Menopause is the ceasing of menstrual cycles, marking the end of a woman's reproductive years. It is a natural part of aging caused by a decline of estrogen and progesterone.
Low levels of these hormones, estrogen especially, are mostly responsible for causing menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings. Menopausal women are also at risk for bone loss and osteoporosis, in turn increasing risks of falls and bone fractures.
What’s more, falls are the leading cause of home injury death. One out of every three seniors aged 65 and older fall each year, too. But bone loss can be combatted through adequate nutrient intake, including from vitamin D and calcium.
Being deficient in these vitamins is prevalent, though, including in menopausal women. Find out how much vitamin D and calcium is required during "the change" to preserve bone integrity and improve overall health.
Menopause Vitamin Deficiency
Calcium function is primarily to support bone health. However, calcium also plays vital roles in other systems such as cardiovascular, muscular central nervous, and urinary systems.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it is dissolved in fat and stored in the body's tissues. It is known for its large role in bone health but is a key player in further body processes. For instance, vitamin D also regulates cell growth and blood pressure, reduces inflammation, functions in neuromuscular and immune strength.
Though calcium is widely obtainable through food sources, calcium deficiency is common within the general public. A relatively high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. is common, too, especially in certain clinical subpopulations.
Older adults also tend to be more susceptible to calcium and vitamin D deficiencies. This may be the result of reduced appetite, oral intake, and altered nutrient utilization. With advancing age, the skin is also unable to produce vitamin D from sun exposure.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) suggests about one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. They further explain, "When a woman reaches menopause, her estrogen levels drop and can lead to bone loss. For some women, this bone loss is rapid and severe."
The NOF identifies two major factors that affect the chance of getting osteoporosis. These include:
• The amount of bone you have when reaching menopause: The greater the bone density to begin with, the lower the risk of developing osteoporosis. The risk becomes even greater if low bone density is paired with risk factors.
• How fast you lose bone after you reach menopause: Losing bone quickly increases osteoporosis risk. However, bone loss happens faster than for others for some women. In fact, a woman can lose up to 20 percent of bone density during the five to seven years following menopause!
How much vitamin D and calcium is required during menopause?
The average adult, aged 19 to 50, is recommended to 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily. And when it comes to vitamin D, adults aged 19 to 70 should obtain 600 international unit (IU).
But with aging and menopause, calcium and vitamin D requirements vary. Women aged 51 and older are encouraged to increase from 1,000 mg of calcium to 1,200 mg. Regarding vitamin D needs, seniors aged 71 and older are advised to 800 IU.
What are good sources of calcium and vitamin D?
Calcium and vitamin D can be obtained through various food sources. Each nutrient comes in supplemental form, too.
Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, are excellent sources of calcium. However, dairy is not the only source of calcium. Knowing non-dairy foods is especially important for those with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance. These sources include:
• Orange juice with added calcium
• Sesame seeds
• Whole grain cereals
• Oriental radishes
• Sardines with bone
• Unsweetened almond milk
• Mature soybeans
• Collard greens
Calcium absorption is achieved by the intake of calcium-containing products. But absorption can further be facilitated and enhanced by vitamin D. Interestingly, human skin can produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. But vitamin D is naturally supplied from a number of food sources, including:
• Beef liver
• Egg yolks
• Swiss cheese
• Cod liver oil
Like calcium, vitamin D can be added to foods. For instance, cereal, milk, yogurt, and orange juice are commonly fortified with vitamin D.
When it comes to calcium and vitamin D supplements, recommendations often vary based on age and gender. For instance, a review of calcium intake shows 1,200 mg calcium with 800 IU vitamin D best treats osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. However, that same review indicates adverse events are possibly influenced by supplementation. These include heart attack, constipation, and kidney stones.
Let it be known, though, health experts recognize the importance of calcium and vitamin D on bone and overall health. They also commonly agree people rely too much on supplements rather than focusing on diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors. Nutrition experts may recommend vitamin D and calcium from supplements if dietary intake of the nutrients are low.
American Bone Health also recommends the "calcium rule of 300" to help determine if a supplement is warranted. Ultimately, though, consult with a doctor to determine recommended daily nutrient requirements. A Registered Dietitian can also help create an individualized dietary plan to meet these individual needs.
Benefits of Calcium and Vitamin D During Menopause
While calcium and vitamin D mostly relate to bone health, the nutrients may offer additional benefits for certain health conditions. These include:
• Metabolic syndrome: The role of vitamin D in menopause may protect from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes when combined with estradiol. The research was published in Menopause, which is the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS). The data shows vitamin D was associated with a favorable lipid profile, blood pressure, and glucose level.
• Depression: Changes in mental health during menopause is at risk, though vitamin D may be helpful. According to the Vitamin D Council, low blood levels of the vitamin is linked to depressive symptoms. Giving vitamin D supplements may work for depression when someone has very low levels of vitamin D to begin with.
All-in-all, adequate calcium and vitamin D are important throughout the entire lifespan, including during menopause. Each plays a vital role in health and brings significant benefits even beyond bone health.