Posted on 29 April 2022

Does menopause cause osteoporosis?

Menopause speeds up bone loss, leading to the development of osteoporosis. Post-menopausal women can lose up to 20% of their bone mass, leading to bone health problems in later life, including osteoporosis.

In this article, we explore the links between menopause and osteoporosis. We’ll provide information on some practical things every woman can do to protect her bones and prevent osteoporosis.

Why does menopause cause osteoporosis?

Menopause is a natural change in women aged 45 to 55 as oestrogen levels decline.

Oestrogen plays a crucial role in the bone-building process encouraging the cells that build bone to work.

After 50, both men and women start to lose more bone than they build. This leads to bone loss which can cause osteoporosis.

The contrast between men and women is stark. Women begin to lose bone earlier and do so faster than men. Women over 50 are four times as likely as men to develop osteoporosis.

In women, as oestrogen levels drop, bone density can reduce.

The impact can be dramatic, with women losing up to 30% of their bone mass, with half of this lost in the ten years after menopause.

Women’s bones are typically smaller and less dense than men’s, which means bone loss can have a more significant impact.

The impact of osteoporosis can be massive, with 2 in every 3 women aged over 60 likely to experience a fracture.

Will all post-menopausal women develop osteoporosis?

No, not every woman will develop osteoporosis. The higher your bone density before menopause, the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis.

According to the NHS, some women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than others.

Women are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis if they have:

  • early menopause (before the age of 45)
  • a hysterectomy before 45
  • absent periods for more than six months caused by dieting or exercise

If for any reason, your bone mass isn’t great before menopause, you could be at greater risk of developing osteoporosis.

There are other risk factors that dictate a woman’s likelihood of developing osteoporosis.

These include age, whether you smoke, your weight, and whether you suffer from any other medical conditions that cause bone loss.

Genetics also play an essential role in whether you’re likely to develop osteoporosis. 

Researchers have found that even living a stressful life can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.

Post-menopausal women are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, but it’s not inevitable.

What can women do to prevent osteoporosis?

There are lots of things that everyone can do to improve bone health, say the experts. These can have an impact on your overall health and wellbeing, too.

Every woman worried about her risk of developing osteoporosis should:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get regular exercise
  • Cut down on drinking and stop smoking
  • Get enough essential vitamins

Eat a healthy diet

Everyone should eat a healthy diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables, but it’s more important for those with poor bone health. The NHS has some excellent guidance on eating healthily.

A good diet should include:

  • at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, including leafy green vegetables and those high in vitamin D
  • high fibre starchy foods, including potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
  • dairy to increase calcium intake
  • beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein to build bone

As well as eating healthily, you need to stay hydrated, drinking at least six glasses of water every day.

Get regular exercise

Staying active is better for your body and your bones. You don’t need to take up running, but regular weight-bearing exercise such as walking can have significant bone-building benefits, say the experts.

“A step increase in the amount of daily activity, using simple, daily performed tasks, can help prevent decreases in post-menopausal bone mineral density,” researchers concluded in a recent study.  They found that women over 75 who regularly took gentle exercise saw measurable bone health benefits.

Cut down on drinking and stop smoking

Alcohol and smoking are closely linked to bone loss. While you don’t have to stop drinking entirely, cutting down to the advised levels (no more than 15 units per week) is good advice.

There’s no safe level of smoking, so if you’re serious about your bone health, stub it out.

Get enough essential vitamins

Every woman must get the essential vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body and bones. While it’s possible to get all the vitamins you need from your food, supplements can provide a vital source of natural support.

But what should you take?

Vitamin D and calcium are essential, says the North American Menopause Society. You can take a single vitamin D supplement or a multivitamin combining several vitamins in one tablet.

Before taking any supplements, you should speak to your doctor. In rare cases, supplements can react with prescription medicines and may not be suitable for some people.

Can hormone replacement therapy prevent osteoporosis?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) works to mimic oestrogen and progesterone. It’s proven to have a positive impact on bone health.

“Menopause hormone therapy is considered as the first line choice for prevention of osteoporosis,” say scientists.

There’s not one single form of HRT, but over 50 different types. You’ll need to speak to your doctor and be prescribed HRT.

How effective is HRT at building bones? We don’t quite know, says the Royal Osteoporosis Society, but we can make some assumptions.

“It’s thought that HRT probably reduces the risk of breaking a bone by a similar amount to other osteoporosis medications, including bisphosphonates,” says the Royal Osteoporosis society.

Worried about your bone health?

If you’re worried about your bone health, speak to your GP. They can provide expert information and advice on suitable treatments, supplements and support that can help improve your bone health.

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