Why is it that suddenly we arrive in menopause and our body and health suddenly give up on us? Millions of women know the feeling of aching legs, sore joints and what’s up with our changing gut health? IBS you say? Maybe you’re gluten intolerant? Maybe this? Maybe that?
And what about your heart rate? Can you feel it when it’s elevated and you aren’t even exercising? Perhaps you feel more anxious when you’re lying in bed at night. Or you’re doing weight training or Boot Camps or Cross-fit and you just don’t seem to fire-up the way you used to, nor do you recover very well. You’re hobbling out of bed in the morning and suddenly, your knees ache and your arch of your foot starts to give you pain. Yes?
Then with the promise of mid-life nirvana, whereby all our aches and pains miraculously go away, we end up spending hundreds of dollars on supplements, specialists and various nutrition programmes. They don’t call us the ‘consumer generation’ for nothing. With our pantry starting to look like a health supplement shop, you think that the supplements work and many of them do … for a while
Many of my doctoral subjects were the same. Positioning their ‘healthy ageing’ in doing lots of high-intensity exercise, they spoke of sore joints, aching knees and various symptoms that no-one really identified with our mid-life hormonal changes. I was the same.
When my legs were aching, my joints were sore, my heart-rate was charged up and I had no energy, I was still doing lots of higher-intensity exercise. My pantry was also full of bottle of this and packets of that. All supplements that I was advised to take during menopause. But I didn’t need those supplements. My body needed something else. A beautiful nutrient that heals collagen and our internal cells and is powerful for reducing inflammation.
With a sluggish liver and a gut that was irritable all the time, I didn’t realise that my nutrient absorption may be lower than normal. But with my head buried in the women’s healthy ageing research and the plethora of research that pointed towards changing cardiac, gut and joint health during and after menopause, it made so much sense that we are too busy positioning menopause in ‘poor health’ as has been done for decades, but this is wrong. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Much of this research helped me to position menopause in ageing science instead. Afterall, menopause is the biological gateway to our ageing. It’s also the opposite life-stage of puberty. Think about it – and back then, we didn’t need supplements or hormone therapies did we?
As I gathered the research on why our symptoms and aches and pains overwhelm so many of us during our menopause transition, most roads took me towards inflammation.
I talk about this a lot in the MyMT programmes, because these programmes are focused on reducing inflammation that for many women, has been building up for decades. Menopause is a time that makes us vulnerable to increasing inflammation because many aren’t sleeping and are experiencing changes that occur in cells and tissues that are part of our natural biological ageing.
As such, we need to focus first on repairing gut health, joint health and reducing the build-up of inflammation in our changing blood vessels that are losing elasticity as we lose oestrogen in menopause.
With a lifetime of changes to our food production and with many of us having 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 and blood vessels matters. This is why we don’t need diets that are intended for younger people, males and athletes, as many of them are.
Whilst many of these internal changes are a normal part of our ageing, it led me towards thinking about internal inflammation and the powerful nutrients that we need in our day to day diet to reduce the effects of more rapid ageing.
One of the most important nutrients is Vitamin C. Another nutrient is iron. But not too much and not too little (and for those of you who produce too much iron, called Hereditary hemochromatosis, then yes, you need medical monitoring during menopause). In peri-menopause if you are still menstruating then your iron levels fluctuate each month, but as you move towards post-menopause, when your periods have ceased for a year or more, your iron needs differ.
Iron and Vitamin C are two nutrients that work together. When we experience cardiac palpitations and if we are experiencing heavy periods in peri-menopause, then iron or stored iron (ferritin) may be low. Iron can also be low if we do a lot of running or if we are stressed or have a lot of inflammation in our body. As such the ability for iron to bind to red blood cells and attach oxygen may be compromised as well. This is well known in female athletes who become anaemic. Their performance drops off and their heart rate increases and they become very fatigued. Sound familiar?
But back to Vitamin C. I’m in Switzerland for another few days and have been enjoying blood oranges. I can’t get these in New Zealand – or not that I know of. There’s a reason I’m having them. I’ve been skiing and hiking and 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’), including the damage caused from inflammation.
Vitamin C is also important for iron absorption, collagen repair 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. Your body needs Vitamin C to reduce inflammation.
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).
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.
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.
Whenever I travel and stay in places whereby I am away from my lovely Breville juicer at home, I buy a simple plastic lemon squeezer. You know, the type we all have in our cupboards. Whilst I’ve been here in Switzerland and skiing and hiking which stresses my joints, every day I have had a glass of blood orange juice with lemon juice in it too. This has been my morning drink. My joints have not been a problem at all and ‘touch-wood’ I haven’t had a cold either. But what’s more important to me, is that I haven’t had the horrendous heart palpitations nor sore joints that I was beset with a few years ago whilst on a skiing holiday. I now know how to manage vascular stiffness which is a normal part of our ageing and this is what I teach in my menopause symptom reduction programmes. The results are powerful and enable women to live more healthily as they age.
Increasing our resilience as we age, is all about turning around our symptoms in menopause or at least preventing the symptoms changing the course of our health as we age. I can’t emphasise this enough. Our cells are always turning over and with this in mind, over the 3 months that women are on the programme with me, I encourage them to change their lifestyle to enable their body to adjust to this life-stage and/or turn existing symptoms around.
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.
Are you hoping that your symptoms will miraculously go away?
Well, they may not.
In fact, if you aren’t sleeping, then they may get worse. Research changed my life and I want my programme to change yours too. At MyMT you join me on either or my 12 week programmes to turn around your symptoms and/or lose weight or to prevent symptoms occurring. The programmes are delivered in a progressive format and as you discover my powerful scientific strategies, you develop confidence and clarity in moving through or beyond this powerful life-stage. I focus you on healing from the inside-out so your symptoms don’t take over your life as they used to do in my life as well. Whatever you do or have to do in your day, you need energy, confidence and great health without any distractions about how you are coping.
So, how’s your heart health, sore muscles and gut health and other symptoms now that you are in menopause or post-menopause?
Dr Wendy Sweet, PhD/ MyMT Creator and Coach.
Buscemi, S., Arcolio, G. et al., (2012). Effects of red orange juice intake on endothelial function and inflammatory markers in adult subjects with increased cardiovascular risk. Am. J. of Clinical Nutrition, 95(5):1089-95.
Delanghe, J., Langlois, M., De Buyzere, M. et al (2011). Vitamin C deficiency: more than just a nutritional disorder. Genes Nutr., 6:341–346
Grosso, G., Galvano, F., Mistretta, F. et al.(2013). Red Orange: Epidemiological Evidence of Its Benefits on Human Health. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, ArticleID157240, 1-11.
Pullar, J., Carr A. & Vissers, M. (2017). The roles of Vitamin C in skin health. Nutrients, 9, 866; doi:10.3390/nu908086