Menopause And Osteoporosis: What’s The Connection?
For many women, menopause is about more than just hot flashes and disappearing periods. Even though it signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years, menopause can also change the body in ways that might seem less obviously related to hormones.
One of these sometimes unexpected—but still related—issues is osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones increasing your risk of fractures. Osteoporosis can progress quietly without any symptoms or pain until sudden breaks occur, usually in the back and hips.
Menopause and just after menopause is a time when osteoporosis commonly presents itself, so it is important to be aware of the facts!
A closer look at osteoporosis
Your bones are hard and stiff, which may give the impression they’re stronger than they really are. But inside your bones, there’s a network of growing tissue that resembles a sponge. The countless tiny holes constantly change size and shape as your bone cells renew and grow over the years.
Your bones are the repository for calcium and other minerals, so when your body needs some calcium, it draws from the store in your bones and rebuilds more, keeping those sponge-like holes tight and small. However, around age 30, you begin to lose more bone than you gain, the holes get bigger, and the problem progresses each year beyond that.
By your late 30s, the process speeds up, and your bones lose mass. This is normal progression, but if the loss happens at a rapid rate, you end up with osteoporosis.
The connection between menopause and osteoporosis
At Atlantic Endocrinology & Diabetes Center many of our patients ask us if menopause causes osteoporosis, and the answer is: yes and no. The exact cause of osteoporosis is unknown, but the risk factors are very clear, and menopause is one of them.
Several factors contribute to osteoporosis and put you at a higher risk, including:
- A poor diet deficient in calcium and vitamin D
- Ethnicity: Caucasian, African American, Asian American, and Latina women are more at risk
- Body weight and composition: smaller, thinner people are at greater risk
- Medical conditions: overactive thyroid, celiac disease, blood diseases — to name a few
We place menopause on this list because it’s the time in your life when your ovary function declines. That means they slow down their production of estradiol, a hormone which normally protects against bone loss.
Not every menopausal woman gets osteoporosis, but it certainly increases your chances. Two significant factors are the level of your bone density at its peak prior to the decline and how quickly your body loses bone density. Your maximum density and rate of loss play a big role in whether you get menopause-related osteoporosis.
Myths and Facts
Here are some myths & facts about menopause and osteoporosis.
Myth or Fact: Osteoporosis isn’t something to worry about unless you have a family history of bone disease
Osteoporosis is the most common kind of Bone Disease. And while having a family history of osteoporosis can increase your chances of developing it, there are other risk factors, including:
- Amenorrhea – the absence of periods for a length of time
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Low body weight
Myth or Fact: Going through menopause can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis
One reason that a woman’s chances of developing osteoporosis increase during menopausehas to do with hormones—specifically estrogen.
Estrogen protects your bones. When you reach menopause, your estrogen levels drop. In some cases, this decrease in estrogen can lead to bone loss, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF).
Another reason menopausal women are at a higher risk for osteoporosis has to do with not getting enough minerals helping your body maintain healthy bones.
When you aren’t getting enough calcium, your body uses the calcium stored in your bones, leaving them weakened and vulnerable to fractures and breaks. Your body also needs vitamin D to absorb calcium.
Myth or Fact: Some women don’t know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone
Early-stage bone loss can be painless and symptom free until a break occurs.
These injuries can occur suddenly, even during routine activities like climbing the stairs or bending down to lift an object, according to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH).
Osteoporosis can even cause vertebrae in the back to collapse secondary to weakened bones. Symptoms of this can include:
- Back pain
- Curved back
- Loss of height
- Hunched posture
Myth or Fact: There’s nothing you can do to reduce the risk of long-term damage from osteoporosis
There are lots of ways for women in menopause to decrease their chances of developing osteoporosis by protecting and strengthening their bones.
In general, exercise can help your bones by:
- Slowing the rate of bone loss
- Improving muscle strength
- Improving balance
Try to include weight-bearing activities—exercises that involve working your body against gravity, such as walking and dancing—in your routine, suggests the OWH.
Eat Foods That Promote Bone Health
Calcium and vitamin D are important nutrients for bone health.
You can get calcium through foods as well as supplements. Vitamin D is also found in some foods and supplements, and you can get it from spending time in the sun.
Other nutrients that are good for your bones include:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
In addition to calcium and vitamin D, milk contains lots of these nutrients. Other foods, such as lean meat, fish and leafy green vegetables, also have many nutrients that promote bone health.