When my mid-life menopausal body hobbled along to my Doctor, Physio, Personal Trainer and Podiatrist with sore joints, muscles and various aches and pains, not one of them mentioned my new ‘heroine’ of menopause joint and muscle health – Vitamin C – and to be fair to these wonderful specialists, nor did I give this vital vitamin a thought either. But I should have – and I also needed to take note that the reason there was a lemon tree in my garden, was that I needed to embrace this beautiful fruit during menopause. Of all the nutrients we’re most familiar with, but possibly have in our diet the least, due to all the confusing dietary messages these days, Vitamin C is perhaps the most impressive. Even more-so now that we continue to have to navigate a global pandemic.
When my legs were aching, my joints were sore and I had no energy, one of the most important kitchen appliances I purchased was my juicer. With a sluggish liver and a gut that was irritable all the time, I knew that I wasn’t absorbing the nutrients that I needed. At the time I also had my head buried in the women’s healthy ageing research and the plethora of research that pointed towards changing cardiac and joint health during and after menopause.
Much of this research helped me to position menopause in ageing science.
When I did, most roads leading to worsening symptoms, including worsening anxiety, heart health, weight gain and immune health, led me towards the build-up of inflammation in our cells and tissues. I talk about this a lot in the MyMT programmes, as the starting point to begin to REDUCE inflammation is to focus on restoring optimal cardiac health, improving blood pressure and helping joints to heal. As so many of us have lived through changes to food production and many of us have been regular exercisers and have been following the high-intensity mantra (I include heavy weight training and BodyPump classes in this comment), then turning around inflammation inside our tissues, heart and blood vessels matters to our symptoms in menopause.
Vitamin C is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients available … and no, you don’t need expensive supplements, you just need lemons and oranges in your life instead. I love it when women turn around their symptoms and/ or weight with the foundation MyMT programmes and restore their sleep, energy and motivation to get back into exercise with joints and muscles that feel pain-free and functional. And yes, sleeping all night is crucial as well. This is because our cardiovascular and immune healing occurs overnight between the hours of 2-4am. This is so important for women if they are doing lots of exercise and therefore, stressing their heart, joints and muscles.
All too often, we have seen our mother’s generation experience changing joint health, arthritis and become more sedentary because their muscles and joints go into age-related decline. When I began to look at menopause through the biological lens of ageing research and my own joints and muscles were aching during the day and giving me grief at night, I began to understand that my ageing heart, immune system and joints were craving Vitamin C.
Every day as part of our normal metabolism, the human body loses approximately 3% of its Vitamin C. If you are exercising intensely, then you can double this loss assuming that your intake of Vitamin C is low. Vitamin C is a ‘first-line’ anti-oxidant acting as a ‘free radical scavenger’. In non-technical terms, this means that Vitamin C is an important nutrient that helps to protect cells from the damage caused by harmful substances (called ‘free radicals’). Vitamin C is also important for iron absorption, collagen repair, sleeping all night and it helps to make hormones too. The highest concentrations of collagen in the human body are found in tendons, skin, artery walls, the cornea in the eyes, the endomysium (this is the sheath which surrounds muscle fibres which gets tight as we lose oestrogen), cartilage and the organic part of bones and teeth.
Can you see where I am going here with your symptoms? Yes, your heart, gut, skin, muscles, tendons and eyes (especially if you are on your cell phone, computer or other technology every day) all need Vitamin C.
In recent years, there has been increasing public interest in plant antioxidants, thanks to the potential anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) and cardio-protective (heart protective) actions influenced by their biochemical properties. Vitamin C is well known as an important anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient. The pulp and juice from lemons and limes are rih sources of Vitamin C. So, not only are lemons an important source of Vitamin C, but so too are blood oranges. I first came across the literature on blood oranges when I read scientist, Helena Attlee’s book called ‘The Land Where Lemons Grow’. Travelling around Italy, she writes about the cultural and scientific interest in lemons, oranges and mandarins and relates this to numerous health benefits. Blood oranges are grown in Sicily in Italy, Spain and California (I haven’t been able to find them in New Zealand).
The red (or blood) orange (Citrus sinensis) is a pigmented sweet orange variety typical of eastern Sicily (southern Italy). Research supports their huge contribution to an anti-inflammatory and heart-protective as well as anti-cancer diet. Blood oranges help enzymes to fight harmful free-radicals in the body. It’s why women on my programmes know that one of the most important kitchen appliances or implements that they need in their kitchen is either a good quality juicer, or a hand-squuzed one instead.
If you look at the symptoms of lowered Vitamin C, you will see a host of issues from low energy, to easy bruising, to painful, swollen joints, to skin problems and more. All factors that get gathered up as ‘menopause symptoms’ and are then normalised within an ‘age-decline’ paradigm. But when you actually make the time to get the right nutrients into your body (and not necessarily from supplements), then surprisingly, many of these symptoms go away. Funny that.
It was a long time before anyone understood why lemon juice cured diseases such as scurvy. But as nutrition research expanded and the role of all the vitamins were discovered, it was assumed that the scurvy was cured when sailors had enough ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). The first clinical trials were undertaken on guinea pigs and in 1927, a Hungarian biochemist, isolated a compound called hexuronic acid and the guinea pigs fed this compound thrived, whilst the other group developed scurvy. The experiment demonstrated that yes indeed that the compound (now called Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C) in lemon juice was the key ingredient. So began a new understanding about Vitamin C and a Nobel Prize for the Hungarian biochemist for his work in 1937.
One of the greatest concerns that I have for women going into and through menopause is that we are being subjected to so many supplements that don’t necessarily get to the heart of our symptoms.
There are long traditions of healthy ageing in Mediterranean countries including the Blue Zone’s countries where some of the worlds healthiest and longest-living men and women live.
This is why I’ve based most of the information in the MyMT™ programmes in women’s healthy ageing research. In many countries where women live to a long age, and experience less cardiac, joint and immune health problems, there is a focus on growing citrus fruits such as lemon and orange trees. As such, research on citrus fruits has gathered momentum over the decades. It’s now well evidenced that Bergamot oil has antiseptic and anti-bacterial qualities and is also used as an anti-depressant. Lemons are also well evidenced as being great for heart and liver health too. I find it interesting that poor liver health, cardiac health, immune system concerns and depression are all recognised symptoms in menopause.
It’s really important that we all understand how to look after ourselves as we transition through this important life-stage. For many of us, it’s also time to turn-back-the clock and get our body feeling healthy again. It’s why I designed the powerful MyMT™ online programmes – my passion is to help women understand what to change with their lifestyles to match our changing hormonal environment in menopause. Too many other programmes are not focused on women at this life-stage. If you ever do come onto the programmes, then everything you learn will be specifically tailored to menopause. When you’re ready, I hope you can join me, oh and yes, you will be encouraged to increase your Vitamin C intake too.
- Attlee, H. (2014). The land where lemons grow. Penguin Books: London, UK
- Kato, Y., Domoto, T., Hiramitsu, M. et.al (2014). Effect of blood pressure on daily lemon ingestion and walking. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, Article ID 912684, 1-6
- Mann, J. & Trusswell, S. (2007). Essentials of Human Nutrition. Oxford University Press: London, UK
- Pullar, J., Carr, A. & Vissers, M. (2017). The roles of Vitamin C in skin health. Nutrients (9), 866, 1-27.