Aging can be very stressful on women in our society, due to physical as well as emotional factors.
From a physical perspective, decades of normal “wear and tear” on our bodies, particularly as we approach menopause, can contribute to health concerns requiring additional attention. One of these health concerns is bone health. The following article, written by Kimmie Singh, MS, & RD-to-be, addresses the importance of getting enough Vitamin D as women go through the stages of peri-menopause into post-menopause.
*I am using the term “women” in this introduction to refer to any individual with female anatomy, or who undergoes the process of perimenopause and menopause with diminishing levels of estrogen. I want to acknowledge people who may not identify as female but who go through these physical changes, and they will be referred to as *people* in the blog post written by Kimmie Singh, MS, below.
Vitamin D and Menopause
Written by: Kimberly Singh, MS and soon-to-be RD
During menopause, your body produces less estrogen. Estrogen has many roles, including the maintenance of bone health. Therefore, decreasing estrogen levels may lead to a decrease in bone mineral density. A reduction in bone mineral density reflects weakening bones. This puts you at a higher risk for fractures. As you try to nourish your body in a way that supports your non-diet and body-affirming approach, I encourage you to explore the importance of getting enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D has Many Roles in Our Body
In addition to vitamin D’s role in bone health, it has many other important roles throughout your body. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and poor cognition. People with vitamin D deficiency are also at a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, which is the name for a group of risk factors that appears to raise the risk of heart disease and other health problems, including diabetes.
Adding vitamin D into your diet can also be protective against the natural loss of muscle that is associated with aging. It may contribute to reducing your risk of developing breast cancer. Vitamin D also has a special role in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Many Americans are Deficient in Vitamin D: How much do I need?
Postmenopausal individuals are at an even higher risk for vitamin D deficiency because of the decrease in circulating levels of estrogen. Those with darker skin are also at an elevated risk for deficiency. If you do not know your vitamin D status, you can get it checked with a simple blood test from your doctor.
Adults under the age of 70 should consume 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Adults who are 70 years old and over should consume 800 IU per day. It is important to keep in mind that too much vitamin D in your diet can cause poor health effects.
A great way to increase your vitamin D status is by soaking up the sun. When the rays from the sun touch your skin, your body is able to produce the type of vitamin D that it needs. It may be helpful to know that your skin must be uncovered to have this vitamin-D-producing effect in sunlight. This also works best on a day that is not too cloudy. Those who live in colder climates may struggle to have sufficient sun exposure. Luckily, that is not the only way for your body to get vitamin D!
Common Food Sources of Vitamin D
The following foods are the richest sources of vitamin D: fatty fish such as swordfish, salmon, tuna and sardines; cod-liver oil; eggs; and vitamin D-fortified milk, yogurts, cheeses, and juices (just check the nutrition label to make sure they are fortified with vitamin D if you are unsure). Many people (including myself) find it helpful to take a vitamin D supplement.
When Would I take a Vitamin D Supplement?
Supplements are appropriate for those individuals unable to consume adequate amounts of vitamin D containing foods or who have limited exposure to sunlight, (or whose kidneys cannot convert vitamin D to its active form in the body).
If this is something you are considering, remember that it is unsafe to take over 4000 IU of vitamin D per day. If you are purchasing a supplement, try to consider how much vitamin D you already consume to be sure that you do not exceed 4000 IU. I would also urge you to purchase supplements that are third-party tested to ensure their quality and safety. I generally recommend the following brands: Nature Made, Kirkland, or Nordic Naturals. Your doctor may also prescribe you a vitamin D supplement.
There are many ways in which vitamin D can support your health, especially for those who already experienced menopause. Adding a little vitamin D to your intake can make a big difference!
Online Programs to Help You Make Peace with Your Body and Food
Intuitive Eating Essentials for Midlife, Menopause and Beyond: This is a self-paced program that explores your relationship with food, your dieting history, readiness to integrate intuitive eating into your life, and teaches you how to use your values to make peace with food. Click here for all the details!