What Supplements Are Best For Women Over 40?
You have hit 40 and your joints are starting to ache a bit. Getting out of bed in the morning takes longer than 10 years ago. The energy is not quite what it used to be. You look for some a decent supplement, but the amount of choice out there is overwhelming. Which should you choose, how often should you take them, and will they actually do any good? Does this sound familiar?
Taking vitamins is one of those things that many of us have on our list of eventual health to-dos.... but never follow through on. After all, popping five different vitamins or supplements every morning or night can feel like a daunting and time-consuming task, especially for those who are pill-averse.
Think of vitamins and nutrients as an army that will fight off age-related ailments. The best way to build this army is by eating a healthy, well-rounded diet. While it's always important to eat well, it becomes especially essential around age 40 because that's when the rules start to change.
Your body probably isn't working the same way at 40-plus as it was at 20. Muscle mass starts to deteriorate, weight gain is much more likely, the risk of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes begins to increase and once you hit the perimenopause and menopause, when your hormones start to fluctuate and decline, your nutrient needs increase. Your hormones need support which means your battle plan needs to start looking a little different and this is where supplements can come in.
Diet is incredibly important in supplying key nutrients for hormones to work for you, not against you. Food should always come first – you can't supplement your way out of a bad diet! You can get enough of the right vitamins and nutrients through healthy eating. Food sources are typically (but not always) a better bet than supplements because they're better absorbed by the body.
The best way to nourish your hormones is to avoid processed foods in exchange for eating nutrient dense foods with good quality protein, healthy fat, low GI carbs and plenty of vegetables.
So Why Take Supplements?
- Supplementing can help to avoid vital nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to common symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, insomnia, digestive issues, hot flushes and more.
- The stresses of today’s world mean that there will be days when you eat less well. Your diet might not nutrient dense if you're eating a lot of refined carbs, bad fats, processed foods or alcohol
- Food processing, pesticides and long distance transportation can deplete the nutrients in foods
- Soil quality today is not as rich as it used to be. In fact, it has 20% fewer minerals compared to the 1930's (and 50% lower zinc and calcium)
- As you age your digestion gets weaker and as a result, you are not absorbing all the nutrients from the food that you do eat. The body needs extra help to get the nutrients we need due to:
- hormone imbalances (perimenopause and menopause related)
- oxidative stress
- wear and tear
- The ability to digest and absorb food can be impaired by many things:
- low stomach acid/digestive enzymes
- food intolerances
- gut health (imbalances and infections)
- Climate and culture, particularly relevant for Vitamin D due to
- Lacking strong sunshine all year round
- Covering up or staying in the shade/indoors
- Wearing sun cream when outside
The Confusing Supplement Market
The supplement market is a minefield! Just because something is heavily advertised or marketed as ‘healthy', doesn't mean it’s any good for you! The amount of supplements available on the market can be overwhelming.
Many of them are made cheaply containing cheap ingredients that may not be the best bio-available form for the body, meaning that they are hard for the body to absorb. Others contain poor fillers to bulk them out, or even sweeteners to make them taste better. The bottom line is, if you are going to spend money on supplements, spend it wisely on quality products. As a general rule of thumb, you get what you pay for.
What Supplements Are Best?
Supplementation is very individual. The efficacy of a supplement in each individual will depend on a number of things; genetics, symptoms, history, biochemistry, diet and lifestyle, potential hormone imbalances, and medications.
Certain micronutrients are essential for our bodies to function properly. Chromium, for example, influences our insulin response and carbohydrate metabolism. Vitamin B12 is involved in DNA production and healthy red blood cells, as well as our energy, focus and mood. As we get older, though, we don’t absorb B12 as efficiently, and can benefit from supplementation.
A Multivitamin can be beneficial to women of all ages but especially to women over 40 because as we age, our bodies can become less efficient in absorbing certain vitamins. Unless you are being tested for every nutrient that you need, a good quality multivitamin is your basic insurance policy!
While your diet should be your primary source of essential vitamins and minerals, a multivitamin can supplement the nutrients you get from your food. If you have a restricted or limited diet, adding a multivitamin could be especially beneficial to ensure you're receiving all the necessary nutrients.
It makes sense to choose a multivitamin that contains a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals and also has additional herbs and antioxidant-rich phytonutrients. Look for good levels of the B vitamins in the most absorbable form and essential minerals, including zinc, selenium and iron (if you are still menstruating).
When it comes to supplements for women who have hit 40, there are five important supplements in particular, that should be kept in mind:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 Fatty Acids are needed for the structure of our cell membranes, reducing inflammation and support overall hormone function. They have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and are therefore very good for any chronic inflammatory condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and brain and mood disorders. They are also very good for your skin.
Technically not a vitamin, omega-3 fatty acids deserve a place on this list because of their myriad health benefits, and especially because they help counteract some of the negative changes that come with ageing, like increased heart disease risk and cognitive decline. Research has shown that omega-3s help lower blood pressure and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of heart disease, and play a role in keeping memory and thinking sharp.
In fact, a recent study found that people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had larger brains and performed better on memory tests, planning activities, and abstract thinking, compared with individuals with lower levels—which suggests that omega-3 fatty acids play a role in maintaining brain health in addition to the other known benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids are readily available in a wide variety of plant foods. Sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, seaweed, and algae. Other green leafy vegetables and beans also contain small amounts. Though you can get omega-3s from foods, taking a supplement is a good way to make sure you're getting enough.
Magnesium is your all-round hormone rescuer!
Needed for energy production, thyroid, stress hormones, adrenal support, heart and bone health, oestrogen balance and insulin sensitivity production of serotonin which is important for mood and sleep. Another key function of magnesium is to help regulate blood pressure, which is especially important for women 40-plus, who are already at risk of high blood pressure due to normal aging. Plus, it helps the body absorb calcium and plays a role in muscle, nerve, and heart function, as well as blood glucose control.
This mineral is critical for over 300 enzyme reactions in your body, and it's very common to be deficient. If you're eating a healthy, balanced diet, you can get all the magnesium you need (320 mg a day for women 40 and up) from food (dark leafy greens, beans, soy, nuts, seeds, and avocados).
However, you use up a lot of magnesium when you are stressed. Deficiencies in magnesium have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and inflammation. It’s a great to take a magnesium supplement before you go to bed to get a good nights’ sleep as it's a relaxation mineral, great for twitchy muscles, and can be helpful for pain.
B Vitamins, especially Vitamin B12
B Vitamins are needed to ensure that the basics are covered and are critical for the hormone pathways to work well.
Any time after 40 and before turning 50 is a good time to start getting Vitamin B12 from a supplement or multivitamin. It's essential for normal blood and brain function. While children and younger adults are likely to get the B12 they need from food—it's in meat and animal products including chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs—B12 is more poorly absorbed as the body ages, typically starting around 50 because that's when stomach acid levels deplete.
Vitamin D helps protect against the age-related changes that start to kick in, especially after 40. We know that it is essential for healthy bones, but it’s a vital immune system regulator, as well as beneficial for mood, heart health, hormones, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, breast and colorectal cancers—all of which are more likely to crop up the older you get. Plus, Vitamin D is essential for absorption of calcium in the body.
Dietary sources include fish and fortified dairy, grains, and cereals, but generally the Vitamin D you get from food is poorly absorbed. This vitamin is called the sunshine vitamin as we produce it ourselves when our skin is exposed to the sun. Since we are often covered up, and the fact that we don’t get much sun, makes it an important one to supplement.
A Vitamin D3 supplement is recommended. Vitamin D3 is the type of vitamin D closest to what you would get from the sun. It doesn’t work alone though – it needs magnesium, Vitamin K2 and other nutrients that you'll get in a multivitamin. Make sure you take it in the morning. If you take it in the evening it clashes with the production of melatonin which is your sleeping hormone.
Is needed for fighting infection and Immune support, the production of collagen which is the major component of skin, bone and connective tissue and it helps the adrenals to produce cortisol. Its needed for iron absorption, wound healing, maintenance of bone, cartilage and teeth, and much more. It’s also super important for or progesterone production.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant which means that it has the ability to mop up ‘bad’ molecules called free radicals that cause damage to tissues in the body via inflammation. It prevents too much oxidative stress, protecting cells and DNA from damage
Since we can’t store Vitamin C, we need a constant supply. If you aren’t eating your share of fruit and berries each day, then a supplement is a good idea.