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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 (or thickness) to learn if you have bone loss. The test is call dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). Your doctor may recommend testing if you:

  • Are over age 65
  • Are postmenopausal with risk factors, such as:
    • Early menopause (starting earlier than age 45)
    • Family history of osteoporosis
    • History of bone fracture
    • Excessive use of caffeine or alcohol
    • Smoking
  • Are going through menopause and have an increased risk for fracture (eg, low body weight, prior fracture, certain medicines)
  • Have had a fracture after age 50
  • Have a condition or take a medicine associated with bone loss

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. But 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 30, all women should take at least 1,000 mg (milligrams) of calcium each day. At age 50, increase the amount to 1,200-1,500 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. 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, like 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, he may recommend medicines, like:

  • Bisphosphonates—These drugs can treat bone loss and may even help you build bone mass.
  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs)—These help slow the rate of bone loss.
  • Calcitonin—This is a naturally occurring hormone that can slow bone loss.

Other important lifestyle changes include:

  • Decrease your consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Do not smoke! If you smoke, learn about options that can help you quit.
  • Reduce trip and fall hazards in your home.

Whether you are nearing menopause or 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.

  • Reviewer: Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
  • Review Date: 04/2012 -
  • Update Date: 04/09/2012 -
  • Beddoe AE, Cabrera G. Menopause: osteoporosis. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/pointOfCare/nrc-about. Updated November 4, 2011. Accessed December 2, 2011.

  • Clinician’s guide to prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. National Osteoporosis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.nof.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/NOF%5FClinicianGuide2009%5Fv7.pdf. Updated January 2010. Accessed December 12, 2011.

  • 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 29, 2010. Accessed December 2, 2011.

  • Menopause: a time for action. National Osteoporosis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.nof.org/aboutosteoporosis/whatwomencando/menopause. Accessed December 2, 2011.

  • Osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 29, 2011. Accessed December 12, 2011.

  • Osteoporosis fact sheet. Women's Health.gov website. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/osteoporosis.cfm. Updated January 31, 2011. Accessed December 2, 2011.