Although good nutrition in general is important for menopausal women, some vitamins and phytochemicals seem to be especially helpful.
Phytochemicals are health giving substances found in foods.(“Phyto” refers to “food.”)
Neither vitamins nor minerals, the phytochemicals are a remarkably large and diverse group of substances with a variety of duties in the body.
Let’s look at some of the nutrients and phytochemicals that may be recommended to help a woman deal with the symptoms of menopause.
- Vitamin E. We’ve known for decades that the antioxidant vitamin E can be helpful for menopausal women. In 1979, the effect of vitamin E on menopausal symptoms was studied on 66 women with “vasomotof’ difficulties (a dilating or “widening” of the blood vessels). They were given between 20 and 100 mg of vitamin E in the form of alpha tocopherolfor an average of 31 days each. As a result, 31 of the 66 reported “excellent” relief with another 16 enjoying “fair” benefits. When the women stopped taking the vitamin, their symptoms reappeared. Even more effective than vitamin E alone is a combination of vitamins E and C, plus calcium. Food sources of vitamin E include broccoli, nuts and tomatoes.
- Boron. Although most people are not aware that boron is found in food, this overlooked mineral can help to soften menopausal symptoms. Boron appears to work by increasing the levels of certain forms of estrogen. Some studies suggest that eating boron rich foods or taking boron supplements may raise estrogen levels as high as those found m women taking estrogen replacement therapy three or four apples a day or three to four ounces of peanuts may supply boron deficient women with all they need Boron is also found m pears, raisins, peaches, almonds, honey, peas, beans and lentils.
- Phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are estrogen-like compounds found in certain foods, such as soybeans and flaxseed. These phytoestrogens act like mild estrogenswithin the body, help mg to relieve many of the symptoms of menopause. In a 1990 study, 25 post menopausal women ranging in age from 51 to 70 had soy flour, red clover sprouts and linseed added to their diets for two weeks each. At the end of the six week period, laboratory examination of vaginal cells from the women showed an increase in estmgenic activity. The benefits quickly disappeared once the women went back to eating their regular diets.
- Bioflavonoids. Sometimes called “vitamin P,” the bioflavonoids give citrus fruits their orange and yellow colors. But they do more than that. It seems that some of them bear a structural resemblance to estradiol, a form of estrogen. The combined effects of bioflavonoids and vitamin C were tested on 94 women complaining of hot flashes. The bioflavonoid-vitamin C combination relieved the troublesome hot flashes in 53 percent of the women and lessened them in another 34 percent. There was, however, a mildly unpleasant perspiration odor.
- Tryptophan. This amino acid is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps to prevent depression. Although more study is needed, it appears that low levels of tryptophan in the blood are related to estrogen and to the depression some women face during menopause. If this theory is proven by further research, L-tryptophan may be used as natural antidepressant and mood modulator for menopausal women.Food sources of L-tryptophan include beef, pork, lamb, veal and cheese.
- Melatonin. A natural hormone produced by a part of the brain called the pined gland, melatonin helps us to sleep at night. In fact, the pineal gland releases melatonin only when it’s dark and no light is striking the retinas of the eyes. Its secretion is turned off by light.
- Other nutrients. Although they do not specifically relieve menopausal symptoms, several vitamins and minerals are very helpful in keeping a woman as strong and healthy as possible during what can be a difficult time of life. Chief among these are the 4 ACES: vitamin A in the form of beta carotene, vitamins C and E and the mineral selenium. (Beta carotene is the “plant” form of vitamin A, found especially in carrots and other yellow, orange and green vegetables.)