While menopause is primarily associated with reproductive changes, it can also affect various other aspects of a woman’s health, including joint health. Some of the frequently stated but less examined symptoms of menopause are joint pain, joint stiffness, reduced flexibility, and inflammation. Many women find their joints suddenly stiff and painful during perimenopause and menopause, which can have a significant impact on everyday life.
Market-leading supplement brand Cytoplan and specialist menopause nutritionist Karen Newby deep dive into the link between menopause and the impact it has on the health of our joints, the problem of inflammation. While menopause can impact our joint health, there are steps to take in order to reduce the impact and to help women keep doing what they love.
Below are the top foods, nutrients, lifestyle choices, and other factors that can improve joint health during and after menopause to support women in staying active and well in midlife and beyond:
The link between menopause and joint health
Oestrogen plays a significant role in maintaining joint health by protecting the bones and cartilage and reducing inflammation. Declining levels of oestrogen have a proven impact on joint health and can significantly increase inflammation in the joints, with new research suggesting that the period of time leading up to menopause; the perimenopause, can now be viewed as a “pro-inflammatory phase” in a woman’s life. Chronic inflammation of the joints can have a huge impact on everyday life and reduce activity levels, which will in turn negatively impact overall health and well-being.
Newby explained: “Oestrogen supports osteoblast activity, which builds new bone, which is why post-menopause is a risk factor for developing osteoporosis. 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. We can start to suffer from aches and pains during perimenopause, although we may have struggled with this pre-menopause, just before day one of our cycles, when oestrogen is at its lowest.
“Another important factor to consider is the reduction in collagen: the building block of cartilage. Research suggests collagen can reduce by up to 30% at menopause. Collagen has also been shown to have huge benefits for our skin health and can help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis, a common condition at menopause. So it may be important to consider a premium collagen supplement to bridge the gap that menopause can cause.
“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 at menopause as the decline of oestrogen increases oxidative stress. Therefore, it will be important to maximise antioxidant-rich foods to help quench these free radicals. Aim for 30+ unique plants per week. These can be fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, pulses, and gluten-free grains. Then work your way up to 40 or 50. Your joints will thank you for it.”
The problem with inflammation during menopause
Declining oestrogen levels can cause chronic inflammation, and if hormone fluctuations are experienced alongside a diet high in omega-6 oils, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and gluten and with lifestyle factors such as smoking, sun damage, and pollution, then the risk of chronic inflammation in our body and the probability of joint pain is even higher.
Newby said: “Inflammation is essential in the body in order 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 menopause, declining oestrogen 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 so they are important to include in your diet. They include oily fish such as salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel, and a vegan source from algae (usually in supplement form; look for a high-quality and trusted source), which are all sources of EPA and DHA, which provide anti-inflammatory action. Linseeds/flaxseeds, linseed and flaxseed oil, hemp oil, and nuts such as walnuts are vegan sources of omega 3 too.
There is also a kind of omega-6 called gamma-linolenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory actions from evening primrose, hemp, and borage oil, so it might be important to consider a high-quality and bio-effective supplement to increase levels too.”
What are the key foods and nutrients for optimal joint health?
Newby shared key foods and nutrients that can make a significant impact on improving joint health:
- Increase collagen-rich foods and foods that boost collagen production. Collagen is a vital protein that supports joint health and skin elasticity. Consuming collagen-rich foods and those that help boost the body’s natural production of collagen can help maintain healthy joints and skin. Foods such as chicken, fish skin, glycine-rich tofu, nuts, seeds, proline-rich alfalfa sprouts, asparagus, beans, buckwheat, cabbage, cucumber, and tempeh are excellent sources of collagen-boosting nutrients.
- Increase vitamin C. Vitamin C is crucial for collagen synthesis, and our bodies do not store it well. To ensure a steady supply, incorporate fruit and vegetable smoothies and juices into your diet, packed with citrus fruits, parsley, and peppers. These are some of the highest food sources of vitamins.
- Ensure adequate vitamin D intake. Vitamin D is known to support calcium absorption and helps to support bone mineral density. It can also help reduce joint pain in osteoarthritis. Sunlight and high-quality supplements can help reach optimal levels. Foods such as fish skin and mushrooms that are grown under UV light are also good sources of vitamin D.
- Include essential minerals for joint health. Essential minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper, and boron play a vital role in joint health. Foods such as sesame seeds, prawns, dark raw chocolate, lean meat, green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, pinto and black beans, avocado, chickpeas, tofu, pears, plums, and cherries are good sources of these minerals. Another very important mineral is manganese and a great saying to remember is “clicky knees, more manganese”. Consuming foods such as oats, brown rice, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, linseed, sesame and pumpkin seeds, cloves, saffron, and chilli powder can help increase manganese levels.
- Include antioxidant-rich foods. Consuming antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables such as pomegranate, blueberries, plums, red onions, beetroot, and carrots can help maintain joint health. Flavonoids found in pomegranates and cherries can inhibit cartilage breakdown.
- Increase phytoestrogen intake. Phytoestrogens can help support oestrogen levels, which is crucial for maintaining healthy joints. Including foods such as soy, peas, chickpeas, broccoli, carrots, cabbage, and red clover tea in your diet can help when it comes to phytoestrogen menopause.
In terms of movement, make sure you are standing up more, regularly exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight to keep your joints healthy. For extra support, consider supplements such as glucosamine sulphate, chondroitin, and high-quality collagen such as Cytoplan’s award-winning Marine Collagen and premium Omega 3.