It’s not often a week goes by when I don’t receive messages and emails from women who are curious to know if their sore joints and aching muscles are anything to do with menopause. It’s the same when women come to my live-events. When I ask who has sore joints and muscles, many hands shoot straight up. Nearly all of them have never identified their sore joints, aching muscles and restless legs as a symptom of menopause. As I didn’t either.
That’s why I have some questions for you.
- Is joint and muscle pain affecting your ability to exercise?
- Are you going through or have you been through menopause?
- Are you experiencing joint pain for the first time since menopause?
- Or has your joint and/or muscle pain increased since menopause?
If you answered yes to these questions, you’re not alone.
When I reached my early 50’s, my joints began to ache. I thought it was due to weight gain and years of high-impact exercise- running, taking aerobic classes and doing lots of squats in all the BodyPump exercise classes that began in the late 1990’s. When my knees started to ache as I arrived in my early 50’s, my ‘past exercise life’ flashed through my mind! It’s the same for so many women who arrive in menopause and have been regular exercisers such as ex-professional ballerina, Andrea from Australia.
As the first generation of women to enter our menopause transition in the context of all the exercise we have done over the past few decades, the ‘wear and tear theory’ of ageing matters. However, there’s something else as well. Our oestrogen levels declining during menopause cause our joints to change in lubrication, so for those of you, who have exercised regularly in the past, then your changing hormones in menopause can be a double-whammy leading to greater inflammation in your joints and muscles.
When I began to look at Theories on Ageing as part of my doctoral studies, I realised that I needed to look through the ‘wear and tear’ lens. The wear and tear theory of ageing was first introduced in 1882, by Dr August Weismann, a German biologist. He believed that cells and tissues have vital parts that wear out resulting in more rapid ageing from the accumulation of inflammation. Like components of an ageing car, parts of the body eventually wear out from repeated use. Scientists now know that there is some basis to this theory, which is why it’s important we look after our bodies and reduce inflammation as we move through menopause. This is particularly so for those of you who are already regular exercisers and want to continue because increased wear and tear on your joints also clashes with your declining oestrogen levels.
As I often mention to women in my seminars or in my blogs, ‘menopause’ itself is not the issue with our symptoms. This is a natural stage of life that all women go through. But because we are moving through menopause, this makes us more vulnerable to increased inflammation, which can arise from the lifestyle that we have enjoyed over the years. If we don’t adapt to our changing hormonal environment, then our body can go into ‘distress’ – cortisol levels rise and symptoms feel worse. Hence, our Menopause transition is the time to increase nutrients that heal and restore our joints, improve our sleep and reduce other symptoms that might be preventing us leading the life we want to lead.
Oestrogen plays an important role in our joint and muscle health …
It was when I was teaching exercise and sports science students the role of oestrogen in female athlete knee injuries that I had my ‘lightbulb moment’. If oestrogen is important for joint stability and nutrition in female athlete ligaments and tendons, especially the knee tendon, then what happens when we lose oestrogen? This was my curiosity.
Oestrogen is essential for our joints and muscles, because its role is to protect and stabilise membranes. For those of us going through menopause, the role of oestrogen is even more important. As a fat-soluble hormone, oestrogen helps to strengthen the cell membrane and in so doing, it assists as an antioxidant.
Oestrogen has a role to play in cell turn-over and healing of our joints, so we need to think about what happens when we don’t produce as much oestrogen once we reach menopause. This is why getting the right nutrients during menopause is so important as is sleeping, which is when our body heals and repairs. As I often say to women at my live events, before embarking on too much exercise, it’s important to reduce inflammation by learning to:
- Sleep all night again
- Have specific nutrients that support joint health.
This is why I want to share with you the powerful nutrient your joints will love!
Olive oil, Inflammation and Joint Health – the powerful connection
Whenever I receive health screening forms in my in-box from women who sign up to the MyMT™ programmes, I look carefully to see if they have ticked the box indicating they are experiencing joint pain which has come on since they reached menopause. The majority of women tick that box. When I ask what their doctor or physio has said about their joint pain, invariably their response is ‘they can’t find anything wrong.’
Through my women’s healthy ageing studies, I discovered the incredible role that olive oil has in reducing inflammation in the body as we age. I encourage the use of omega 3-rich olive oil and discourage the popular dietary emphasis on coconut fats and various cooking oils, which have not been researched specifically against our need to improve joint health in menopause.
Nutrients for reducing inflammation in your joints come from olive oil – especially the nutrients oleocanthal and vitamin E. According to Australia’s Olive Wellness Institute, adding olives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil to the diet is crucial to reducing joint pain and improving cardiac health as we age.
Olive oil contains tocopherol (vitamin E); coconut oil doesn’t. Tocopherol or vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant necessary for hormonal and joint health during our menopause transition. Vitamin E is unique among vitamins because the biological activity of it varies considerably and for its adequate absorption, it requires fat digestion to be functioning normally. The recommended daily intake from the FDA in America is 15mg daily but in New Zealand the recommended daily intake is 7-10mg, so take your pick! I recommend olive oil on the MyMT™ programmes as this has around 1.5 mg of vitamin E per tablespoon. Avocadoes, almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts are high in vitamin E, as is kumara (sweet potato):
“Evidence from randomised controlled trials shows olive oil exerts beneficial effects on markers of inflammation and endothelial function.” [Schwingshackl et al., 2015].
From ‘struggle street’ to ‘marathon feet’!
If you are struggling with your changing health in menopause, then please join me on one of the MyMT™ progammes. Kaye did too. When she came into my Transform Me programme she was tired, sore and overweight. I don’t have a lot of exercise in the foundation programmes, because women must turn around their symptoms first.
So how amazed was I to get the photo of Kaye below, doing her first ever marathon, a year on from MyMT™! I love this image of her below – it was only just over a year ago that she was so troubled with insomnia, weight gain, sore joints and aching muscles when she went into menopause. Now look at her! She sent me this image and I was amazed that she had just completed her first-ever marathon!
There is so much information about how to look after our health these days, but as I discovered too, very little of it is supported by research specific to menopause. With menopause heralding the gateway to your biological ageing, it’s time to look after yourself and ensure that your joints stay working for you, because we all need to remain as active as we can as we get older.
Dr Wendy Sweet [PhD/ MyMT™ Founder & Coach
NB: If you do have joint pain that is causing you increasing pain or discomfort, I encourage you to get it checked out with your physio or medical provider as well.
During lockdown here in New Zealand, I put the module called ‘Restore your Joyful Joints’ online and it is now available separately from my 12 week programme. If you don’t want to join me on the longer programme, then please explore this stand-alone module. You can read about it HERE.
Normally these three programmes are available for NZ$299 each but as my way to support each and every one of you during your own personal lock-down all programmes are now NZ$50 off so that’s NZ$249 or 3 payments of NZ$88.33 each (AU$235 or £130 – exchange rate may differ on the day). Please use the promo code ATHOME20 on purchase.
Start small and come on board into my RESTORE YOUR JOYFUL JOINTS stand-alone Module. This is NZ$49.95 (approx. AU$47 or UK£26). You can purchase this mini-programme separately from the 12 week programmes and during Covid-19, I have teamed it up with my foundation exercise module called ‘Fitness Foundations’. This is a great module to do to understand the changes that occur in our muscles as part of our menopause transition and my aim is to get you enjoying staying active with my 12 week walking programme which you can download as well.
- Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage and the Protective role of Estrogen. Sports Med.2002, 32(2), 103-123]
- Schwingshackl, L., M. Christoph, and G. Hoffmann (2015). Effects of Olive Oil on Markers of Inflammation and Endothelial Function-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 7(9): p. 7651-75.