As you get older, changes to a woman’s body bring health challenges
Here's how you can deal with them
From about age 50 onwards, changes in a woman’s body bring health challenges you do need to address.
The good news is that – if you do – your health can be better than ever, and your energy level raised.
This article was written by Colin Rose, a Senior Associate Member of the Royal Society of Medicine, who has been writing on health science for over 30 years. He is also the founder and Director of Research and Innovation of Uni-Vite Healthcare.
Reduced oestrogen can lead to loss of bone density and higher abdominal fat
One of the biggest changes is a reduced level of oestrogen, which causes you to lose bone density and increases your risk of osteoporosis in later life (ref.1).
The same hormonal changes are linked to more likelihood of abdominal fat which, in turn, raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes and breast and colorectal cancer (ref.2) – making regular screening important.
Inflammation can build up – a risk factor for degenerative diseases
In addition, for both women and men, inflammation can build up in body tissues and arteries which is a confirmed risk factor for heart disease, stroke and Alzheimer’s. Indeed, dementia has now risen to be the leading cause of death in UK women.
DNA damage accumulates and can lead to cancer
Finally, damage to DNA, caused by free radical action, begins to accumulate. This can ultimately be a trigger for cancer – at a time when the immune system gradually becomes less efficient.
All this is not meant to be alarmist, but to explain the 4 main underlying reasons why the risk of age-related diseases increases for women (and for men, too, of course) after the age of 50.
Fortunately, armed with this knowledge, there are things you can do that hugely reduce your personal risk.
These exact same factors drive ageing. Which is why the latest science confirms that when you counteract them, you also slow ageing.
The secret to staying healthy, living longer, and even ageing more slowly, is to reduce, limit, or even prevent, each of these interlinked threats.
That means taking action to counteract declines in oestrogen levels, counteract inflammation, counteract free radical damage and boost your immune system.
By combining the results and advice from four major studies, each from a prestige university, we have developed a strategy to do this.
Because your diet and lifestyle need to change in line with the changes in your body, many of which, of course, are brought about by the menopause.
'Best of the Best' Healthy Eating Plan can lower Alzheimer's risk by 53%
Large scale health studies have been conducted on three named eating plans that each significantly improve your health.
By combining them – and adding some extra nutrients – you can benefit from ‘the best of the best’. You are learning from the healthiest people on our planet.
This article gives you an ideal food plan based on all this research and includes foods that also turn on protective genes.
(1) The Mediterranean Diet
You will have almost certainly have heard of the Mediterranean Diet – based on diets in specific areas in the Mediterranean called ‘Blue Zones’. In these areas, a high proportion of people live free of illness into their 90s and beyond.
The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to reduce heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
It features high levels of fruits and vegetables, fish, herbs, nuts, olive oil, limited red meat and dairy and occasional red wine.
On the island of Ikaria in the Mediterranean, where this diet is the norm, most people live in robust good health well into their late 80s or 90s.
But good though the Mediterranean Diet is – it can be improved.
(2) The DASH Diet
Less well known is the DASH Diet – which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It came out of extensive research at Harvard University.
The DASH Diet reduces blood pressure and is strongly recommended for heart health (ref.3), for reducing stroke risk, to control diabetes and for weight loss and maintenance. That’s important as your metabolism begins to slow after your 40s.
It’s fibre-rich and again features fruit and vegetable whole foods, whole grains, lean fish and poultry and low-fat dairy, with very limited processed foods, salt, sugars and red meat.
(3) The MIND Diet
The MIND Diet – which stands for the Mediterranean/Dash Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay – combines the two previous diets and was introduced in 2016.
The MIND Diet emphasises ‘brain foods’ that improve focus and memory – foods like berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries etc), green tea, Omega 3 rich oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel etc), nuts and olive oil.
Why these foods? Because oily fish (and some nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseeds) provide Omega 3 which is vital for brain health and normal neuron connections. Berry fruits – and leafy greens – are high in flavonoids and polyphenols which are brain protective.
Flavonoids – as important as vitamins and minerals
Flavonoids and polyphenols are a class of nutrients found in fruits and vegetables that are that are not so well known – but are as important for health as vitamins and minerals.
Some of the most powerful flavonoids are found in the colourants in the skins of plants. Plants produce these colourful compounds in their skin to protect themselves against insects, fungi and solar damage – and when we eat them, we ‘inherit’ their protective qualities.
A sub-group of flavonoids are the carotenoids, including beta carotene, lycopene and lutein. Carotenoids help prevent the formation of the beta amyloid plaques and tangles that degrade neuron brain cells and characterise an Alzheimer’s brain. They are also important anti-cancer nutrients.
Studies on MED-DASH-MIND diets show lower cancer, dementia and heart risks AND slower ageing
1: Healthier brains The MIND diet can protect against cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s (ref.5). This is a critical benefit when the UK’s Office of National Statistics confirms that in 2018, dementia was the leading cause of death for women! (And the second most frequent cause of death for men.)
2: Younger brains A study in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association found that adults following a MIND diet had a 53% lower risk of developing dementia than those eating a typical Western diet.
They went further – those eating the most DASH diet servings (in the top third of nutritional intake) were assessed as 7.5 years younger in biological age (ref.6).
3: Healthier hearts The MIND diet can lower inflammation in body tissues and blood vessels. Chronic inflammation is known to be a key driver of stroke and heart disease – and heart disease is the second leading cause of death in women. And the number 1 cause in men. Stroke is essentially ‘a heart attack in the brain’.
4: Reduced cancer risk By providing high anti-oxidant levels, the MIND diet can help reduce the damaging effect of oxygen reacting to fats and sugar – and therefore free radical damage to tissues and cells. Free radical damage can otherwise can lead to cancer, including breast and cervical cancer. The high fibre content of the MIND diet also helps to prevent colorectal cancer.
5: Increased bone density A MIND diet is high in calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, because it includes leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach. So – with the addition of vitamin D – it will help to prevent loss of bone density.
Indeed, a study of more than 90,000 participants showed that eating a Mediterranean diet (a sub-set of the MIND diet) was linked to increased bone health and lower fracture risk in postmenopausal women (ref.4).
6: Stronger immunity The MIND diet is also a natural immune system booster. It’s high in vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, C and D, zinc, in flavonoids, carotenoids and in Omega 3 – all of which strongly support the immune system.
Consequently, it helps counteract the fact that your immune system would normally weaken over time – which is one reason why we become more vulnerable to flu, contagious viral diseases and indeed cancer as we get older. Cancer is, in part, an immune system failure.
7: Healthier blood sugar Finally, the MIND diet improves blood sugar levels and therefore helps protect against diabetes.
All-round health defence
You will have noticed that the nutrient-dense MIND diet helps lower the risk of all three leading causes of death and disability in women.
Why? Because it addresses the risk factors we started with – it reduces inflammation, it reduces free radical damage, it strengthens the immune system and it helps reduce the risk of gaining fat around the belly area.
But can you go even further? You can, and here's how.
Natural ways to boost oestrogen levels
You can counteract the decline in your oestrogen by adding phyto-oestrogens (‘phyto’ means plant-derived). These plant foods mimic oestrogen and help increase your oestrogen levels naturally. Many health researchers prefer them over HRT.
So include in your diet foods made from soybeans – like tofu, soy chunks, soy mince and soy milk – which contain soy isoflavones. Not only do soy isoflavones increase oestrogen levels in women, they are associated with the fact that the incidence of cancer in Japanese women is far lower than in the UK or USA.
Flax seeds are also a rich source of phyto-oestrogens. They have additional benefits, too – they contain Omega 3 oils and fibre and help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. They can easily be added to cereals or smoothies.
Nuts also contain phyto-oestrogens, as do dried apricots and peaches – all of which make great healthy snacks.
Counter-balancing a decline in oestrogen is important too for sexual health. Lowered levels of oestrogen lead to reduced vaginal lubrication, which can make sexual intercourse more difficult. It also increases your risk of urinary and vaginal infections.
Turn on the good genes and turn off the ‘bad’ genes
Although genes are a factor in health and longevity, a 2016 study clearly shows it is the impact of nutrition on the way genes are expressed that is the real key to health (ref.7).
So, although you cannot alter your genetic make-up, there is a lot you can do to influence the way those genes are expressed. When a gene is expressed, it is either activated or deactivated, switched on or off.
The food and lifestyle choices you make can turn genes on or off – and those switches either favour health or lead to disease. It’s all part of two exciting new sciences called epigenetics and nutrigenomics.
The National Institutes for Health published a landmark research paper in 2018 called Effects of Dietary Nutrients on Epigenetic Changes in Cancer (ref.10). It confirms that:
“Nutrition can alter gene expression, as well as the susceptibility to disease, including cancer, through epigenetic changes.”
How nutrition can impact gene expression to improve health-----
• The Leibniz Institute on Aging in 2017 showed that optimum levels of B complex vitamins are vital to prevent incorrect activation of genes. In this case optimum means a higher level than the RDA (recommended daily amount).
• Supplementing with B complex vitamins can activate genes that help protect against air pollution – a fact that should interest people working and living in cities.
• Grapeseed flavonoids have been shown to activate genes that reduce stress and depression.
• The antioxidant flavonoids in berries, including blueberries and bilberries, activate genes that reduce DNA damage, which in turn reduces the risk of cancer.
• Carotenoids like lutein and lycopene activate genes that repair DNA damage.
• Ginger and its cousin turmeric (which in extract or supplement form is curcumin) activate hundreds of genes that are anti-inflammatory and neuro (brain) protective.
• Zinc activates genes that improve immune defence.
• Vitamin B12 and folic acid help to express genes that protect against colon cancer and neural damage.
• Vitamin D3 activates numerous genes that inhibit tumours, improve immune response and prevent bone density and cartilage loss (ref.8).
• A lesser known nutrient called betaine (a quasi B vitamin) activates a gene that reduces the level of a compound in the blood called homocysteine. That’s important for heart health, because high homocysteine is a risk factor for heart disease.
An ideal eating plan for women over 50
All this research strongly points to the ideal diet for a woman over 50 as a modification of the MIND diet – ie. by adding some soy products and flax seeds and increasing your intake of nutrients that promote positive gene expression.
But there is a catch ...
The number of daily portions of fruits and vegetables in the MIND, DASH and MEDITERRANEAN studies is considerably higher than a simple 5-a-day recommendation.
Indeed, both the American Cancer Society and Imperial College London concluded that you need 9-10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day – plus 2-3 portions of oily fish a week. This was confirmed in 2017 by the NHS (ref.12). At these levels, your blood chemistry becomes seriously protective against age-related illness.
But for many people 70 portions of fruit and veg a week is not realistic. [When the UK Government was setting a recommendation for fruit and vegetables, their advisors arbitrarily cut the figure to 5 a day – even though the scientific evidence was 9-10 a day, believing that people would simply not even try to reach that level.]
… which is why a woman over 50 should consider a supplement
Many women do take a one-a day multivitamin. Vitamins and minerals are certainly important, but they are only part of what you need. What’s missing, in an effective supplement, are the nutrients we have discussed – flavonoids, carotenoids and Omega 3.
But before we continue, a full disclosure. Uni-Vite Healthcare, the company I founded, developed a supplement called NutriShield following the recommendations of Dr Paul Clayton, former Chair of the Forum of Food and Health at the Royal Society of Medicine, and author of the best-selling book Health Defence.
NutriShield boosts the level of the nutrients with the biggest impact on health and healthy ageing. So it include flavonoids, Omega 3, soy isoflavones, and the nutrients that promote positive gene expression – like lutein, lycopene, beta carotene, betaine, extra B vitamins and vitamin D.
The enhanced MIND Diet plus NutriShield health supplement
Consequently, my one-page summary of the ideal, enhanced MIND diet does include NutriShield Premium, which supplies all these extra nutrients. Independent laboratory tests show it has a very powerful ant-inflammatory and antioxidant effect (see results here).
It doesn’t include iron because iron supplements are NOT recommended for women past the menopause, as too much iron can cause liver and heart damage. [Iron supplementation is generally not recommended for men of any age, because too much iron is pro-inflammatory for them.]
NutriShield also includes optimum levels of B vitamins and vitamins D3 and K2 and helps you reach the sort of levels of nutrients in the research.
Unlike most supplements, NutriShield doesn't just contain the basic RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) amounts of vitamins and minerals, which only prevent outright deficiencies.
Instead, it's designed to provide you daily with the wide range and high level of nutrients found in the very healthiest diets. Instead, it’s designed to provide you daily with the wide range and high level of nutrients found in the very healthiest diets. So, it includes optimum levels of B vitamins for energy and also vitamins D3 and K2 and helps you reach the sort of levels in the MIND diet research
Recommended Health Check-Up List for women over 50
You can see our list of recommended regular health check-ups for women over 50 here.
And you can see how NutriShield Premium can help women over 50 stay fit and healthy here.
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Dr Paul Clayton designed NutriShield as a comprehensive health supplement with OPTIMUM levels of 43 essential nutrients including soy isoflavones, polyphenols and flavonoids from fruits, vegetables and other plants, Omega 3, betaine and green tea. See more detail elsewhere on this site or click on the picture.
Dr Paul Clayton's best-selling book Health Defence is available from bookstores or from Uni-Vite Healthcare here.
A free summary report and the opportunity to read the book online is available here.
Colin Rose's new book (2020) Delay Ageing is also available from bookstores or from Uni-Vite Healthcare here.
See online here for delicious recipes from the Health Defence Cookbook incorporating healthy foods featuring in a Mediterranean Diet.
1. Estrogen production and action. Linda R. Nelson, MD, PhD, Departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Molecular Genetics, University of Illinois at Chicago
2. Estrogen's Dual Nature; Studies Highlight Effects on Breast Cancer. Renee Twombly; Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 103, Issue 12, 22 June 2011
3. URL: hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/dash-diet
4. Dietary Patterns and Fractures in Postmenopausal Women. Haring B, Crandall CJ, Wu C, Leblanc ES, Shikany JM, Carbone L, Wassertheil-Smoller S. (2016). JAMA Internal Medicine, 176(5), 645.
5. Mediterranean diet and brain structure in a multi-ethnic elderly cohort. Gu Y, Brickman A et al (2015). Neurology, 85 (20), 1744-1751.
6. URL: rush.edu/news/press-releases/mind-diet-may-slow-cognitive-decline-stroke-survivors
7. Vitamins regulate gene expression and induce differentiation and growth inhibition in cancer cells. Their relevance in cancer prevention. Prasad KN, Edwards-Prasad J, Kumar S, Meyers A. 1993 Oct;119(10):1133-40.
8. Influence of Vitamin D on Gene Expression in Bone-building Cells; Genomic Determinants of Gene Regulation by 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 during Osteoblast-lineage Cell Differentiation J. Biol. Chem. 2014, 289.
9. URL: alzheimersresearchuk.org/dementia-is-leading-cause-of-death-for-women-in-england-and-wales
10. Feed your genes: How our genes respond to the foods we eat. The Norwegian University of Science & Technology. ScienceDaily 20 September 2011. URL: sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110919073845.htm.
11. Menopause, obesity and inflammation: interactive risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Amy Christensen and Christian J. Pike; Front Aging Neurosci. 2015
12. URL: nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/five-a-day-of-fruit-and-veg-is-good-but-10-is-better/