Menopause supplements research is a mixed bag
Marstons Mills resident Jody Graham recently lined up all of her supplements to try to figure out what she should be taking to benefit her health, now that she has gone through menopause. Her biggest concerns were making sure she had enough vitamin D and calcium, so she went online to find some answers. What she found just ended up confusing her more.
That isn’t surprising to Nina Nardello, DO, at Cape Obstetrics and Gynecology in Falmouth. She says a lot of the studies are contradictory for both supplements. The bottom line is that you can find studies saying they are good for women and you can find equally compelling studies saying they are not as beneficial.
“Right now I would recommend that your vitamin D level be at or above 30 (nanograms/milliliter) to try to ward off the potential for osteoporotic fractures, but the data is mixed,” she says. “As for calcium, we know that the majority of bone mass is formed when you are a child through your adolescent years. Probably 90 percent of bone mass is formed during that time of your life. So the calcium supplements might help a little, but I don’t know that it’s ever going to tip the scale one way or another.”
One of the best ways to ensure good bone heath is by doing weight-bearing exercises. Weight-bearing exercises include walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis and dancing. All of these activities force your body to work against gravity and that strengthens bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercises a day for optimal bone health.
A healthy diet is also important. Dairy products provide calcium and most of them are also fortified with Vitamin D. Fatty varieties of fish like salmon and sardines also contain both nutrients. Green leafy vegetables like collard greens, kale and turnip greens contain calcium and other bone heath nutrients like magnesium and potassium. Blueberries, olive oil, fish oil and flax seeds are also great for bone health.
“People who smoke cigarettes or drink too much alcohol are at higher risk for fractures,” Dr. Nardello says. “Unfortunately a lot of it just comes down to genetics and you are not going to be able to completely rid yourself of all the risk factors.”
Graham hesitates to stop taking calcium altogether, so she plans to take 600 to 800 milligrams a day. That amount is lower than the current recommendation for a post-menopausal woman with the beginning signs of osteoporosis, but makes her feel like she is doing something.
“I feel like another study will be done someday saying, ‘Oops, we were wrong – it really does help,’” she says. “As far as D goes, I will continue to take 1000 milligrams to offset the fact that I work inside all day and am subject to sunlight deprivation.”
For the other symptoms of menopause like hot flashes and anxiety, Dr. Nardello says she prescribes hormone therapy to help patients get through the hardest times. She also prescribes Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for those who can’t do hormone therapy.
“A lot of my patients have a significant contradiction to hormone therapy,” she says. “They are people who have blood clots, or breast cancer or who smoke.”
There is a caveat to both types of prescriptions though – they are only a short-term fix to help women over the hump.
“The motto for treating menopause patients usually is the lowest dose for the shortest time possible,” Dr. Nardello says. “Many patients don’t like to believe it, but you do have to go through some symptoms of menopause. But they don’t last forever.”