The Third Act – Healthy Ageing for Women Age 45 and Beyond
It is commonly referred to as the “prime of life”. A time when you are finally comfortable in your skin, you are able to reflect on life’s hits and misses and a time when you are truly able to distinguish between what is important and what is a mere distraction.
It can also be a time for less work and more play. An opportunity to finally get that balance right. So while the spirit is willing, an unfortunate truth is that the body cannot always keep up.
Quietly and insidiously, our antioxidant protection has been diminishing since our mid 20s. Furthermore, it is also when we face new health challenges – as oestrogen starts its decline we face the onset of peri-menopause, the likelihood of weight gain and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
But oestrogen levels are not entirely to blame.
The fact that women’s symptoms can be varied in intensity and duration indicates that there is more to consider than mere Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
Inflammation is a common factor amongst these specific health issues. In fact it can well be the spark that starts the fire.
The Inflammatory Theory of Ageing
Despite the air-brushed magazine covers and those spooky eternally young movie stars, ageing is inevitable. The outward signs of ageing are obvious – the skin loses tone and texture, hair becomes greyer and energy can plummet.
The internal signs of ageing as less obvious. It has even been hypothesised that inflammation is the single greatest precipitator of ageing.
Inflammation can be both friend and foe. It is the protective reaction by the body to an irritation, injury or infection. The purpose is to destroy, dampen or guard against the damaging agent. It is a case of when it is good, it is very very good but when it is bad……
A number of factors can produce excessive inflammation in the body. Ingesting toxins (cigarettes), excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation, hormonal changes, a weakened immune system, stress and eating refined carbohydrates and deep fried or burnt food can all trigger inflammation. Even strenuous exercise and some medications initiate inflammation.
All of the above factors produce free radicals that act directly on cells causing oxidative stress and ultimately inflammation.
Combating inflammation is the job of antioxidants. By design, we have a number of enzymes that act as endogenous antioxidants and our diet can provide us with an army of antioxidants also (commonly recognised ones are Vitamins A, C, E, Zinc and Selenium)
A little known fact however is that antioxidants from our food only has the ability to quench 1 free radical. Those antioxidants produced in the body however can neutralise millions of free radicals per minute.
But remember that sad fact that our antioxidant status naturally peaks in our mid 20s and progressively declines? There goes our innate protection.
So inflammation can indeed exacerbate the symptoms of menopause, weight gain and cardiovascular risk. Is it therefore possible to address inflammation and watch these health concerns improve?
The “Change of life”, the “transition”. All very euphemistic terms for what can be a distressing time for a woman.
Most Australian women will reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average being about 50 or 51 years.
Menopause is the complete cessation of a period and some women (lucky things!) will experience this quite suddenly and quite simply.
Most women, however, go through a phase of erratic periods – the peri-menopause – and this can last for several years.
Additional symptoms of hot flushing with or without sweats, vaginal dryness, bladder irritability and insomnia are also routinely attributed to the hormonal fluctuations. Furthermore, the peri-menopause can differ for each woman.
Approximately 70% will experience hot flushes and 40% will suffer depression. Sweating, fatigue, irregular periods and insomnia will affect between 20 – 40% of women.
It is also common for women to experience changes in their physique. An apparent easy and creeping weight gain (usually around the mid-section) and loss of muscle mass is a frequent feature. A 2005 study found that on average, menopausal women gained 0.5kg per year.
Studies have tried to determine whether the oestrogen decline is entirely to blame for this weight gain.
The results are inconclusive which begs the question – Is it menopause or simply ageing that promotes this weight gain?
A recent finding from Dr Janet F McLaren from the division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Alabama, Birmingham has even linked chronic inflammation with the increased risk of early menopause.
Women with psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease or SLE (Lupus) – all conditions of excess inflammation – are likely to experience menopause before the age of 45!
So if we tame the fire that is inflammation, what are the possibilities for a healthy menopause?
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the leading cause of mortality in women and the risk of CVD in women increases dramatically after menopause.
The health of the heart is subject to a number of risk factors:
- Lack of exercise
- Elevated cholesterol, trigylcerides, and homocysteine
- Insufficient nutrients especially omega 3
All of these are linked with an increase in the inflammatory marker C Reactive Protein (CRP).
Worse still is that experiencing more than one of these factors will heighten your chance of a cardiovascular event. The good news is that addressing these factors can reduce the risk.
Inflammation is a stealthy attack against our health. The good news is that we now are able to meet this opponent head on!
Advances in science have now made it possible to identify your metabolic secrets and effectively identify how “switched on “ these inflammatory markers are. This essentially means that nutrition and supplements can be personalised.
Genetic profiling is on its way to becoming the defence against many chronic conditions. In fact, an article published in 2007 concluded that the information received from genetic profiling resulted in better dietary compliance, longer term BMI reduction and improvements in blood glucose levels. The patients in this research all had previous histories of failure at weight loss.
Genetic Markers for Inflammation and Antioxidant Status
So let’s get specific! Here are some of the genes that can reveal the extent of inflammation.
- Interleukin 6 – Il-6
- Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNFa)
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
- Manganese Superoxide Dismutase (MnSOD)
- Glutathione peroxidase (GPX1)
- Catalase (CAT)
All of the above can be influenced by diet and specific nutritional supplementation. It is possible to influence these genetic markers and correct some of the damage that has been occurring.
To find out just how “switched on” you are, consider having a Genetic Profile.
The genetic story doesn’t finish here either. Genes can also be identified that will assess your Cardiovascular Health and even how well you metabolise fat.