We may be living in an era where health information is available on tap, and the wellness and healthy-living industry is worth multi-billions, but it’s still all too easy for certain needs to be overlooked.
Middle-age is one of those in-between stages that doesn’t always get as much attention as other age groups – and yet, for women especially, it can be a stage that’s full of change and challenges.
Noticed the term ‘midlife malnutrition’ cropping up lately? Of course, these ‘buzzwords’ do often need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but there’s no need to just ‘put up’ with niggles and dismiss them as being an inevitable part of ageing, when there might be simple solutions that could help.
We’ve asked some trusted experts for their insights:
Nutritional needs change as we age
“A balanced diet and exercise are the most important factors to staying healthy at any age, but around the perimenopause and thereafter, women have special nutritional needs,” says leading gynaecologist Dr Karen Morton, founder of the Dr Morton’s medical helpline.
“Periods often become chaotic as the ovaries stop making eggs rhythmically. Heavy blood loss can cause anaemia and iron deficiency. This is often neglected by women who are pulled from pillar to post with needy teenaged children and elderly parents, and often a fulltime job and demanding husband as well!”
Protect the immune system
This life phase can often be a time when many women are juggling multiple demands – their own children may be growing up and more independent, but many will be coping with the growing needs of elderly parents too, and possibly still holding down a job, and health psychologist Dr Megan Arroll agrees this can have an impact.
“Women in their 40s and 50s often having multiple caring responsibilities – not only children but elderly parents may need support, and often the burden falls to one family member. Research has shown that carers take longer to recover from viral infections and wounds,” says Arroll, “so it’s important to protect the immune system if you’re looking after others.”
Focus on bones
“Calcium (and vitamin D) is particularly important for women, especially as they approach menopause as this can lead to as much as 10% of bone loss, putting women at greater risk of osteoporosis,” says Rob Hobson, head of nutrition for Healthspan, who adds that – as with most age groups – it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement during winter months, when the lack of sunlight contributes to significant shortfalls in this nutrient in the UK.
“All postmenopausal women should take a vitamin D supplement in the winter months,” agrees Dr Morton. “And if they decide not to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), a boost in plant oestrogen with soya products and root vegetables will help keep bones strong and the vagina moist.”
Up your mood-boosting foods
Low vitamin D levels can also impact our moods and mental health; Hobson suggests getting “plenty of mood-boosting foods such as those rich in B vitamins, magnesium and omega 3”.
“If their diet is compromised in any way, or they feel they’re just not eating as well as they should, then an age-specific multivitamin and mineral is a good idea to bridge any gaps while they get their diet back on track,” he adds.
If you are concerned about nutritional deficiencies, or ongoing unexplained symptoms, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP, who can refer for blood tests to check. “Low magnesium levels can impact on mood and PMS,” adds Hobson.
Look at your face for changes
It’s natural that time takes its toll on our skin, resulting in fine lines, wrinkles and sometimes changes in pigmentation – but your complexion may reveal a lot about what’s going on inside too.
Low vitamin B2 can affect skin health, while cracked lips may be associated with a lack of vitamin B6.
Dry, tired-looking skin can result from poor vitamin A – also known as retinol, which plays a role in keeping skin youthful, and low levels of biotin and vitamin C may be linked to thinning hair. Collagen, of course, is also all-important for plump, youthful skin, and drops in oestrogen levels associated with menopause can impact collagen production."
“Taking isoflavone supplements and applying creams containing isolflavone can improve quality of skin, helping reduce wrinkles,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, GP and Healthspan medical director. Hobson adds that isoflavones can be useful for managing hot flushes too, but “are not advised for women with, or who have had, oestroegen-receptor-positive breast cancer”.
Evening primrose oil is a good source of the essential fatty acid GLA, notes Dr Brewer. “If your skin’s lacking in essential fatty acids, it becomes scaly, rough, itchy and prematurely wrinkled,” she says.
Don't forget your heart
Overall, heart disease rates are higher in men, but this balances out as women get older. In fact, coronary heart disease kills more than twice as many UK women than breast cancer, and symptoms of a heart attack can be very mild – some women may even experience ‘invisible’ heart attacks without realising.
“After the menopause, the risk of heart disease amongst women equals that of men,” says Hobson. “The advice here is just the usual heart health advice – [ensure you eat a] high-fibre diet, plenty of veggies and oily fish.” Potassium intake, from plenty of fresh fruit and veg, is important for fluid balance in the body and maintaining healthy blood pressure, notes Hobson.
How do you keep well in middle-age? Tell us in the comments box below