Why sun exposure after menopause increases hormone-related risks

Menopause is infamous among women for being a time of uncomfortable changes, including hot flashes, mood swings and weight gain, as the body prepares to stop menstruating.

Unfortunately, once menopause is done, it’s not necessarily smooth sailing.

Postmenopause, the time that starts twelve months after a woman’s last menstrual period, brings with it a changing hormonal balance that makes women in this stage of life more vulnerable to osteoporosis, heart disease and depression.

Vitamin D is one way to help. One study showed that postmenopausal women who did not get enough of the “sunshine vitamin” were 18 percent more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Of course, the easiest way to get more vitamin D is by spending time in the sun. But it turns out that sunbathing is a double-edged sword for women who are past menopause.

Too much sun exposure affects hormonal imbalance

Kai Triebner is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bergen in Norway. For several years, he has studied the effects that changing hormone levels have on women at various stages of the menopausal “transition,” including pre- and post-menopause.

Triebner’s earlier research has shown that menopause affects women’s lung function negatively, and that spending time outdoors may actually postpone menopause.

But here’s the “double-edged sword” part…

Triebner has recently made another discovery: that too much sun exposure can throw a post-menopausal woman’s hormones out of whack, making her more vulnerable to a hormonal imbalance that comes with significant health risks.

Triebner and his team collected data from 580 postmenopausal women from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, France, and Spain, who participated in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS).

They found that women who were most exposed to sunlight had lower levels of estrogens and more gonadotropins (which stimulate ovulation), compared to those exposed to lower levels of UV-radiation.

In other words, the hormonal balance of these women was completely off the rails.

“A low estrogen level and a high level of the other hormones increases the risk of osteoporosis, cardiac diseases and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s,” says Triebner.

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Sun exposure: A double-edged sword

If you’re a postmenopausal woman, you’ll want to monitor your sun exposure closely since it can be potentially harmful.

At the same time, a daily dose of UV light helps keep your vitamin D levels up, which is necessary for good health.

According to Triebner, how much vitamin D you need varies from person to person, and depends upon where you live.

As a rule of thumb, ten to fifteen minutes a day in the sun with your face and lower arms exposed is recommended. If you exceed this, you should wear sunscreen, regardless of whether you sunburn easily.

By the time you get a sunburn, you’ve already far exceeded the recommended level of UV-radiation.

Sun exposure isn’t the only way to get vitamin D

Sitting in the sun may be the most convenient way to soak up vitamin D, but it’s by no means the only way, or necessarily the safest, to increase your levels of this important vitamin.

Foods rich in vitamin D include:

  • salmon
  • sardines
  • canned tuna
  • mushrooms
  • egg yolks

You can also start taking vitamin D supplements.

Recommendations on dosage vary for vitamin D. For bone health, it’s just 600 to 800 IU but the safe upper limit for supplementing is at 4000 IU (100 micrograms) per day. Though in cases of deficiency, doctors may recommend 5,000 IU daily to get levels up and maintain them. According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin D toxicity, which can cause nausea and vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea and even kidney failure, is rare but has been known to occur at levels of 60,000 IU daily — taken for several months.

You may have read about the open letter from international scientists recommending increased vitamin D supplementation during the pandemic. As those scientists pointed out in their letter, any risk of toxicity is overshadowed by the threat of coming down with a COVID-19 infection. When it comes to heart disease, which is still the number one killer of women despite COVID-19, the same argument might be made. Your doctor can perform a blood test to check your current vitamin D levels.

Just remember — if you’re post-menopausal a little sun can still be beneficial. But too much may be just the opposite. Take extra care not to let this dilemma cause your vitamin D levels to fall.

Sources:

Sunbathing after menopause may be harmful — Neuroscience News

Ultraviolet radiation as a predictor of sex hormone levels in postmenopausal women: A European multi-center study (ECRHS) — maturitas.org

What Health Changes Should You Expect Postmenopause? — healthline.com

The vitamin that slows aging where it starts — Easy Health Options

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.