menopause bone loss osteoporosis skeleton

Menopause bone loss: How to look after your bones and prevent osteoporosis

Menopause bone loss is something that has been on my mind for a couple of years now, ever since I lost a tooth and had to use a repair kit while on holiday! My tooth loss was nothing to do with menopause, but my dentist did warn me about bone loss in my jaw and the need to be aware of menopause bone health.

Having suffered a severely fractured pelvis after a car crash and then breaking my arm while horse riding (over a jump – about 2ins high!), I’m worried about any future problems and developing osteoporosis. Added to that, I have already started getting smaller and I’m already a foot shorter than Mr 50Sense as it is.

All of this means taking care of my bones has become very important to me.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and fragile, making them break more easily.

Basically, bone is a living, growing tissue with a hard, outer layer around a softer sponge-like bone. Our bodies constantly remove old bone tissue (it gets dumped into your bloodstream, a process called resorption) while adding new bone where it’s needed, which is known as ossification. It’s a delicate checks and balances process.

In osteoporosis, the holes in this soft sponge tissue become larger and more numerous, which weakens the structure of the bone. When it reaches a certain point, you have osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis develops slowly and can affect women of all ages, as well as men and children. However, it is more common in older women, with one in two women over the age of 50 experiencing fractures. Some people will develop a stoop because the bones in their spine have become damaged.

It is not only your bones that osteoporosis affects. A 2014 survey of sufferers found 42% said it made them feel socially isolated.

What causes menopause bone loss?

In our childhood and adolescence, our bones grow at a fast rate, building up bone mass in the body, then starts to slow in our 20s. From around our mid-30s, we all start losing bone mass naturally. That speeds up for women during and after menopause.

Our old friend oestrogen is to blame for menopause bone loss, although how exactly is not known. It inhibits the amount of old bone tissue that gets removed. When the levels of oestrogen begin to fall, that check falls away and we lose more tissue. Because our bodies are no longer in the growth spurt of our youth, we don’t make enough new bone matter to make up for this. Without oestrogen, the checks and balances process is broken.

One point: osteoporosis or bone loss is not a symptom of menopause. It is a possible result from the lack of oestrogen. People with osteoporosis have no symptoms.

How much bone loss does a woman have in the first 5 years of menopause?

Menopause bone loss varies, but some women can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the 5-7 years after menopause (if you’re confused about when that is, ready my Menopause 101 guide).

You’re also at greater risk if you have:

  • an early menopause (check my guide!),
  • a hysterectomy before the age of 45,
  • or your genes mean you naturally have a lower bone mass.

If you have more bone mass before menopause, your risk of developing osteoporosis falls so start nagging the younger women in your life to take action.

Can you prevent menopause bone loss?

Yes! And you should work on prevention as soon as possible.

You can keep your bones strong by:

  • get enough calcium – around 1,200mg a day through diet and supplements. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt;
  • watch your vitamin D, especially if you can’t get outside (such as during lockdown). Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna are good sources, as well as butter, eggs and meat. Take around 10-20mg a day;
  • stop smoking;
  • exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise that help strengthen your bones and as well as your muscles to protect your bones;
  • watch your weight and stay in health limits;
  • and watch your alcohol intake.

HRT can also help prevent menopause bone loss by adding oestrogen back to your body. This is why it’s given if you go through menopause under the age of 40.

What foods are bad for osteoporosis?

No foods are bad for your bones, but there are some you should enjoy in moderation. These include coffee (no more than 4 cups a day), saturated fats and salt.

For more information on osteoporosis, check out the Royal Osteoporosis Society.

How do you look after your bone health? Share your tips and recommendations below. And don’t forget to subscribe to get monthly updates and your free 20-page guide to menopause and midlife.

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