I had no idea that the legendary Queen of Rock, Tina Turner, had been through so many health problems. By the time I had read her autobiography, ‘Tina Turner – My Love Story’ I knew that despite ongoing health challenges with cancer, the interesting one (for me with my ‘menopause-hat’ on) was the high blood pressure that arrived in her 50’s. When discussing her need for a kidney transplant, she stated “I was already a high-risk patient but my risk escalated when tests showed that my heart had been damaged by so many years of high blood pressure: the muscle was enlarged and the vessels calcified.” [p. 262].
High blood pressure is known as hypertension and according to Google, it was the highest searched health term in 2018. I’m not surprised.
However, I’m curious as to how many of these ‘searches’ might have been conducted by women in menopause or post-menopause. Like my idol, Tina Turner, high blood pressure found it’s way to me in peri-menopause as well. It’s also why getting our blood pressure checked in mid-life is as important as brushing our teeth. As I hope many of you do too, I get my BP checked every year, especially now that I’m post-menopausal. It’s crucial that you do this too because for women in post-menopause, heart disease remains the number 1 health concern as they age in New Zealand, Australia, America and the UK. [WHO, 2017].
[Image Source: Researchgate]
It’s been Blood Pressure’ week in the MyMT coaching groups this week. I’ve talked about why our blood pressure goes up during our menopause transition and why it’s so important that we manage it. Because if we don’t, then our anxiety increases, our hot flushes rum rampant and our joints and muscles ache more too. If you haven’t had your blood pressure checked lately and you are going through menopause, then please make an appointment with your Doctor to have it checked. Hypertension (high blood pressure) isn’t called the ‘silent killer’ for nothing – Tina Turner realised this too late as well and says so in her book.
‘Heart disease in post-menopause remains the highest health risk for women as they age in most western countries. My curiosity was ‘why’?
The most important behavioural risk factors (i.e. not related to genetics or family history) of heart disease and stroke according to the World Health Organisation are:
- a diet high in processed foods and sugar.
- physical inactivity and/or excessive exercise.
- harmful use of alcohol.
The effects of these risk factors may also show up as raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, raised blood lipids, and becoming overweight and obese. But I think that the WHO are missing a piece of the puzzle here … and that’s the risk posed by not sleeping in menopause.
Have your hormonal changes in menopause affected your blood pressure too? Despite doing daily exercise and eating well? Yes, it was the same for me too. But the question is ‘why’?
After reading Tina Turner’s life story, I’m suspicious that her blood pressure began to change in her 50’s too. Which is surprising. After her battles with Ike, she didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs, took up practising Buddhist meditation and oh, how physically fit she must have been with her amazing dancing on stage night after night. She was never still on the stage. I saw her in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1997 and her energy levels were mind-blowing. Her heart as she aged should have been as strong as an ox. Putting genetics aside and her loss of kidney function, I searched for lifestyle reasons for her high blood pressure in her book. And yes, stress and not sleeping were mentioned as well.
Women’s health and ageing research is replete with cardiovascular disease studies. The declining health of our mother’s generation have paved the way for this type of research in older women. How people are ageing is also gaining more interest from policy makers and medical and healthy ageing researchers are discovering more about heart disease every year. For many women, menopause is the start of their changing heart health … but here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be this way.
High blood pressure and heart disease doesn’t have to become the inevitable pathway into older age. The Blue Zones research which looked at the world’s healthiest, oldest individuals is proof of this too.
But here’s the thing – menopause is the time of our lives when we are most at risk of high blood pressure and changing heart health and researchers now understand that our mid-life years are the time to change how we look after ourselves. It’s why I’m passionate about women changing their lifestyle during menopause to suit their changing hormonal environment. With women’s death rate from heart disease in America nearly eight times higher than death rates from cancer and New Zealand, Australia and the UK leading the world in heart disease incidence too, I knew that hormonal changes in menopause may also be involved.
When I studied the research on hypertension changes during menopause and post-menopause, to me there are three factors that may be being left out of the risk-factor conversations:
- Menopause related insomnia – when we don’t sleep we don’t heal and recover overnight. Tina Turner mentions being an insomniac in her book, staying up late and not falling asleep until the early hours. This is particularly concerning for women who are avid exercisers. As the first generation of women to go into menopause in the context of doing lots of exercise, if they aren’t sleeping then they aren’t improving their immune health overnight, nor are they burning fat.
- Stress – both emotional stress and oxidative stress. The research connecting these two types of stress to heart disease is well evidenced but not conclusive. One can only imagine the years of emotional stress that the incredible Tina suffered but one of the other issues that needs to be taken into account is the connection between not sleeping, high levels of physical activity and inflammation in joints, muscles (including cardiac muscle) and tissues. This leads to increased inflammation and what is known as ‘oxidative stress’, especially in the beautiful mitochondrial cells, which store our precious oxygen. When inflammation is high in the body, blood pressure can change too.
3. Vascular stiffness in blood vessels.
Menopause is the gateway to our biological ageing and as such, there are changes to our blood vessels and other organs too. In an age whereby media and pharmaceutical companies focus on marketing to promote anti-ageing, the salient point of our internal ageing gets forgotten. When menopause arrives, there are numerous structural changes that occur in our body, not just changes to our oestrogen and progesterone levels. This is an important point for regular exercisers. When we keep doing the exercise that we’ve always done, eating the way we have eaten for decades and living the life that we have lived, sometimes our body fights back – usually in the form if increasing inflammation. Part of this is due to vascular stiffness. The loss of elasticity means that for those who do lots of exercise, your inflammatory response kicks into gear and your legs can feel heavy, restless and aching.
These internal changes going on ‘inside’ our body are important for all of us to understand. It’s why I decided to only target women in their menopause transition with the design of the MyMT programmes – it’s no good for us to do other exercise or nutrition programmes that take a one-size-fits-all approach.
With vascular stiffness increasing our risk of cardiac disease as we age, one of the strategies that I promote in the MyMT programmes is to get women thinking about the magic of magnesium. This research wasn’t out when the beautiful Tina Turner would have been going through menopause. are to do with it’s one of the supplements that I recommend to women. Australia’s women’s health expert, Dr Sandra Cabot, values it as important too,
“To have a mineral found in nature, a mineral your body needs, a mineral that is easily and cheaply available (in pill or powder form) and known to be useful in treating or preventing dozens of medical conditions – to me, that sounds like a dream come true.” [Cabot, S. (2004). Magnesium the Miracle Mineral. SCB International Inc.
Why you may need Magnesium in Menopause:
Magnesium supplements have sky-rocketed over the past decade or so and heavily marketed to women in their menopause transition as the panacea for hot flushes, night sweats and other aches and pains. But there is another important role for magnesium in menopause too. And that is to help reduce our risk of heart disease and to regulate our blood pressure.
New research indicates that for women during menopause, magnesium is an important co-factor (helper) mineral for a number of enzyme functions that work specifically in cardiac mitochondria. And with my eye on our cardiac health as we age and go into post-menopause, there’s never been a better reason than menopause, to have a little re-think and focus on magnesium! In both of my 12 week online programmes, I have information on magnesium and lists of the top foods to include in our diet at this stage of life. It’s that important.
For women like Julie, who have been plagued with joint problems and fibro-myalgia in menopause, then magnesium is a really important mineral to focus on, as is it’s opposing partner, calcium. The two help to balance and restore muscle and nerve function in the body and help in a heap of other reactions in the body during menopause as well.
We need around 35omg daily as it is an ‘essential mineral’ which means we need it in our diet as our body doesn’t make it. With magnesium involved in more than 300 enzymatic reactions involving energy metabolism and blood pressure regulation, it is pretty important to our health and energy. For us girls going through menopause, it is also important for:
- helping hormones to bind to receptor cells
- the prevention of too much calcium getting into cells
- muscle contraction and nerve activity (along with calcium)
- control of blood vessel dilation and tone
- helping nerve impulses to pass through cardiac muscle.
But perhaps the most important issue, is that magnesium deficiency has been shown to play a role in inflammation and when our body is stressed (as it is when we aren’t sleeping in menopause), then magnesium deficiency also leads to an exaggerated response to even more stress, especially in our cells and tissues, through our nerve-hormonal pathways. This type of stress is called oxidative stress and makes our hot flushes, muscle and joint pain and weight gain become worse during menopause. It’s so great when women learn how to turn all this chaos around.
Why might we become low in magnesium?
There are several factors that can cause low magnesium. Top of my list, would be an unhealthy liver or gut. If we have inflammation in these organs, then any magnesium that we do have in our diet, cannot be absorbed properly.
Next on my list is too much exercise or every-day stress and rushing around. When this occurs and we are always in ‘fight or flight’ mode, then our lovely long vagus nerve is always stimulated. This increases gut motility or movement, and when this happens, again, the food passes through our gut too quickly, so absorption time is delayed. Studies have also shown that the quality of our food and food processing means that magnesium can be deficient in our diet, but alcohol can decrease magnesium uptake as can osteoporosis medication as well as poor water levels of magnesium.
Many women don’t have ideal gut health to absorb as much magnesium as their body needs and it’s why I include a GUT HEALTH REJUVENATION GUIDE to those women who join me on the MyMT programme.
The significance of magnesium and its relationship to the origin of life has been traced by researchers interested in the body’s dependence on it. In their 1999 review article on magnesium, Fawcett, Haxby & Male contend, “The importance of magnesium is derived from the composition of the earth’s crust (rich in iron–magnesium silicate) and the primeval ocean rich in magnesium, to the formation of chlorophyll with magnesium at the centre of the molecule, and finally to its incorporation into the animal cell containing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) with its dependence on magnesium. When magnesium levels get low, then we can experience leg cramps, increased muscle twitching and cardiac palpitations. With these all noted symptoms of menopause hormonal changes, then yes, maybe we do need to look at our magnesium levels every so often.
But what about calcium? Minerals always work in pairs, so do we also need extra calcium?
Magnesium and calcium work to balance and regulate each other in nerve, muscle, vascular (blood vessel) and cardiac function. I am really interested in calcium levels in menopausal women. Possibly more than magnesium to begin with. This is because calcium production in the body is controlled by the absorption of Vitamin D. And because we have oestrogen receptors in our skin cells, Vitamin D conversion from natural sunlight is often reduced. When Vitamin D is reduced, then so too is calcium production which occurs in the small para-thyroid glands which sit above the thyroid gland. This is why, when you look at magnesium, you cannot go past calcium! Both minerals help to regulate metabolism, weight, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle function and bone density. Therefore, if women are taking large amounts of magnesium as a supplement, then levels may become high in relation to calcium.
There are some great ways we can improve magnesium uptake during menopause:
1. Epsom Salts: Magnesium has been used as a therapeutic agent for hundreds of years and well before pharmaceutical companies sold magnesium to us in bottles! Magnesium-rich waters of Epsom Spa Town have been known to be beneficial ever since the 16th Century (this is where Epsom Salts were discovered). But there is also caution, because Epsom was also the site of our early knowledge about the dangers of too much magnesium, when in 1891, 4 ounces of Epsom Salts caused magnesium poisoning and complete muscular paralysis in a 35 year old woman.
2. Food Sources: If you want to use your diet to increase magnesium rather than supplements, then get more beans, nuts and whole grains into you.
For women on the MyMT programmes, I get them to increase their intake of organic brown rice, green leafy vegetables and they can also have bananas, dark chocolate and of course, a black coffee – all foods and drinks which are rich sources of magnesium and other healthy nutrients. If they have gut health problems, then they also work through my GUT REHAB plans which are included in the programme for women who need them.
3. Artesian Water: When I was in Switzerland earlier this year in the Swiss Alps (my son is on the New Zealand ski team), I couldn’t believe how nice the water tasted. Everywhere in the village were wells brimming over with glacial water coming down from the Swiss Alps. I discovered that the ‘magic’ of these waters lay in two minerals – calcium and magnesium. Further investigation and local knowledge led me to discover that just 1 litre of this beautiful alpine water delivers around 50% of the daily requirements of calcium and magnesium to drinkers. No wonder I was told that many locals live to a ripe old age!
Magnesium is a vital tool in our dietary tool-box as we transition through menopause as are most minerals and vitamins. But if we aren’t absorbing these nutrients then the priority is to turn around the gut, liver and cardiac inflammation that prevents magnificent magnesium from doing its job. I cover how to do this in my 12 week programmes too.
Sometimes we do need a boost from supplements, but other times we can get adequate amounts from improving our focus on the right foods at different life stages. One of the things that women love about the MyMT™ programmes [‘Circuit-Breaker’ and ‘Transform Me’] is that I’ve done all the research for them around what to eat and when. Every single women coming onto either of these programmes gets my FOOD GUIDE as well as dozens of RECIPES. As I say to each and every one of the MyMT™ Community,
“When it comes to our menopause transition, you don’t need a lot of food, just the right food. That includes the right food for your heart health as you transition menopause – this aspect of our nutrition as we age is being forgotten in a world of unhealthy and not-so-well evidenced dietary claims.”
[Dr Wendy Sweet, PhD/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine].
So, how are your symptoms going? Are you sleeping all night? Are your hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, cardiac palpitations, high blood pressure or joint pain getting you down?
Or is that weight stacking on and no amount of dieting or exercise is controlling it? If so, then will you join me to sort you out?
These programmes were created for the reduction of my own symptoms, including turning around my blood pressure and sleep, when endless supplements and hormone therapies didn’t work (Read my Story HERE),
Based on my women’s healthy ageing research, everything you learn, will simply, change your life. Each self-learning online programme is NZ$299 for 3 months access to your programme and my coaching. Part-payment options are available too, making this fabulous programme better suited to your budget.
Wendy Sweet, [PhD/ Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher and MyMT™ Coach/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine].
Fawcett, Haxby & Male (1999). Magnesium physiology & pharmacology.
DiNicolantonio, Liu et al. (2018). Magnesium for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. BMJ
Tina Turner: My Love Story. (2018). Century Press: London, UK