Dietary and Lifestyle Changes

Recommendations for dietary and lifestyle changes for women during menopause are a little different from that for women in general. Menopausal women need to eat less of foods that are high in iron. Because they are not menstruating, their requirement for iron is reduced, and is thus the same as for men, about 10 milligrams per day. This means that they need to cut down on red meat, organ meats such as liver and kidney, and other foods high in iron. If they are taking multivitamin and mineral supplements, ones with a low iron content are recommended.

Water intake is emphasized in older women and men, since the thirst sensation becomes dulled as people age. Six to eight glasses of fluid per day are recommended for this age group. Water, fruit juices, other nonalcoholic beverages, and fresh fruits can help provide variety in fluid intake. In addition, an increased consumption of legumes (e.g., dried chick peas, varieties of beans, lentils, soy and soy products) is recommended to provide phytoestrogens and isoflavones. There are other alternatives that are used by people around the world to reduce hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, including herbs such as ginseng, black cohash, kava, and wild yam. However, there has been little scientific data to determine the effectiveness and safety of these supplements.

Menopausal women need to decrease their intake of total fat, saturated fat, and total calories to balance their energy expenditure and prevent weight gain, which is sometimes associated with this period in a women's life. It is believed that, on average, women gain about 1.2 pounds a year, with most of the weight gain in the form of abdominal fat. A study done in the 1990s found that a modest weight reduction program in premenopausal women, including diet and exercise, produced modest weight loss and favorable blood lipid changes that lasted five years through the women's menopausal period. This study (Simkin-Silverman et al.) proved that weight gain during menopause is not only related to hormonal changes, but also to decreased level of physical activity.

A woman's intake of dietary fiber must be increased during menopause to prevent constipation. This objective can be accomplished by following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend consuming six servings of whole grains and cereals, three to five servings of vegetables, and two to four servings of fruit per day. Exercise is also very important for all older individuals. Thirty minutes of moderate daily exercise, such as speed walking, is recommended. Other exercises, such as flexibility and strength training to maintain lean muscle mass and bone density, can be very helpful if done two to three times a week. see also Women's Nutritional Issues.

Simin Vaghefi

Bibliography

Nelson, M. E.; Fiatrone, M. A.; Morganti, C. N. M.; et al. (1994). "Effects of High-Intensity Strength Training on Multiple Risk Factors for Osteoporotic Fractures." Journal of the American Medical Association 272:1909-1914.

Simkin-Silverman, L.; Wing, R. R.; Hansen, D. H.; et al. (1995). "Prevention of Cardiovascular Risk Factor Elevations in Healthy Premenopausal Women." Preventive Medicine 24:509-517.

Internet Resources

Women's Health Initiative. "Findings from the Women's Health Initiative." Available from <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/whi>

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