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Menopause and the Importance of Vitamin D

The many symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings that often accompany menopause can be extremely bothersome and disruptive, but they rarely pose a serious health risk. Yet there is one condition often diagnosed around the time of menopause that can be quite dangerous—osteoporosis. While many of you probably include calcium supplements in your daily ritual to protect your bones, are you also balancing it with vitamin D to ensure its absorption?

Osteoporosis and Menopause
The body of a woman who is going through menopause is producing less and less estrogen, which is the cause for most menopausal symptoms. The fluctuating hormone levels also interfere with bone formation. In basic terms, there are two types of cells that keep bones healthy. One type breaks down bone tissue, while the other forms new bone tissue. A decreased estrogen level slows tissue formation, leaving an imbalance between the construction and deconstruction processes.HFN 068 MenoVitaminD F17892319 As a result, bones slowly become thin and brittle over time. This process is referred to as osteoporosis.

As we age, bones become more vulnerable to fractures and breaks. Furthermore, with aging comes a decreasing ability of our bodies to heal themselves. Women who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis are at much greater risk for bone fractures and are generally prescribed prescription drugs that have their own side effects. To avoid problems associated with bone loss and with prescription drugs, we need to include proactive steps such as adequate nutrition, supplementation as needed, and weight-bearing exercises.

Vitamin D and Osteoporosis
There are many reasons to avoid a deficiency in vitamin D. In addition to helping fight osteoporosis, vitamin D also combats heart disease, depression, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and much more. When it comes to osteoporosis, vitamin D helps maintain hormonal balance and is an important part of the bone renewal process. It is also a vital component of an important steroid hormone produced by your body called calcitriol, which helps regulate the cell building and breakdown processes that take place within your body.

It's important to remember that in order for vitamin D to effectively aid in the bone renewal process, the body must also contain sufficient levels of calcium. Think of them as partners in your bones' health. There are brand-name calcium supplements on the market that include vitamin D in each dose.

Sources of Vitamin D
Since your body is unable to produce vitamin D on its own, it's necessary to identify and locate outside sources. One of the easiest and most enjoyable methods of getting your daily dose of vitamin D is by spending time in the sun. When UV-B rays make contact with your skin, your body actually begins to produce vitamin D. And yes, you can and should use sunscreen and will still get the benefit of vitamin D from being out in the sun. Darker skins need more time in the sun to absorb vitamin D, and deficiencies of this vitamin in this population can have serious health consequences.

If you don't like the sun or live in a region with long winters, vitamin D can be ingested and is found in a variety of different foods such as fatty fish (especially sockeye salmon and mackerel), egg yolks, dairy, organ meats like liver, and fortified foods such as milk, and some cereals, orange juice, and yogurts.. Cod liver oil has the highest level of vitamin D (1360 IU in 1 tablespoon). Be sure to take a good multivitamin every day to ensure that your body has the tools and minerals it needs to absorb any vitamin D that has been ingested.

Vitamin D Supplements: How Much?
Vitamin D can also be taken as a supplement, and is available in two different forms, D2 (ergocalciferol), and D3 (cholecalciferol). D3 is considered to be the more natural option; therefore it is widely believed that D3 is the wiser choice when it comes to vitamin D supplements. When sunlight makes contact with your skin, the body produces D3, which is also found in healthy, wild fish. Your body is better equipped to absorb D3, as well.

The current recommendation for women between the ages of 19 and 50 and also between 51 and 70 is the same: 1200 mg of calcium per day divided into two doses taken with food (600 mg at breakfast and dinner, for example), and 600 IU (15 mcg) per day of vitamin D.

Talk to Your Doctor
If you believe that you may be deficient in vitamin D or at risk for osteoporosis, consult your physician before taking any steps to boost your vitamin D. Your healthcare provider can prescribe the proper steps for getting the correct amount of this vitamin in your body, while avoiding some of the potential dangers, such as overexposure to the sun or inappropriate supplements. ♀

Resources for You: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitamind
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoporosis/DS00128/DSECTION=risk-factors
http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/diagnosis.asp
Also see HFN's article - The ABC's of Menopause

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