Merri Lu Park
Menopause brings a slew of physical changes—but that doesn't mean you are powerless to ease the process. Supporting your body with vitamins B and E can ease irritating symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, and vaginal dryness.
It's not surprising that as a woman's body changes, her dietary needs also change. Unfortunately, that isn't the focus of mainstream medicine. The National Institute on Aging includes menopause along with senile dementia and cerebrovascular diseases on its list of "diseases associated with aging." These attitudes are wrong! The discovery of estrogen and progesterone as the hormones produced by the ovaries came in 1923 and by the early 1930s synthetic estrogen was being produced. That was the beginning of estrogen "replacement" as a possibility for postmenopausal women who could now be treated for something they had "lost." Since the 1960s the medical term "estrogen deficiency" has been routinely used by physicians, drug companies and in the media, linking menopause in many people's minds with true deficiency diseases, such as diabetes, in which people are dependent on daily medication for the rest of their lives. This is a case of a product in search of a market. It is also a case of repeatedly connecting the idea of deficiency with menopausal women, creating a picture of them as inadequate, incomplete, lacking and defective. This makes no sense in the face of evidence that attention to nutrition can make the biggest difference in a woman's transition. Break the Menopause Myth The vitamins that make up the B complex play a key role in maintaining health during the menopausal years. They are necessary for strong adrenal glands, a healthy nervous system and the conversion of carbohydrates into the glucose we need for energy. Vitamin B, keeps the mucous membranes healthy, including those of the vagina. It is also an antioxidant, especially in collaboration with vitamin C. It helps alleviate memory loss, decreases sensitivity to noise, improves concentration, relieves depression and corrects loss of appetite. Good sources of Bx are whole cereals, beans, potatoes and nuts. B2 is responsible for the release and activity of a variety of hormones, including estrogen. It also helps keep skin, nails, and hair healthy. Good sources of B2 are milk and eggs. B12 lifts depression, reduces anxiety, helps decrease mood swings and eliminates fatigue. Vegetarian sources containing significant amounts of B12 include several seaweeds such as arame, wakame and nori, as well as pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, tamari, miso and B12-enriched soy products. Animal-derived sources include eggs, milk and fish. Food supplements rich in B12 are blue green algae, chlorella, barley green and spirulina. B6 (pyridoxine) is a natural diuretic which is effective in reducing water retention. It is useful to reduce bloating that can appear before your period. It helps prevent depression and promotes calm moods and restful sleep. It also interacts with estrogen in the body. This vitamin is found in most foods and a deficiency is fairly rare, however hormone therapy can deplete the body's levels of B6 and decreased levels can lead to depression. Niacin (vitamin B3) helps with the body's production of estrogen and other sex hormones. It reduces blood cholesterol, dilates blood vessels and is sometimes prescribed to prevent premenstrual headaches. It may improve insomnia, nervousness, confusion, anxiety, memory loss, irritability, apathy and depression. If you're using B vitamins to help prevent hot flashes, be sure to use the form of niacin called niacinamide. Other forms of niacin dilate the blood vessels, which can cause flushing and worsen hot flashes, rather than relieve them. Folic acid helps the body manufacture and use estrogen. It helps reduce forgetfulness, soothe irritability, correct insomnia and promotes the formation of healthy red blood cells, which is why a deficiency of this vitamin can lead to anemia. It may help prevent precancerous changes in the cervix. A deficiency of folic acid has been associated with depression. Sources of folic acid include green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans and peas. Enter a New Age With Ease One of the most important factors to consider is vitamin E. Research has shown that for 50 to 75 percent of women, vitamin E is the most practical and effective treatment for uncomfortable signs of menopause, especially hot flashes, but including nervousness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness and insomnia. Vitamin E contains small amounts of estrogen and is essential for the proper functioning of the blood and for the production of estrogen, which may explain why it helps decrease or eliminate hot flashes. Vitamin E has the ability to relieve vaginal dryness and painful intercourse. It also enhances oxygen utilization in the body and stimulates immunity against cancer of the cervix, breasts, lungs, skin, digestive tract and rectum, which alone are sufficient reasons to use it. The preferable formulation is the natural form of vitamin E, the d'alpha-tocopherol type, as this is at least 36 per cent more biologically potent than synthetic E (called dl-alpha). Dr Leslie Packer, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, states that synthetic E contains only one-eighth the amount of alpha-toco-pherol as natural vitamin E. When taking vitamin E, start with 200 to 400 IU daily and then gradually increase the dosage to 800 IU; 1,200 IU or 1,600 IU daily. It may take two to six weeks before you notice a difference, so give it time to work. Many doctors now recommend eliminating caffeine from your diet and taking 800 IU of vitamin E daily to reduce the condition known as fibrocystic breasts. Taking selenium, 200 meg daily, along with the vitamin E may enhance its effect on decreasing breast lumpiness. Another study stated that vitamin E, taken in doses of 100 IU or more a day, reduced heart disease by up to 66 percent. Vitamin E is found most abundantly in unprocessed vegetable oils, including sunflower, safflower, soybean and corn oil, nuts and seeds, leafy green vegetables, dried beans, whole grain cereals and breads and toasted wheat germ as well as in some fruits.