Nutrition in menopause

Good for bones? (photo: isante_magazine via Flickr)

Lots of interesting research news this week, focused on nutrition in menopause:

  1. Does alcohol boost bone strength?  It certainly sounds illogical.  After all, the Food Police mantra is that enjoyable foods or beverages are always bad for health.  But in fact a small study suggests that moderate alcohol intake could boost bone strength.  The two week study of 40 post-menopausal women looked at blood markers of bone resorption, the metabolic pathway that takes calcium out of bones, making them less dense, as well as estrogen levels and bone density.  Before the study, the subjects completed a questionnaire about their typical intake of alcoholic beverages.  They had blood tests and a DEXA scan to measure bone density.  Then for 2 weeks, the women abstained from all alcoholic beverages, and more blood tests were done.   On the last night, they consumed an alcoholic beverage and more blood was drawn the next morning.  Results: reported alcohol consumption was positively related to some measures of bone density.  After the women stopped drinking alcohol, markers for bone resorption increased, and then decreased again right after the women consumed alcohol on the last night of the study.  Does this mean you should take up drinking if you have osteoporosis?  Not necessarily.  It’s not clear if there are other factors about these women that affects bone metabolism, just that some modest level of alcohol intake is associated with markers for bone density.  Until more research is done to clarify this association, we can’t conclude that alcohol helps bones.
  2. One thing we do know about bones: exercise promotes bone strength.  Sitting not so much.  Another study reported this week has more negative news about sitting: it’s linked to shorter life spans.  After examining data from over 160,000 people, the study authors concluded that moving more, and cutting sitting time to less than 3 hours/day would add 2 years to average life expectancy.  Think about that the next time you’re stuck in stupid traffic jams.  You could be walking, if our urban landscapes were designed to make walking enjoyable and feasible for transportation.
  3. Speaking of menopause: weight loss is a good way to fight high flashes.  A study of over 17,000 women showed that weight loss of 10 lbs or 10% of initial body weight resulted in decreased symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats after 1 year.  The women were following a low fat diet emphasizing whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and even women who didn’t lose that amount of weight still had improved symptoms compared to women who weren’t on the low fat/high plant food diet.  So, if you’d rather avoid annoying hot flashes, and don’t want to take hormones, change your diet.  If you also lose weight, so much the better.  One great way to encourage weight loss – don’t sit so much.
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