Cytoplan, a leading supplement brand, has joined forces with Specialist Menopause Nutritionist Karen Newby to investigate how menopause can impact the health of women’s joints. Although menopause is often associated with reproductive changes, it can also impact various aspects of a woman’s health, such as joint pain, stiffness, and reduced flexibility. These symptoms can have a significant impact on everyday life, making it challenging for women to keep doing what they love.
Research has shown that estrogen plays a crucial role in maintaining joint health by protecting bones and cartilage and reducing inflammation. However, declining levels of estrogen can have a proven impact on joint health and significantly increase inflammation in the joints. New research also suggests that the period leading up to menopause, known as the perimenopause, can be viewed as a “pro-inflammatory phase” in a woman’s life. Chronic inflammation of the joints can significantly impact everyday life, reducing activity levels and negatively impacting overall health and wellbeing.
Specialist Menopause Nutritionist Karen Newby states that “oestrogen supports osteoblast activity, which builds new bone and is why post-menopause is a risk factor for developing osteoporosis.” Additionally, she highlights that “declining oestrogen levels can also make us more inflamed as oestrogen is one of our natural anti-inflammatory steroid hormones. This explains why new research positions perimenopause (the lead up to menopause) as a ‘pro-inflammatory phase’ in a woman’s life.”
Furthermore, oxidative stress, which is caused by an imbalance between free radical formation and antioxidant status, is known to be a factor in cartilage destruction, and this can often be exacerbated during menopause as the decline of estrogen increases oxidative stress. Therefore, it is essential to maximize antioxidant-rich foods to help quench these free radicals. Nutritionists recommend aiming for 30+ unique plants per week. These can include fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, pulses, and gluten-free grains. It is recommended to work your way up to 40+ to 50+ unique plants per week to improve joint health.
The problem with inflammation during menopause
Declining estrogen levels can cause chronic inflammation, and if hormone fluctuations are experienced alongside a diet high in omega 6 oils, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, gluten, and lifestyle factors such as smoking, sun damage, and pollution, then the risk of chronic inflammation in the body and probability of joint pain is even higher.
Specialist Menopause Nutritionist Karen Newby explains that “inflammation is essential in the body to alert you that there is a problem. For example, if you sprain your ankle, the pain, swelling, and redness (inflammation) will alert you not to walk on it so that the body can repair it. But during the menopause, declining estrogen levels can also cause women to experience chronic inflammation in the body, which in turn, can cause joint aches, pains, and stiffness.”
To combat this, omega-3 foods have more anti-inflammatory properties and are essential to include in one’s diet. These include oily fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, and mackerel, and vegan sources from algae (usually in supplement form – look for a high-quality and trusted source!) that are all sources of EPA and DHA, which provide an anti-inflammatory action. Linseeds/flaxseeds, linseed and flaxseed oil, hemp oil, and nuts such as walnuts are vegan sources of omega-3 too.
Additionally, there is a type of omega-6 called gamma-linolenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory actions: from evening primrose, hemp, and borage oil. It might be essential to consider a high-quality and bio-effective supplement to increase levels.