Health News of 2014-01-15

Key nutrients women need as they age

As women age, their risk of developing health problems such as heart disease and stroke increases, especially after menopause.

"Women have a limited amount of estrogen once they go through menopause," said Dr. Nereida Correa, a gynecologist at Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. "Once they’re estrogen-deficient, they’re at risk for heart disease."

Heart disease, which could include having a heart attack or heart failure, is the leading cause of death among women, and stroke is the third leading cause of death, according to government statistics.

Here are five nutrients that may help protect women from heart disease, as well as lower the risk of other chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, diabetes, breast cancer and high blood pressure.

Vitamin D

Women who don’t get enough vitamin D could develop brittle bones, or even worse, osteoporosis.

A study published in July in the New England Journal of Medicine found taking high doses (800 international units) of vitamin D daily could reduce the risk of hip fractures in older women by 30 percent.

There are three ways of getting vitamin D: from the skin, from your diet and from vitamin supplements.

Unfortunately, as the skin ages, it has less ability to produce vitamin D in response to sun exposure. But women can boost their vitamin D intake by consuming four 8-ounce servings of low-fat dairy products every day.

That would be equal to three glasses of either 1 percent or skim milk.

"Women don’t drink a lot of milk," Correa said. She recommend women take a multivitamin, eat low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, and try hard cheese, vitamin D-fortified orange juice or legumes as part of a daily diet.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which helps keep aging bones strong.

Calcium

Calcium helps the body make new bone cells, and "as women approach menopause, the ability to make new bone cells decreases," Correa said. Drinking milk does not provide enough calcium to make up the difference, she said.

Correa recommended that in addition to eating calcium-rich dairy foods, older women should take 600 milligram calcium supplements twice a day.

The two main forms of calcium in supplements are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is inexpensive, but is absorbed best when taken with food, according to the National Institutes of Health. While calcium citrate is more expensive, it can be absorbed on an empty stomach.

Besides dairy products, calcium can also be found in tofu, cereals, soy and rice beverages, vegetables such as kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage, and fish with soft bones such as sardines and salmon.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Eating a higher amount of fish and omega-3 fatty acids is linked with a lower risk of heart disease among women, according to a 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of polyunsaturated fat. This healthy fat may also help slow down the growth of plaque buildup in the arteries and lowers blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.

"Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids canincrease the good cholesterol, and decrease the bad one," Correa said.

Several studies have found that fish oil supplements — about 1 to 4 grams per day — reduced triglyceride levels by 20 to 50 percent.

The AHA recommends eating fish — particularly fatty fish like salmon, tilapia or codfish — at least twice a week.

Olive oil, which contains monounsaturated fatty acids, has also shown health benefits.