Menopause and Bone Health
During the middle-aged years, one of the key challenges and issues involves the risk of osteoporosis. In the last decade, there have been a number of studies indicating that lower oestrogen puts women at a higher risk for this bone disease. With menopause signifying a time when a woman's reproductive system is essentially 'shutting down', her newly decreased oestrogen levels affect the rate at which new bone is formed.
Understanding Bone MetabolismWhile we may think of our bones as simply solid, unchanging, inert parts of our bodies, this is far from the truth. Your bones are comprised of healthy tissue that is very much alive. Bones regularly change in the sense that two key activities occur to keep them stable and healthy. The first is the breakdown of bone tissue and the second is the formation of fresh, new bone tissue.
You might wonder what happens when the breakdown and formation occur at different rates. If the breakdown of bone surpasses the formation of new, healthy bone, then bone loss occurs. Once bone loss occurs, a person's bones will start to become thinner and more brittle. In this way, they are said to be losing bone density. While the process of bone loss in itself is not something a person feels – it is painless – the consequences of bone loss can be extremely painful and debilitating. With bone loss, a person will suffer from a weaker skeletal frame that simply can't provide the same, successful support of their day-to-day activities.
Consequences of Bone LossWith hundreds of thousands of British women fracturing a vertebrae each year and similar numbers for hip fractures, the consequences and costs of osteoporosis are high. Recovery is prolonged and painful while mobility becomes limited. Long periods of bed rest are needed and most people will end up needing support to comfortably function each day. Some people will need surgery as well to repair or replace damaged bones. Ultimately, although people can and do recover from their fractures related to osteoporosis, there can still be a significant loss of independence and quality of life.
Preventing Osteoporosis During and After MenopauseMost doctors and medical professionals agree that prevention of bone loss is the most important approach to osteoporosis. The condition of your skeletal frame as an older woman will be mostly dependent on the peak bone density you reached prior to menopause and the rate at which you lose bone after menopause. There are other factors such as your genetics and dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D, all of which influence your bone density. However, a main issue in bone loss is an oestrogen deficiency. When you enter perimenopause, bone loss will accelerate, namely due to it being a time when your oestrogen levels experience a significant decrease.
Although there are current treatments for osteoporosis and even bone loss prevention prior to the onset of osteoporosis, most doctors cite the primary health strategy as preventing the loss early on when a woman is still young and has not yet reached menopause. Most of the medical treatments today work to reduce bone loss but they are not as effective at improving bone density once it has already been lost.
By focusing on increasing your bone density prior to menopause, you can hopefully start with somewhat of a 'surplus' so that your losses during perimenopause will not be as likely to lead to fractures and osteoporosis. Think of it as banking bone, where you build up reserves. Although taking oestrogen as part of hormone replacement therapy is one option, there are unfortunately other detrimental effects from this therapy – ones negatively affecting various systems in the body.