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Protecting Your Bones After Menopause

Image for menopause article For many women, bone loss is a concern, especially as menopause nears. More than half of women over age 50 have osteoporosis, when bones lose their strength and there is a greater risk of fracture. If you are nearing menopause or if you are already there, read more to find out how you can protect your bones.

Why Does Bone Loss Occur?

When you are young, your body loses and creates bone at about an equal rate. Your body reaches its highest bone mass around age 30. After that, your body begins to lose bone faster than it can be replaced. Once you reach menopause (which usually begins around age 51), bone loss speeds up dramatically. This is because your body begins to produce less estrogen and progesterone, which causes your bones to absorb less calcium. This puts you at higher risk for bone fractures. Fractures are most common in the back, hip, and wrist.

How Will I Know If I Have Bone Loss?

Your doctor may recommend a test of your bone density (thickness) to learn if you have bone loss. The test is called dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Your doctor may recommend testing if you:

  • Are over age 65
  • Are going through menopause and have an increased risk for fracture, such as low body weight, prior fracture, and certain medications
  • Are postmenopausal with risk factors, such as:
    • Early menopause (starting earlier than age 45)
    • Family history of osteoporosis
    • Excessive use of caffeine or alcohol
    • Smoking
  • Have had a fracture during normal activities—also called a fragility fracture
  • Have a condition or take a medication associated with bone loss
  • Are being treated for osteoporosis or considering medications for osteoporosis

There are other risk factors, so talk to your doctor for a complete list. Also, ask your doctor about whether bone density testing is right for you.

Signs of osteoporosis can include sloping shoulders, height loss, back pain, and hunched posture. If you are concerned about these symptoms, talk to your doctor to see if testing is right for you.

How Can I Minimize Bone Loss?

One of the major factors that influences your likelihood of developing osteoporosis is the condition of your bones before you reach menopause. That is why it is important to take care of your bones early in life, especially if you have risk factors for osteoporosis. However, if you have already reached menopause, it is not too late. You can take steps to slow bone loss.

Diet

Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Beginning around age 19, all women should take at least 1,000 mg (milligrams) of calcium each day. At age 51, increase the amount to 1,200 mg each day. You should also eat a balanced diet full of calcium-rich foods, like dairy products and spinach.

Vitamin D is also important for bone health. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Natural sunlight produces vitamin D in your skin, but many people also need to take a vitamin D supplement. Talk to your doctor. The recommended daily allowance of Vitamin D is 600 units each day until age 70, when you should increase the amount to 800 units. Milk and cereals are often enriched with vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from egg yolks and salt water fish.

Exercise

Your bones will stay strong longer if you give them daily use! Weight-bearing exercise is the type of activity that helps your bone health the most. Many everyday activities fall into this category, such as walking, climbing stairs, and gardening. Jogging, running, and dancing are some other great options.

Medicines

If you are concerned about bone loss, talk to your doctor. To treat or prevent osteoporosis and fractures, the following medications may be advised:

  • Bisphosphonates to prevent the loss of bone
  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators to prevent bone loss, improve density, and decrease fractures
  • Parathyroid hormone therapy to stimulate bone growth

Other important lifestyle changes include:

  • Decrease your consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit. Smoking increases your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
  • Reduce trip and fall hazards in your home.

Whether you are nearing menopause or are postmenopausal, bone loss is worth thinking about. You can make simple lifestyle changes that can help you build healthier, stronger bones and minimize bone loss.

  • Harris ST, Jaffe RB, Shoback D. Menopause and bone loss. J Clin Endocrin & Metab. 2006; 91(3):0.

  • Menopause. Women's Health.gov website. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics. Updated September 22, 2010. Accessed January 20, 2017.

  • Osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113815/Osteoporosis. Updated November 30, 2016. Accessed January 20, 2017.

  • Osteoporosis. Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/osteoporosis.html. Updated July 16, 2012. Accessed January 23, 2017.