Calcium and vitamins protect your health after menopause

Are you in menopause or looking at menopause on the horizon? If so, there are specific nutrients you need to be aware to protect your health. The nutrients I’ll focus on today are calcium, vitamin D and B12.

The two biggest health risks for women in menopause are osteoporosis and heart disease. After menopause, the risk of heart disease for women is equal to men’s and is the No. 1 killer. This risk factor increases due to the shift in fat storage to the belly where it’s named visceral fat. Visceral fat (waist measurement) is a predictor of heart disease for both men and women.

Getting enough calcium in tandem with vitamin D is essential to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D is not only a hormone, it’s an immune modulator and helps us absorb the calcium we need. When we don’t get enough calcium in our diet, our bodies take calcium from our bones which can weaken bone matrix strength.

It’s best to get our calcium from foods and only take a supplement to fill in the gaps. Milk and dairy products, tofu, almonds and dark green leafy vegetables are some of the best sources of dietary calcium. Eating them regularly will help you meet your 1,200 milligrams per day requirement.

Only 4 percent of Americans get enough vitamin D through diet because there are few foods high in vitamin D. Good sources include fortified milk, mushrooms and salmon, especially canned salmon.

We make vitamin D through our skin, but we need to be exposed to enough sunlight to do that. Most of us in northern latitudes don’t get enough sunshine to keep our levels where they need to be for good health. As we age we lose the ability to make vitamin D, so a test is necessary to determine if you need a vitamin D supplement. If your levels are low, you’ll need high doses of vitamin D to get your stores back up. This process should be monitored by a registered dietitian nutritionist or a doctor. Once you attain adequate levels, you can keep them there with a low dose of a vitamin D3 supplement — especially during times of year when there isn’t much sunshine. Daily requirement is 600 IUs.

Because we lose a necessary glycoprotein in our gut as we age, absorbing enough vitamin B12 becomes more difficult. Certain antibiotics, oral agents used for diabetes and meds like Prilosec or Prevacid (used to treat acid reflux) all interfere with B12 absorption. I recommend everyone 50 or older take a B12 supplement to meet the 250 micrograms per day requirement for B12 to prevent a deficiency.

Kim Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist, founder of Total Health, www.totalhealthrd.com, and a spokesperson forthe Academy of Nutrition &Dietetics.

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