Vitamin D, which is important for our health, cannot strictly speaking be considered a micronutrient, because it’s only present in certain foods and is mainly produced by the body when the sun’s rays hit the skin. This substance has many important biological functions, including contributing to the proper functioning of the immune system. It’s also involved in the mechanisms that promote the absorption of calcium, one of the main building blocks of bones. That’s why, especially during menopause, when the risk of osteoporosis is highest, vitamin D can be an important ally for female health.

Vitamin D production in the skin is, however, significantly reduced with age and also during menopause, exposing women at this stage of life to the risk of vitamin deficiency.

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Menopause is an important stage in the life of every woman and can be experienced with great serenity, but also with stress due to the changes faced by the body.

Menopause proper is defined as one year after the disappearance of the menstrual cycle or spotting (small drops of blood). In the preceding period, which can last up to a few years (the perimenopause), certain complaints may herald the ongoing change, including:

  • Hot flashes
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Sleep disorders
  • Weight gain
  • Slow metabolism

In this phase of life, which begins on average around the age of 50 (before 45 it’s defined as early menopause), there’s a drastic reduction in the production of hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) by the ovaries; this, in addition to causing the disorders that characterise the early stages of menopause, over the years can be a risk factor.

Reduced hormone levels of oestrogen, in fact, may be associated with the risk of osteoporosis (a condition that predisposes to brittleness and weakening of the bones) and osteopoenia (i.e. loss of bone mineral density, leading to an increased risk of fracture).

The arrival of menopause can therefore be an opportunity to adopt a healthier and more active lifestyle in order to lower the modifiable risk factors for these diseases. Experts agree that proper eating habits (ensuring adequate nutrient content such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins), movement and exercise, as well as eliminating cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, can help manage some of the disorders of menopause.

Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the gut and for maintaining normal blood calcium levels. Vitamin D is also important for bone health, which in menopause and post-menopause can be a problem. In fact, bone tissue is constantly repairing and renewing itself, in a process called remodelling, which involves the production of new cells and the reabsorption of older ones. With advancing age, and particularly in women during menopause, this process slows down: bone density can decrease at a rapid rate, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Among the risk factors of osteoporosis, in addition to age and menopause, we should also consider the intake of an inadequate amount of calcium and an insufficient intake of vitamin D: if calcium in the bones is essential for its mineralisation, vitamin D is important so that this mineral can be absorbed and used by the body. Many studies document that in elderly women and men, vitamin D and calcium supplementation is important for preserving bone mineral density.

In addition, bone health also depends on the support of the muscular system.

To maintain healthy bones and muscles, menopausal women are advised to eat a balanced diet with sources of calcium and vitamin D, exercise to maintain adequate muscle strength, and ensure exposure to sunlight for an adequate amount of time to promote the synthesis of vitamin D3 (or cholecalciferol).

According to experts, exposure to the sun can vary the amount of vitamin D produced by our body: exposure to sunlight of the face, arms, legs or back, is sufficient to produce about 80% of the requirement of vitamin D that, once synthesised, is stored in the body to be used when needed. The remaining 20% should be taken through the diet.

There are many factors that affect the amount of vitamin D synthesised in the skin: latitude, season, ozone layer and clouds (which partially absorb UVB rays), surface characteristics (which reflect ultraviolet), time spent outdoors, use of sunscreen, skin colour and age.

Regarding dietary intake, food sources of this vitamin are mainly fatty fish (such as herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, tuna), liver, egg yolk and mushrooms. Fish liver oils, particularly cod liver oil, are rich in it.

Contrary to what many people think, milk and dairy products contain modest amounts of vitamin D, unless they are fortified foods, i.e. where vitamin D has been added during processing.

Once taken with food, vitamin D is absorbed in the gut, in the small intestine.

In a delicate phase like the menopause, taking supplements to compensate for vitamin D deficiency may be indicated. It is, however, always necessary to discuss this possibility with your GP or gynaecology specialist.

Mediterranean diet

Outdoor Physical Activity

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