Bone health likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about menopause. That makes sense too. Weakened bones aren’t the most sensational aspect of menopause, and you’re not likely to notice the impact for years.
Still, for many women the loss of bone density is one of the most significant effects of this change of life. Let’s talk about what’s happening, why, and what you can do about it.
What does menopause have to do with bone health anyway?
Bone density issues with menopause are all about losing estrogen.
Because bone is so hard and durable, we don’t always think about it like the other tissues of our body. But like every tissue, bone regenerates. One of the things that differs about bone generation is that the process requires estrogen. Without estrogen, the osteoblasts (bone-making cells), just can’t create enough to maintain density.
Before you get too worried, and cover every limb with pool floaties, you should know that some density loss is completely normal. In fact bones start to lose more cells than they create for most people at around age 35.
What we’re talking about here is rate. And falling estrogen levels can hit the gas pedal on natural declines.
How bad is it, really?
Part of the answer to that question (like almost everything with menopause) is that every woman is different. For instance, thinner women are more likely to struggle with bone density issues because they start with less to lose.
But, if you live long enough, bone health is more than likely going to become an issue in one way or another. From broken bones and osteoporosis, to spinal issues, the consequences of density loss can be a pretty big deal.
Being aware of skeletal health is actually one of the most important things to consider when going through menopause. The reason is that quite a bit of loss is likely to occur before you even know it. Losing bone density isn’t painful on it’s own, but the accumulation of results can be challenging.
You’re going to want to slow the losses that speed up with menopause, and delay those concerns as long as possible.
What can I do?
1. Weight Training
It may be surprising, but exercising with resistance or weights has been proven to increase bone density. Bone, like muscle, is living tissue, and tissue adapts under stress.
So the same concept that bodybuilders use to grow their muscle can be applied to our bones. By putting strains on our skeletal system, the body is prompted to thicken those bones in anticipation of further work. If you’re new to weight training, or have concerns about injury, start slow.
2. Avoid Soda and Coffee
Studies have shown a correlation between soda and coffee consumption, and osteoporosis. The reasons aren’t exactly clear, although there’s speculation that caffeine is the culprit.
If your heart skips a beat at the prospect of losing your morning Starbucks, just remember that moderation is the biggest key. The occasional tall caramel macchiato isn’t going fracture your femur, but if you measure your daily coffee in gallons, it might be time to reel it in.
3. Supplement Estrogen
Declines in estrogen are a normal part of the fertility cycle, and usher in the end of the reproductive years. That doesn’t mean that you have live with the other issues associated with low estrogen. Going after the source of accelerated bone loss is a very effective way to turn the tide.
4. Get the Nutrients your Bones Need
There are several nutrients that play a role in the development and maintenance of bone mass. The most important nutrients to look out for are calcium and vitamin D, but it’s also smart to make sure your getting enough magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K.
5. Stop Smoking
If you’re still smoking, it probably isn’t because you think it’s good for you. Still, maybe one more health consequence will be the final straw. Hey, we’re optimists.
Smoking keeps the body from effectively absorbing the calcium that bones need to grow. The result is weaker bones and increased likelihood of osteoporosis.
6. Limit Alcohol
Heavy alcohol consumption prevents vitamin D from being effective, and hurts bone health. Total abstinence isn’t necessary to avoid alcohol’s negative effects, but more intense sessions do damage.
One drink a day for women, and two for men shouldn’t have a negative impact on vitamin D.
With these tips, you’ll be able to make the most of your bone health and stay strong for a long time to come. Your skeleton is at the core of who you are, and it’s been supporting you for years. Don’t let menopause take that away.