The supplements guide for women over 40
Sounder sleep, a sharper memory, a calmer stomach – these are the ones you need
Let’s start with some eye-popping stats, shall we? It’s already huge, but experts predict the global supplement industry will grow by six per cent from 2015 to 2019. And more than eight million Aussies picked some up between June 2014 and 2015. The report by Roy Morgan Research also revealed that 53 per cent of women aged 50-64 bought vitamins in the past six months. In short, business is booming. But, between all the claims and subsequent confusion, what does this mean for your health? Before we go on… you know what we’re about to say right? Lifestyle should be your first port of call when it comes to wellness, and its smart to catch up with a doctor (particularly if you’re on meds) to make sure any pill you pop is the right one, at the right dose. “Our best source of vitamins and minerals is diets so it’s essential to get that right first,” says Dr Vicki Kotsirilos, GP and author of A Guide to Evidence-based Integrative and Complementary Medicine. “Supplements should never replace that, but there’s research to suggest we may need them in some circumstances.” So whether you want to nix hot flushes or enjoy a more restful night, there are things that may help. Meet the health-boosters that should be on every 40+ woman’s radar.
Safeguard your heart
Give it up for those heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids – the main type found in fish oil. “There’s evidence to suggest that fish oil is able to help reduce high triglyceride levels,” says Kotsirilos. Why they matter? Raised levels are linked with an increased risk of heart disease. Bonus: This precious oil is also anti-inflammatory, which can help soothe joint pain. Keep an eye on krill oil, too – in 2013, sales grew by a massive 180 per cent. While she emphasises most studies are on fish oil, Kotsirilos says it wouldn’t be surprising if krill works in a similar way. So watch this space.
Stay with us – this doesn’t translate to your breath smelling like a pizza kitchen. Capsules don’t have the same odour many used to, plus the ticker benefits stack up. “It’s a blood thinner and may help lower blood pressure, so I usually recommend anyone with a history of cardiovascular disease considers taking garlic oil,” reveals Kotsirilos. Mind out if you’re on blood-thinning meds or don’t tolerate garlic well.
Science suggests CoQ10 can have a positive impact on blood pressure. An analysis of 12 studies in the Journal of Human Hypertension concluded it ‘has the potential to lower systolic blood pressure by up to 17mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by up to 10mm Hg without significant side effects’. Kotsirilos adds, “It’s not like taking a normal blood pressure lowering tablet but, combined with lifestyle, it can help lower mild to moderate blood pressure”. There’s also a case for CoQ10 as a vitality-booster thanks to its effect on energy-generating mitochondria in your cells. Nice!
This mighty mineral may lower blood pressure, according to a 2016 study in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension. “Magnesium (Mg) is a muscle relaxant – that’s why quite often patients use it for relief of cramps,”says Kotsirilos. “It’s not just muscles in the calves, but also the ones in the arteries.” It’s important to use Mg supplements with due care. “It relies on the body excreting the magnesium through the kidneys, and if you have kidney problems, your blood magnesium levels can rise and this is dangerous,” she adds. Duly noted.
Used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, this herb can deliver a double-whammy of relief, easing hot flushes and helping sleep. “Ziziphus affects what are called your GABA receptors, which impact your melatonin,” explains Teresa Mitchell-Paterson, naturopath with Sydney Integrative Medicine. “It can help improve sleep quality and quantity, but I particularly love it for women who are going through perimenopause because it also reduces hot sweats.” The caution? Get advice if you’re on meds. “Most potent herbs can increase the rate of excretion of a drug.” Sticking to the recommended dose is important.
Chances are you’ve heard of this for tackling menopause symptoms. Some studies show more positive results than others, perhaps depending on the dose and form of the plant used. Black cohosh has been linked to liver damage (particularly in its liquid form) so products containing it must carry a warning label. “It’s rare but very serious when it does happen,” warns Kotsirilos. “If you develop symptoms including yellow skin, itchiness or dark urine, stop using the product immediately and see your GP.”
These are natural substances found in plant foods (including soy products –see, that sauce is more than just a flavour booster!) that mimic the way oestrogen works. A review in the journal JAMA concluded that while more investigation is needed, phyto-oestrogens supplements (which include soy and red clover) were associated with a modest reduction in hot-flush frequency and vaginal dryness. And just a heads up: women with existing, or a history of, breast cancer are advised against using any oestrogenic-based products.
Upgrade your immunity
One strategy for improving your immunity? Making sure your stores of the sunshine vitamin are well stocked. Yes, we’re talking about vitamin D, thought to play an important role in regulating the immune system. “A blood test determines if you’re deficient, which the majority of the community are, and so it may be worth taking a supplement,” says Kotsirilos. FYI, vitamin D also helps you absorb bone-building calcium. Win-win! Your doctor can suggest a dosage.
Zinc lozenges can shorten the duration of a cold from seven days to four, reports a 2016 study in in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Kotsirilos swears by them. “When I feel a scratchy throat, I gargle salt water then take a zinc lozenge. Ideally, within the first 24 hours.” Your skin also reaps the benefits of this protective power. “Zinc is excellent for its antioxidative action, plus good immunity reduces your risk of infections,” says Dr Adam Sheridan from the Australasian College of Dermatologists.
Olive leaf extract
Thought to have first been used in ancient Egypt, this one seems to be more anecdotal than research-based – but the Egyptians might’ve been onto something. “I have patients who say it helps flus and colds, and I’ve seen it improve lowered immunity. Patients take olive leaf and their blood tests improve,” confirms Kotsirilos. “There’s no harm in it plus some research suggests it can improve cardiovascular disease risk.”
Soothe your stomach
A natural part of ageing is a drop in hydrochloric (stomach) acid levels. So? This helps digest protein and stimulates production of gut-friendly bile. “You can tell when your levels are low because you may get bloating or reflux,” says Mitchell-Paterson. “A digestive enzyme helps to boost hydrochloric acid. Take a capsule with each protein-containing food.”
Apple cider vinegar
With an almost cult-like following among wellness seekers, this is meant to keep your stomach acid at a suitable pH for digesting food. Arizona State University scientists also discovered a group with type 2 diabetes who took apple cider vinegar before bed had lower glucose levels the next morning. Down the hatch!
Ginger and chamomile
“If you want to get the digestive system moving or ease inflammation in the stomach, try ginger,” confirms Mitchell-Paterson. Meanwhile, she credits chamomile for helping to relieve everything from cramps to heartburn. “It’s a good all-rounder.”
Power up your brain
This aquatic herb grows on the banks of the River Ganges, is well-known in Ayurveda and of major interest to scientists. “It seems to reduce brain inflammation, increase brain protection from oxidative stress and also increase synaptogenesis – the ability of the brain to make new connections which starts to decrease as we get older,” says Professor Con Stough, Director of the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University of Technology. A tip? Take with food to avoid the unsettled stomach that can be an initial side-effect.
Maritime pine bark extract
Look to a French tree with major antioxidant power to help you remember where those keys are. “We’ve done one big trial and found this improves memory and decreases oxidative stress,” says Stough. “There have been trials throughout the world on different things. It doesn’t specifically affect the brain, but affects every cell so it’s also good for things like hair, skin and cardiovascular function.” Now, that’s one serious multi-tasker!
Ginseng and gingko biloba
Both are known individually as potential brain boosters, but products are emerging that combine the two. “Gingko seems to have some memory effects and increases blood flow to the brain,” says Stough. “It’s also a very good antioxidant.” Meanwhile, Asian ginseng is a traditional medicine staple, although not a dead cert when it comes to science – a research review by a team at China’s Nantong University concluded while ginseng could have some beneficial effects on cognition and quality of life, definitive evidence is lacking.
Boost your energy levels
Trivia: this herbal sleep remedy was once dubbed the “Valium of the 19th century”. How valerian might work isn’t entirely understood, but one fascinating theory is that it increases a calming chemical in the brain. A 2006 review of 16 studies in The American Journal of Medicine found while valerian may improve shut-eye quality, it’s not conclusive. Still, this particular supplement is fairly safe. “Some people are sensitive to valerian and actually become more hyperactive when taking it,” warns Kotsirilos. If that’s you, steer clear in future. Simple.
Low stocks can leave you drained, a risk especially if your periods are heavy. “Women in perimenopause can have increased needs for iron-rich foods and may need supplements,” confirms Kotsirilos. “Have your levels checked by your GP, particularly if you’re feeling weak, tired or breathless.” Iron supplements can cause constipation so get advice on what’s right for you. “Iron tablets combined with vitamin C can help, while liquid iron tends to be better tolerated, particularly when it’s mixed with a vitamin C-rich liquid like prune juice.”
Historically used in places such as Russia and Greece, rhodiola (also called ‘golden root’ and ‘queen’s crown’-fancy!) is a common go-to for a boost in energy and stamina. “Rhodiola is very good, particularly for women over 40, although only take it when you need it,” says Mitchell-Paterson. While studies are limited, in herbal medicine the plant is known as an adaptogen –natural substances that help us deal with stress. A handy thing to have on hectic days.
Smoothie-lovers, listen up. These green powders combine things like leafy greens, sprouts, herbs and algae (spirulina, anyone?) to pack a nutritional punch when added to juices et al. “The great thing about the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants included in these powders is that they’re natural,” says registered nutritionist Kristen Beck. “They can certainly have a place in boosting your nutritional intake, but can’t replace a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruits. When you extract and process plants, you’re likely to lose C- and B- group vitamins and, more importantly dietary fibre.” Her top tip? Go organic – any pesticides will be more concentrated in an extract form.
Protect bones and joints
What you already know: If you don’t have or absorb enough calcium, your bone density goes down. While top priority is plating up dairy, leafy vegies and nuts, sometimes a supplement is needed. Lactose intolerant or vegan? You might need one to boost your intake, according to Ebeling. “Take it after your evening meal,” he suggests. Why’s that a clever move for strengthening your skeleton? At night, certain hormones increase that contribute to the release of calcium from your bones.
This golden spice is dominating the health space right now – for good reason! Another Ayurvedic favourite, turmeric is believed to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and analgesic thanks to the active ingredient curcumin. “It works on pain and the stiffness in joints,” explains Mitchell-Paterson. In fact, turmeric could be just as effective at relieving knee osteoarthritis pain as ibuprofen, according to a 2014 study in Clinical Intervention in Aging. Again, hold fire if you’re currently on blood-thinning meds.
Over to the ocean! Extracted from a mussel native to New Zealand, this contains anti-inflammatory omega- 3 fatty acids, which may explain why it can help ease joint discomfort. “It reduces the inflammation and therefore the pain,” adds Mitchell-Paterson. The science isn’t solid, but green-lipped mussel seems relatively safe so could be worth a go.
Revitalise your skin
Give your top layer TLC from the inside with these super supplements.
A wonder for your skin’s scaffolding. “Vitamin A slows the breakdown of your extracellular matrix – if your skin were a building, this would be the concrete,” explains Sheridan. Caution: Get pro advice if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive.
Evening primrose oil
This wildflower is used to soothe both eczema and psoriasis symptoms. The science is mixed but Sheridan says it can help reduce the inflammatory drive so your skin’s less itchy, red and flakey. Run it by your GP if you’re on anti-coagulants.
Digestive happiness can impact your skin. “We see women in their 40s who’ve got acne they’ve never had before, and one thing that can drive it is an upset bowel,” says Sheridan. “Probiotics often calm that,” Happy bugs, happy face!
Main image photogrpahy by: Edward Urrutia
Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.