One of the most critical and underrated health concerns menopause impacts is our bone health. Women over the age of 50 or postmenopausal women have the highest risk of developing osteoporosis. Most of us are familiar with osteoporosis as a household medical term but aren’t aware of the severity or damage it can really cause us. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 in 3 women in this demographic will experience fragility fractures. And approximately 24% of these women die within one year of hip fracture, and 40% of the survivors will lose the ability to walk independently.
Don’t let these bone-chilling facts scare you– fortify yourselves with the strength of knowledge and proactive health care!
The Role of Estrogen and Bone Health
Estrogen plays a vital role in maintaining bone density. It promotes the activity of bone-forming cells called osteoblasts while inhibiting the activity of bone-degrading cells known as osteoclasts. During menopause, of course, the ovaries gradually reduce estrogen production. The decline in estrogen levels accelerates bone loss, resulting in decreased bone density and an increased risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a degenerative, debilitating bone disease that is increasingly prevalent in postmenopausal women. The role of estrogen dropping is so significant to bone health that doctors will now specifically diagnose the bone disease developing after menopause as “postmenopausal osteoporosis.” Despite being classified as one of the four most dangerous health issues today, many studies demonstrate that women frequently misunderstand or underestimate its potential dangers.
The Impact of Menopause on Bone Health
After menopause, the rate of bone loss increases significantly. Studies suggest that women can lose up to 20% of their bone mass in the first 5-7 years following menopause. Accelerated bone loss can lead to osteoporosis and an increased susceptibility to fractures. Osteoporosis often manifests in the spine, hips, and wrists, making fractures in these areas more common. You might notice the following signs and symptoms of postmenopausal osteoporosis:
- Severe or sudden back pain
- Bone pain
- Joint pain
- Height loss
- Hunched posture
It’s essential to pay attention to these symptoms despite how obtuse or common they may seem. Unfortunately, most of us don’t get hip *wink wink* to the potential causes these symptoms are signaling until it’s too late… like a broken or fractured bone! Osteoporosis develops slowly and silently, so if any of the above signs pop-up, get to a doctor before something pops-out!
Measures for Maintaining Bone Health
- Adequate Calcium Intake: Calcium is essential for maintaining bone health. During menopause, ensuring an adequate intake of calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods is crucial. If dietary intake is insufficient, calcium supplements may be recommended after consulting a menopause specialist.
- Vitamin D Supplementation: Vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption and bone health. Due to decreased sun exposure and reduced production of vitamin D in the skin, supplementation may be necessary. Aim for 800-1000 IU of vitamin D daily, or as your menopause specialist advises.
- Regular Weight-Bearing Exercise: Doing low-impact exercises, such as walking, jogging, dancing, or strength training, can help maintain bone density and strength. These exercises stimulate bone formation and slow down bone loss. My bone health routine consists of walking 45 min – 1 hour 3X a week. Since I live in sunny San Diego, I am able to do this outside most of the year. I go to the park or walk in the zoo! In addition, I incorporate two days of weight-bearing exercises with my light weights.
- Avoid Tobacco and Limit Alcohol Consumption: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have detrimental effects on bone health. Smoking further decreases estrogen levels, while excessive alcohol intake impairs the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Quitting smoking and moderating alcohol consumption is crucial for maintaining optimal bone health.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT): HRT involves the use of estrogen and progesterone to replace hormones lost during menopause. It can help slow down bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures. The decision to undergo HRT should be made after a thorough discussion with a menopause specialist. If you don’t have one, here are some one-a-kind tips on how to find one: Menopause Mondays® How To Find A Menopause Specialist.
- Bone Density Testing: Regular bone density testing, such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scans, is highly recommended for postmenopausal women! These tests help assess bone strength, monitor changes in bone density, and guide treatment decisions if necessary. Be sure to ask your Menopause Specialist to order one.
- Prescription medications: If bone loss occurs, you may be told that you need to start on medication to stop bone loss and/or build up your bone health. Going to a bone specialist to manage your care is always best. They may prescribe various medications, which can be in pill form, injections, or delivered via infusions.
Menopause profoundly impacts bone health and increases our risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Bone loss is a silent process. So be sure to check out those bones! Find out if you are losing bone mass and need to replace that loss. It is always better to be proactive about your health rather than reactive.
Keep the “O” in the bedroom and out of your bones!
My Motto: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!
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