5 Supplements Women Need Most After Menopause
Menopause is a time of change and can bring with it a higher risk of health issues. For example, many women gain a few pounds during and after menopause. In addition, the risk of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, goes up after menopause.
Eating a healthy diet and staying physically active can lower your risk of developing these chronic health problems, but there are some supplements that may help stave off some of the health problems that occur in the second half of life.
Vitamin D is critical for bone and immune health, and it plays a key role in helping your body absorb calcium. Studies show that suboptimal vitamin D levels are common worldwide, with up to 1 billion people affected. Vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of depression, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer. These are all health problems that become more common after menopause.
The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight. When sunlight (ultraviolet B rays) hit your skin, it converts a compound, called dehydrocholesterol, on the surface of your skin to a vitamin D precursor. Your liver and kidneys then convert that precursor to active vitamin D that your body can use.
Not only do women over the age of 50 get less sun exposure on average, but the ability to absorb vitamin D in response to the sun’s rays also goes down. Plus, many people wear sunblock these days to protect against sunburn. That’s why most women over 50 need a vitamin D supplement to maintain a healthy vitamin D level. Most sources recommend taking 1,000 international units (IU) daily, although many experts believe this isn’t enough and recommend 2,000 IU or more. It’s important to monitor your levels to avoid toxicity so check with your doctor to find a recommendation based on your specific health needs.
Your body uses magnesium for over 300 chemical reactions, including those that affect brain, muscle, bone, and heart health. In addition, research shows that up to 40% of the population doesn’t get enough of this important mineral. Magnesium also improves insulin sensitivity and helps lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies show that women who consume a diet higher in magnesium have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Since insulin sensitivity declines after menopause, eating a magnesium-rich diet or taking a magnesium supplement is one thing that may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Plus, magnesium helps with blood pressure control too and the risk of hypertension goes up after menopause.
The risk of heart disease rises in women after menopause. Although studies are conflicting, some research suggests that long-chain omega-3s from sources like fish oil may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. The mechanisms by which they do this, according to the American Heart Association, include:
Lowering resting blood pressure
Lowering the risk of blood clots
Reducing the risk of irregular heart rhythms
Studies show that eating fatty fish seems to reduce cardiovascular risk, but it’s less clear whether taking fish oil supplements has the same benefits. However, most people don’t eat fatty fish often enough to get the health benefits. So, for some women, an omega-3 or fish oil supplement is a more practical choice.
Gut health is central to a healthy immune system since more than 70% of your immune system resides there. Studies also suggest that gut health plays a role in body weight too. People who have a more diverse gut microbiome, or population of gut bacteria, tend to be leaner. Unfortunately, a bad diet, stress, antibiotics, and other medications can reduce the diversity of the gut microbiome and that can affect digestion, weight gain, immune health, and even mental health.
One way to restore gut microbiome balance is to eat more fermented foods with natural probiotics and add more prebiotic fiber to your diet from plant-based food sources. If you can’t do that, a probiotic supplement is an alternative. Be sure to research probiotic supplements if you decide to take one. Preferably, choose one that undergoes independent testing to ensure quality and safety.
Low levels of vitamin B12 tend to occur in women as they age. Vitamin B12 deficiency becomes more common with age because of absorption issues. If you’re low in vitamin B12, it can cause memory issues that mimic dementia.
Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include neuropathy, balance issues, mood disturbances, depression, and fatigue. If you catch the symptoms early and supplement with vitamin B12, you can reverse it. However, the neurological problems caused by vitamin B12 deficiency can be permanent if it goes on too long.
If you eat a vegan diet, you will likely need a vitamin B12 supplement to prevent a serious deficiency. You don’t necessarily need a supplement unless you have absorption issues, but if you have any of the symptoms above, get tested and talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
The Bottom Line
Always talk to your physician before taking a supplement and make sure they know what supplements you’re taking. Some can interact with other medications you might be taking.