Menopause and the need for Vitamin D
The hormonal changes brought about by the transition to menopause culminate in a whole host of symptoms, some baffling, some uncomfortable and some extremely distressing. A woman’s ability to navigate the ups and downs of the menopause depends on many factors, but what’s clear is that women who focus on healthy diet and lifestyle choices during their 40’s are more likely to experience a milder, shorter and more manageable menopause. Others may experience a much longer and more troublesome menopause that interferes with daily life.
Hormone therapy can be invaluable, but what else can be done? Positive dietary choices and lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, stress management and adequate sleep can make a significant difference to the quality of life at menopause. There are numerous supplements that can also be hugely beneficial and one of these is vitamin D.
THE VITAMIN D – MENOPAUSE CONNECTION
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, but functions more like a hormone and influences a broad range of metabolic, cellular and physical functions. It is normally produced by skin cells when exposed to sunlight, which decreases considerably during the winter months. Studies show that between 50% to 80% of postmenopausal women are deficient in vitamin D. 7
There are vitamin D receptors present on many cells and tissues in the body including the reproductive organs, which is why some scientists suggest there may be a connection between vitamin D levels and hormonal changes in menopause. 7 According to research, vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk of menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, poor sleep, depression and sexual function.1
How vitamin D influences the production and balance of sex hormones is not yet clear, but this is an important area of ongoing research.8Meanwhile, vitamin D offers numerous health benefits for women experiencing menopausal symptoms and should be an important consideration for remaining strong, healthy and positive.
But what is the best vitamin D for menopause? To effectively top up your vitamin D levels it’s best to opt for vitamin D3,studies show that this form is more effective at raising blood levels than vitamin D2.Choosing an oral spray maximises absorption by delivering the vitamin D rapidly through soft tissues in the mouth directly to the bloodstream.
WHAT CHANGES CAN YOU EXPECT AT MENOPAUSE?
The menopause commonly affects women between the age of 45 and 52, but it can be earlier or later. Menopause is considered to have occurred when a whole year has passed without menstruation. Alterations in the key sex hormones, progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone, but particularly oestrogens are responsible for many of the symptom’s women experience. When oestrogen levels are out of kilter the effects can be quite noticeable.
In the run up to menopause (peri-menopause) there can be a variety of symptoms associated with fluctuating hormones, such as hot flushes, night sweats, poor sleep, mood swings and aching joints. For many women these symptoms may improve over time as the body adjusts to the new hormone balance. Whilst some of the most bothersome symptoms tend to diminish post-menopause some are more persistent and other changes can result in long term health issues. Generally, the biggest worries are:
- Reduced bone strength
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Low mood & anxiety
HOW IS VITAMIN D BENEFICIAL FOR ALLEVIATING MENOPAUSAL SYMPTOMS?
Raising your vitamin D levels could be your secret weapon for managing menopause symptoms. Although it can’t be expected to resolve every symptom there are several situations where supplementing can have a significant impact:
REDUCED BONE STRENGTH
It’s widely acknowledged that vitamin D is particularly important for the bone health of women post menopause. One of the most serious changes that a decline in oestrogen causes is a decrease in bone mineral density and elevated fracture risk. 6
Vitamin D is known for its contribution to the absorption and utilisation of calcium to maintain normal healthy bones. These benefits have been demonstrated in an 18-year study of 72,337 postmenopausal women, which identified that adequate vitamin D intake was associated with a reduced risk of osteoporotic hip fracture. 7
Teaming up vitamin K with vitamin D is also highly recommended as vitamin K is another bone friendly nutrient, that contributes to the maintenance of normal bones.
One of the most frustrating symptoms of menopause for many women is the gradual increase in weight and the subsequent difficulty in losing it. Hormone changes are at the heart of this issue and are tricky to remedy.
The natural decline in oestrogen at menopause has an impact on muscles throughout the whole body. It causes increases in fat mass, decreases in muscle mass and strength and bone mass density, and inevitably leads to weight gain.
Maintaining lean muscle mass is one way of keeping weight gain to a minimum and this can be achieved in different ways. Research has highlighted the significant importance of physical activity in maintaining muscle mass post-menopause,5but supplementing with vitamin D may double up on those benefits.
New data demonstrates that vitamin D has an important role in the maintenance of muscle function and could help to reduce the loss of muscle mass and strength.4 What’s more, evidence suggests that women who are overweight tend to have lower levels of vitamin D, although it’s not clear why. 10
Aside from the obvious facial and external bodily skin differences at menopause, there may also be noticeable changes in the delicate tissue in the inner lining of the vagina and urinary tract, which is where high concentrations of oestrogen receptors are found. 9
Alterations in the fine balance of hormones can affect the mucus membranes of the vagina and vulva lessening the amount of lubrication in these areas, culminating in uncomfortable dryness, burning, itching and pain.
Because vitamin D has a role in the process of cell division, it may influence proliferation and repair of the mucosal tissues lining the vagina. This delicate area is adversely affected due to low oestrogen levels and up to 40% of post-menopausal women experience vaginal health problems. 7 How vitamin D is implicated is a growing area of research.
The authors of one study sought to evaluate whether vitamin D could be used for restoring vaginal health and relieving post-menopausal vaginal discomfort.2 Results from the study were very encouraging and have led to further research.
LOW MOOD AND ANXIETY
Women after menopause have a higher risk of developing mood disorders and anxiety and may benefit from raising their vitamin D levels, which are found to be low in depressed people. 7Research suggests thatVitamin D helps to regulate serotonin production – a compound that is involved in mood and motivation. 3 Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is important for helping to support your mental wellbeing post menopause.
Written by: Jacqueline Newson BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy
Anagnostis P, Livadas S, Goulis DG, et al. EMAS position statement: Vitamin D and menopausal health [published online ahead of print, 2022 Dec 21]. Maturitas. 2022;169:2-9. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2022.12.006.
Basak Yildirim, Babur Kaleli, Ender Düzcan, Oya Topuz. The effects of postmenopausal Vitamin D treatment on vaginal atrophy. Maturitas 2004; 49,4:334-337.
Ceolin G, Mano GPR, Hames NS, Antunes LC, Brietzke E, Rieger DK and Moreira JD (2021) Vitamin D, Depressive Symptoms, and Covid-19 Pandemic. Front. Neurosci. 15:670879. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2021.670879.
Desroches J, Dionne IJ, Maltais ML. Changes in muscle mass and strength after menopause. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact 2009; 9(4):186-197.
Juppi H-K, Sipilä S, Cronin NJ, Karvinen S, Karppinen JE, Tammelin TH, Aukee P, Kovanen V, Kujala UM, Laakkonen EK. Role of Menopausal Transition and Physical Activity in Loss of Lean and Muscle Mass: A Follow-Up Study in Middle-Aged Finnish Women. Journal of Clinical Medicine. 2020; 9(5):1588. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9051588.
Lerchbaum E. Vitamin D and menopause – A narrative review. Maturitas 2014; 79,1:3-7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.06.003.
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Raine-Fenning et al. Skin Aging and Menopause. Am J Clin Dermatol 2003; 4 (6):371-378.
Vanlint S. Vitamin D and Obesity. Nutrients. 2013; 5(3):949-956. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5030949.