How menopause affects the body
Menopause is a fact of life for many women. It occurs when women stop menstruating. The time before menopause when women gradually produce less estrogen is called perimenopause. As women transition from perimenopause into menopause they may experience:
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness
- night sweats
- weight gain
- mood swings
- changes in libido
Some women go through the menopause and experience only minor symptoms. Others experience severe symptoms. Some vitamins may help ease menopause symptoms and support overall health.
As estrogen levels in the body decrease, your risk of developing some conditions increases. This includes:
- heart disease
- urinary incontinence
Here are five vitamins that help minimize the symptoms of low estrogen.
Option #1: Vitamin A
Vitamin A is the name for a group of compounds called retinoids. Preformed vitamin A, also known as retinol, is stored in your liver. Too much may be toxic. You get preformed vitamin A when you eat animal products, fortified foods, or when you take vitamin A supplements. You also get vitamin A when you eat fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A as needed.
Vitamin A is necessary for healthy bones, however, taking vitamin A during menopause is controversial. A 2002 study linked high levels of preformed vitamin A with hip fractures in postmenopausal women. This led some to question whether vitamin A is actually good for your bones. Later studies were mixed, so it’s unclear how much preformed vitamin A may increase bone fracture risk.
Vitamin A obtained from beta-carotene doesn’t appear to increase bone fracture risk. It may help maintain bone health after menopause. You can help get the vitamin A you need from beta carotene by eating orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. If you take vitamin A supplements, don’t take more than the daily recommended value of 5,000 IU. You should find a supplement that has at least 20 percent vitamin A from beta-carotene.
Option #2: Vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 is a water-soluble vitamin found in many foods. It’s necessary for:
- bone health
- DNA production
- neurological function
- creating red blood cells
As you age, your body loses some of its ability to absorb vitamin B-12 and your risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency increases. Symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency are vague and can include:
- loss of appetite
- numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- balance problems
In its later stages, vitamin B-12 deficiency may cause anemia. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin B-12 is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) daily for females 14 and older. You can help meet this requirement during and after menopause by taking a vitamin B-12 supplement and eating fortified foods.
Option #3: Vitamin B-6
Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) helps make serotonin, a chemical responsible for transmitting brain signals. As women age, serotonin levels drop. Fluctuating serotonin levels may be a contributing factor in the mood swings and depression common in menopause.
The RDA of vitamin B-6 is 100 milligrams (mg) daily for females 19 and older. Taking a vitamin B-6 supplement during and after menopause may help tame prevent symptoms caused by low serotonin levels. These include loss of energy and depression.
Option #4: Vitamin D
Your body makes vitamin D after being exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency may increase your risk of bone fractures, bone pain, and osteomalacia (softening of the bones). Older women, especially those who are homebound or not exposed to sunlight, are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Women ages 19 to 50 should get 15 mcg (600 IU) vitamin D daily; women over 50 should get 20 mcg (800 IU). Although it’s possible to do this with a diet rich in vitamin D, it may be best to take a supplement. This will ensure that you’re getting the appropriate amount each day.
Foods that contain vitamin D include:
- fatty fish
- fish liver oils
- beef liver
- egg yolks
- fortified foods
Option #5: Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps fight cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Vitamin E may also help reduce inflammation in the body. Stress may cause cell damage and increase your risk of:
- heart disease
- weight gain
These are conditions common to menopause.
Research has shown vitamin E helps ease stress, reduces oxidative stress, and may help reduce your risk of depression. To increase vitamin E during and after menopause, take a vitamin E supplement and add foods rich in vitamin E to your diet. Aim for at least 15 mg daily.
Some foods that contain vitamin E are:
- wheat germ
- sunflower seeds
Risks and warnings
High amounts of vitamin A may cause toxicity. People with liver disease or who drink a lot of alcohol shouldn’t take vitamin A supplements. Vitamin A may cause low blood pressure. Don’t take vitamin A if you have low blood pressure or take medications that lower blood pressure.
Use vitamin A with caution if you:
- take oral contraceptives
- tetracycline antibiotics
- take anticancer agents
- have poor fat absorption
- take blood-thinners or medications that affect bleeding or clotting
Vitamin E should be used with caution in people with:
- Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline
- eye damage
- kidney problems
- heart problems
- skin conditions
Vitamin D, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12 may impact blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Use them with caution if you have diabetes, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, or if you take medications that affect blood sugar and blood pressure.
Vitamin B-6 may increase your risk of bleeding. Use it with caution if you have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners.
Use vitamin B-12 with caution if you have:
- heart problems
- high blood pressure
- cancer, or a history of cancer
- skin problems
- gastrointestinal problems
- low potassium
Many common over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs may interact with vitamins. If you take medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist about potential interactions before taking vitamins.
The bottom line
There are things you can do to make the menopause transition easier. For example, staying physically active, managing stress, and getting enough sleep can all be beneficial. You should also avoid processed foods. Instead, opt for nutrient-dense foods such as:
- whole grains
- healthy fats
Talk to your doctor about any menopause concerns you have. They can help you decide if taking vitamins for menopause may benefit you.