Nutrition is not a case of one size fits all, something which holds especially true when considering the distinct dietary needs to support women's and men’s health. While there are overarching principles of healthy eating, it's important to acknowledge that biological differences, hormonal fluctuations, and various life stages can significantly influence what constitutes an optimal diet for each gender. This week’s Nutrition News covers three articles that explore recent nutritional research into women’s health.

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Weight management could be the key to lonegvity

A recent study has shed light on a crucial factor for older women aiming to reach the age of 90 or beyond: weight management. The comprehensive research, reported in the article “Maintaining a stable weight may be linked to exceptional longevity” by Medical News Today, involved 54,437 women from the Women's Health Initiative and examined the relationship between weight changes and longevity.

The key finding was that older women who managed to maintain a stable body weight after the age of 60 were more likely to celebrate their 90th birthdays. In contrast, those who experienced unintentional weight loss faced a 51% reduction in their odds of reaching the milestone.

The study explored different weight change scenarios, such as intentional and unintentional weight loss, as well as weight gain of 5% or more. Surprisingly, a moderate weight gain did not contribute to exceptional longevity, emphasising the importance of weight stability.

The research's significance lies in its focus on older women, particularly those between the ages of 61 to 81, who were part of the Women's Health Initiative study. This cohort provided valuable data on weight changes over time, allowing researchers to categorise participants into three groups: stable weight, weight loss, and weight gain.

The study's lead author, Professor Aladdin H. Shadyab, highlighted the importance of maintaining a stable weight for older women, especially in the United States, where being overweight or obese is common in this age group. He also noted that unintentional weight loss could be a warning sign of ill health and a predictor of decreased longevity.

Dr. Jessica Lee, an associate professor of geriatrics, believes this study could reshape clinical advice, suggesting that older women should prioritise weight maintenance rather than weight loss or gain. However, it's essential to recognise that individual health goals should be considered, as observational studies may not apply universally.

In summary, for older women aspiring to reach their 90s and beyond, this study underscores the significance of maintaining a stable weight as a key factor in achieving exceptional longevity alongside commonly recognised health factors such as a balanced diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables and moderate exercise.

Study highlights the role of Vitamin B12 and folate in maternal and foetal health

Vitamins are essential for maternal and foetal health, with folate and vitamin B12 playing pivotal roles in foetal development and conception support. A recent study, reported by Dove Medical Press in the article “Nonlinear Relationship Between Maternal and Cord Blood Vitamin B12 and Folate from a Chinese Population-Based Study”, conducted in China, sheds light on the status of these critical B vitamins in pregnant women during late pregnancy and their newborns' umbilical cord blood. The findings reveal both the prevalence of deficiencies and the complex relationship between maternal and foetal vitamin levels.

The study uncovered a concerning prevalence of vitamin deficiencies among pregnant Chinese women. Notably, a staggering 73.4% of pregnant women exhibited inadequate levels of vitamin B12, while approximately 14.2% were found to have folate deficiency. These deficiencies have significant implications for maternal and foetal health.

Socio-demographic factors such as maternal residence, age, and education level played a substantial role in vitamin status. Urban-dwelling women and those with higher education generally exhibited higher levels of both vitamin B12 and folate. Additionally, older women displayed elevated levels of these essential vitamins.

One of the key insights of the study is the robust positive relationship between maternal serum (MS) vitamin B12 and folate levels and the corresponding levels in umbilical cord serum (UCS). Moreover, the study revealed a unique non-linear pattern: as maternal vitamin levels increased, so did those in the umbilical cord blood. However, this increase plateaued after reaching a certain threshold, resembling an inverted U-shaped curve.

On a broader scale, the study showed that the concentration of vitamin B12 and folate in UCS significantly exceeded that in MS. UCS vitamin B12 levels were roughly double those found in MS, while UCS folate levels surpassed MS levels by approximately 2.4 times.

These findings have important public health implications. Given the substantial risk of vitamin B12 deficiency among pregnant women, the authors advocate for combining vitamin B12 supplementation with folic acid supplementation to enhance foetal growth and reduce the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.

In conclusion, this comprehensive study offers valuable insights into the status of folate and vitamin B12 in Chinese pregnant women and their newborns. It emphasises the importance of addressing deficiencies in these vitamins during pregnancy to support the health of both mothers and infants. Further research is warranted to refine reference values and investigate the implications of these deficiencies for adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Study uncovers the vitamin that supports post-menopausal cardiovascular health

A soon-to-be-published post-hoc analysis, reported in the article “Study reveals vitamin that benefits cardiovascular health in post-menopausal women” by Nutraceutical Business Review, suggests that daily consumption of vitamin K2, menaquinone-7 (MK-7), can improve the elastic properties of blood vessels and promote healthy blood pressure in women with increased arterial stiffness, particularly those in the post-menopausal phase.

Vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a vital role in the normal maintenance of bones and heart support through aiding cardiovascular function by preventing calcium accumulation in soft tissues and arteries.

The study analysed the impact of MK-7 supplementation on vascular stiffness in pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal women. The trial included 166 women with low K2 status who consumed 180 mcg MK-7 daily or a placebo for one year.

The results indicate that post-menopausal women with increased arterial stiffness can significantly benefit from MK-7 supplementation. It was found that MK-7 supplementation lessened arterial stiffness in these women, leading to improved vascular markers, such as decreased blood pressure and increased distensibility coefficient and compliance coefficient.

The study highlights the importance of vitamin K2, particularly MK-7, especially in ageing women. The findings suggest that MK-7 supplementation can be an effective and affordable strategy for supporting heart health in post-menopausal women. The study builds on previous research demonstrating the role of MK-7 in inhibiting calcification in cardiovascular arteries and reducing arterial stiffening. Research, such as this, continues to build as researchers build upon knowledge of menopause support through nutrition, particularly in areas relating to heart health.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is Director and Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.