September 22, 2021
Women’s health in midlife
by Mona Jauhar RDN, LD
There is a lot playing on your mind and body as you navigate midlife. Women often wonder why their bodies suddenly bloat or why they gain more weight even though their lifestyle remains the same as they enter their 40s. It is because their bodies change every decade, and so do their nutritional needs and it is imperative to tweak the eating habits and diets accordingly. What you ate as a 20-year-old, you can’t be eating when you are 40. Contrary to what most middle aged women feel, they need to do more alterations at this juncture in life than slow down and take things easy. Midlife nutrition and exercise is extremely important.
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One of the most irksome challenges facing women in midlife is weight gain. The main reason for unwarranted weight gain post 40 is because the body is entering the “peri-menopausal” phase where it is producing less estrogen than it should. And due to a loss of estrogen, fat is metabolized differently in the body. This hormonal imbalance causes belly fat gain, bloating, water retention, joint aches, nutritional deficiencies, mood swings and more havoc for women. Also, the influx of too many medicines at this age changes the digestive bile and hence leads to bloating and heaviness in women. It is therefore a good idea to eat more functional foods and probiotics.
For decades, cardiovascular disease was considered a “man’s illness,” despite statistics that told a different story. As a result, women have been under-represented for years as subjects in clinical trials; subsequently, there is an overwhelming lack of scientific research that specifically targets the causes and symptoms of cardiovascular disease in women. A woman's symptoms are often different from a man's, and she's much more likely than a man to die within a year of having a heart attack. Women also don't seem to fare as well as men do after taking clot-busting drugs or undergoing certain heart-related medical procedures. Prevention is key here. Women have a good chance at being heart-healthy if they avoided smoking, stayed active, managed stress and maintained good cholesterol and BP.
The body becomes a voracious calcium burner in the 40s. It begins to absorb less and use more calcium. No wonder, bone density alarms women the most in this age. We see more and more women experiencing knee and hip replacements. What one needs is more ‘bioavailable’ calcium (calcium which is digested to the fullest and is transported to the right places) and this can come through the right food sources and supplements. Just as physical activity is important to maintain lean body mass, it’s also vital for preserving bone health. Weight-bearing exercises such as weight training and walking and resistance training are great.
Food sensitivities are fairly common in midlife. You suddenly find you are lactose or dairy-intolerant or wheat is not your cup of tea. This is because your body is changing faster than you think. Midlife brings changes in digestion, fluctuations in ovarian hormones, environmental toxic build up over the years and sluggish intestines. Figure out your food sensitivities and eat accordingly. Steer clear of highly processed food, trans fats and preservatives. Make your kitchen your pharmacy and choose more herbs, spices, fermented foods and probiotics.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. The condition will affect one in five women at some point in their lives, most commonly between ages 40 and 59. Women need to learn to talk about their feelings and ask for help. They also need to focus on brain nutrition for themselves. Incorporating clean sources of omega - 3’s, B Vitamins and adaptogenic herbs into their daily routine.
The changes that occur during this period, including changes in sexual well-being, are typically caused by a mix of both menopause and aging, as well as by typical midlife stresses and demands. This time in a woman's life is often full of other transitions—not just physical ones. Women may be caring for aging parents or relatives, supporting their children as they move into adulthood, or taking on new responsibilities at work. For many women the irregular menstrual periods of perimenopause are accompanied by hot flashes, trouble sleeping, and/or vaginal dryness. And it doesn’t end there. Post-menopausal women are more vulnerable to heart disease and osteoporosis. At this time, it is important to eat a high fiber and whole foods diet and make sure you get lots of calcium to keep your bones strong.