Is Nutrition The Same For Everyone?
Nutrition is a tricky business. The human body requires many different nutrients to help regulate all of its systems, and nutritional deficiencies are more common than you may think. Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) is a nutritional recommendation system set by the Institute of Medicine in the United States. These recommended dietary intake values are determined based on the average diet composition and biological needs of a group of people within a specific age group.
However, do these recommended daily values represent the needs of all people? Not necessarily. These intake values are determined using average health parameters, which means that individuals with certain underlying conditions or inherited genetics may need to consume more of certain nutrients than the recommended daily value.
So, how can you better serve your nutritional needs, especially as you go through menopause?
Identify Any Underlying Conditions
Certain pre-existing conditions can contribute to nutritional deficiencies. Many auto-immune disorders have an effect on the body’s ability to absorb and regulate certain nutrients and are in turn, affected by a lack of nutritional value in an individual’s diet. Some of these autoimmune conditions include different types of anemia, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Celiac disease, and even psoriasis (among many others).
Identifying any pre-existing conditions is essential to helping support proper nutrient absorption and maintaining the body’s overall health. Many autoimmune conditions interfere with the immune response in the gut, which can cause a variety of regulatory issues. Some autoimmune disorders affect the body’s ability to release certain enzymes that help gut bacteria absorb nutrients from food. Other autoimmune disorders may affect the workings of tissue cells in the digestive tract.
If you’re unsure if you have a pre-existing condition, you should make an appointment with your general care provider to run a few tests. Full blood-panel tests can collect data on the levels of nutrients currently in the bloodstream.
Take A Close Look at Medications
Some medications can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Depending on the type of medication, the dose, and the frequency they’re taken, medications can interfere with the absorption of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that help regulate bone health, brain health, heart health, and more.
What medications can cause issues with nutrient absorption? Some medications include things as simple as antacid tablets. Antacid tablets are designed to help reduce the buildup of stomach acid that causes acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion. However, this can be a double-edged sword as the body needs to produce enough stomach acid to help dissolve foods and give gut bacteria the easiest opportunity to gain nutrients from food particles to pass into the bloodstream. Taking high quantities of antacid tablets can change the pH of stomach acid, making stomach acid more basic and less acidic in nature. This can make it more difficult for the stomach to break down foods, and end up passing more nutrients out through waste than absorbing them into the bloodstream.
Antibiotics are also another type of medication that can cause nutritional deficiencies. Antibiotics can destroy large numbers of beneficial gut bacteria that populate the gut microbiome. Without enough of these beneficial bacterial strains in the gut, the body can’t effectively absorb nutrients from food. Antibiotics can disrupt to absorption of dozens of nutrients like Vitamin K, the B-vitamin complex, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and many more essential vitamins and minerals.
Support Nutritional Needs in Menopause
Menopause fundamentally changes how your body regulates itself. The result is your body becomes more dependent on proper nutrition than ever. How can you support your body’s nutritional needs as you go through menopause?
A crucial step in proper nutrition is a healthy diet. As women age and progress through menopause, diet has to shift to meet the body’s new nutritional needs. Women over 50 may find that they have to change their diets more aggressively in order to meet their body’s nutritional needs.
Both men and women require certain foods to help support a well-rounded diet and get the best nutrition. These include things like proteins (meat, fish, dairy, beans, and nuts), carbohydrates (whole grains), healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and water. By consuming appropriate amounts of each of these different food types, women can help prevent the development of diseases like osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers.
But what nutrients do women of menopausal age need the most?
Essential Vitamins and Minerals Include:
- B-Vitamin Complex
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin A
If you can’t get these essential vitamins and minerals through food, you can get them through dietary supplements. Dietary supplements are made to supply the body with similar forms of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that the body can effectively absorb into the bloodstream. Through supplements, you can help support your body’s regulatory processes, but not all supplements are created equal.
Some, but not all supplements, are bio-identical forms of essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Bio-identicals are manufactured compounds that mimic the roles and behaviors of certain nutrients in the body. A good example of a bioidentical is cyanocobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form of cobalamin (Vitamin B12). However, it mimics the same behaviors of natural B12 from food sources and is better absorbed by the body.
Eat More Fiber
Another thing that women can do, is increase their dietary fiber intake. There are two types of dietary fibers that women should be consuming regularly in their diet, soluble fibers, and insoluble fibers. Both of these fibers can help feed gut bacteria in the microbiome, slow down digestion (allowing more time for nutrient absorption), and improve waste that gets passed through the body.
Soluble fibers are fibers that dissolve in water and turn into a gelatinous substance that gut bacteria can then feed off of. These fibers are the primary food source for the gut microbiome (and the estrobolome). Soluble fibers slow down the digestion process as they get fermented by the gut bacteria. They also help gut bacteria more effectively absorb nutrients to pass into the bloodstream and use throughout the body. Without these fibers, gut bacteria become imbalanced which increases the risk of gut dysbiosis. Additionally, nutritional deficiencies can occur if gut bacteria cannot absorb enough essential vitamins and minerals from foods.
Insoluble fibers are fibers that don’t dissolve in water. Instead, they pass through the intestines, knocking off any buildups of food particles and bacteria that may collect on the intestinal lining. This helps promote regularity and adds bulk to stool. With the help of insoluble fibers, the body can maintain a balanced gut microbiome and lower the risk of buildups of “bad” bacteria that would otherwise cause infections or impact the immune response of the digestive tract.
Balance Gut Bacteria with Probiotics
When gut bacteria become imbalanced, the first thing to do is help rebalance them. The best way to do that is through the consumption of probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacterial strains, what we can consider “good bacteria.” These good bacteria help keep the overall gut microbiome healthy. With enough good bacteria in the gut, the body can more effectively gain nutrients from food, maintain regularity, and help other systems in the body regulate themselves effectively.
Your Nutrition is Important
Nutrition is an essential step in protecting your body’s health as you transition through menopause. Making specific lifestyle changes, changing your diet, identifying underlying health issues, and improving your gut microbiome through probiotics and probiotic supplements can all help you ensure you get the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Speak to a healthcare provider about what areas you can make changes in to support proper diet and nutrition.