How Menopause Affects Bone Health
The decrease of oestrogen levels in the body that happens with menopause can also decrease bone density, leading to a higher risk of osteoporosis, a condition where your bones are more likely to break or fracture due to less density in them.
In the first five years of menopause, most women are likely to lose up to 10% of their bone mass, causing roughly one in two women over the age of 60 to experience at least one fracture or break due to osteoporosis.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Whether you’re going through menopause or not, it’s always a good idea to maintain your bone density. This can be done through some lifestyle changes.
- It’s well-known that calcium strengthens bones and reduces the risk of fractures and breaks. The recommended daily calcium intake for women under 50 and men under 70 is 1000 milligrams; for women over 50 and men over 70, it is 1200 milligrams. Some calcium-rich foods include: tofu, greens such as kale and beans, low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt, and calcium-fortified foods (breakfast cereals and orange juice). Calcium supplements are also an option to help reach the daily intake requirements if you are not consuming enough calcium through your diet. You should not be consuming more than the recommended intake.
- Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption into the bones. For individuals younger than 70, the recommended intake is 600 IU a day, and 800 IU for people older than 70. It can be difficult to get all that from food, but your body can make vitamin D with the right amount of sun exposure. Roughly 10-30 minutes of direct sunlight is required about 3 times a week, but this can vary depending on your skin tone, time of day, or season.
- Potassium and protein are great for improving calcium metabolism and bone strength. Potassium can be found in fruits and vegetables, especially bananas, prunes, tomato juice, orange juice, potatoes (with the skin on), spinach, lima beans, and raisins. Protein is found in lean meats, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and fish and seafood.
- Any exercise that gets your bones moving will help keep your bones strong. Things like walking, aerobics, weight training, swimming, and dancing to name a few. If you’re frail, our Exercise Physiologist Nicole Saxby can help with staying injury-free during exercise.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Consuming excess amounts of these substances can reduce bone density.
- Quit smoking, as this can lead to significant bone loss and longer healing times after breaks and fractures.
Menopausal Hormonal Therapy
When going through puberty, bone density rapidly rises due to increased oestrogen levels. During menopause, oestrogen levels drop, resulting in accelerated loss of bone strength.
Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) is typically only prescribed for women going through menopause to alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes, weight gain, and low libido.
When it comes to maintaining bone health, doctors typically prescribe bone drugs, but new menopause guidelines explain that MHT should now also be considered when prescribing medications to patients with osteoporosis, or at risk of osteoporosis.
For most women, the benefit of taking MHT for osteoporosis outweighs any potential risks. However, you will need to be individually assessed by a member of our team before being prescribed.
MHT increases the body’s oestrogen levels, therefore improving bone density, which is why MHT should be considered alongside other things typically considered for bone health, such as calcium and vitamin D intake.
Exercise is great for improving overall physical and mental health and well-being,
including bone strength.
Benefits of exercising for people with osteoporosis include: improved bone mass, physical fitness, muscle strength, and reaction time; reduced risk of bone fractures, pain, and bone loss; better balance and coordination, and mood and vitality; and conservation of remaining bone tissue.
It can be difficult to choose an exercise program that works for you, so it’s always best to first speak with our Specialist Exercise Physiologist Nicole, as factors such as osteoporosis severity, fitness and ability, age, current medications, and medical conditions will need to be considered. She works with you, for your fitness level and situation, to provide a program tailored to you. Regular appointments keep you on track to achieving your health goals.
Recommended exercises include:
- Weight-bearing impact-loading exercises like walking or jogging, light dancing, stair walking, or golf. It’s recommended that this is done a minimum of three days a week.
- Resistance training uses free weights such as dumbbells and barbells, resistance bands, and weight-training machines, and is suggested to be done at least twice a week with two to three sets of five to eight exercises a session.
- Balancing This includes things like standing on one leg while stretching the other out to the side or behind, standing and sitting from a chair without using hands, walking with alternating knee lifts, and doing tai chi or yoga. These kinds of exercises are recommended to be done a minimum of three days a week, accumulating at least three hours of exercise. Make sure you have something to hold on to in case you overbalance.
- Stretching exercises are simple and can be done every day, preferably in the morning to energise you for the day.
It’s not required for you to do all of these exercises, but try and choose one or two that you enjoy that can be done together. For example, resistance training and stretching.
Nicole Saxby works with Her Wellness Clinic at Northside Gynaecology’s North Lakes location. She has a unique combination of being a Specialist Exercise Physiologist and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist, helping women living with osteoporosis and other health conditions. She also provides exercise recommendations and assists with pelvic floor exercises when required.
There’s no need to see your GP for a referral. If you’re struggling with osteoporosis during menopause, you can contact the team at Northside Gynaecology and book direct with us for an appointment with Nicole Saxby.