expenditure and increasing central fat stores (stomach and thighs), which are risk factors for heart disease. To maintain body weight at premenopausal levels, women may need to cut back their caloric intake and increase physical activity.
Although menopause presents special challenges to women, consuming adequate amounts of calcium, limiting animal fats, eating plenty of whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and frequent exercise can help ensure women a healthy passage through menopause.
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