For many women, menopause is about more than just hot flashes and disappearing periods. Even though it signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years, menopause can also change the body in ways that might seem less obviously related to hormones.
One of these sometimes unexpected—but still related—issues is osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones increasing your risk of fractures. Osteoporosis can progress quietly without any symptoms or pain until sudden breaks occur, usually in the back and hips.
Menopause and just after menopause is a time when osteoporosis commonly presents itself, so it is important to be aware of the facts!
Myths and Facts
Here are 4 myths or facts about menopause and osteoporosis.
Myth or Fact: Osteoporosis isn’t something to worry about unless you have a family history of bone disease
Osteoporosis is the most common kind of bone disease. And while having a family history of osteoporosis can increase your chances of developing it, there are other risk factors, including:
- Amenorrhea - the absence of periods for a length of time
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Low body weight
Myth or Fact: Going through menopause can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis
One reason that a woman’s chances of developing osteoporosis increases during menopause has to do with hormones—specifically estrogen.
Estrogen protects your bones. When you reach menopause, your estrogen levels drop. In some cases, this decrease in estrogen can lead to bone loss, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF).
Another reason that menopausal women are at a higher risk for osteoporosis has to do with not getting enough minerals that help your body maintain healthy bones.
When you aren’t getting enough calcium, your body uses the calcium stored in your bones, leaving them weakened and vulnerable to fractures and breaks. Your body also needs vitamin D to absorb calcium.
Myth or Fact: Some women don’t know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone
Early stage bone loss can be painless and symptom free until a break occurs.
These injuries can occur suddenly, even during routine activities like climbing the stairs or bending down to lift an object, according to the Office on Women’s Health (OWH).
Osteoporosis can even cause vertebra in the back to collapse secondary to weakened bones. Symptoms of this can include:
- Back pain
- Curved back
- Loss of height
- Hunched posture
Myth or Fact: There’s nothing you can do to reduce the risk of long-term damage from osteoporosis
There are lots of ways for women in menopause to decrease their chances of developing osteoporosis by protecting and strengthening their bones.
In general, exercise can help your bones by:
- Slowing the rate of bone loss
- Improving muscle strength
- Improving balance
Try to include weight-bearing activities—exercises that involve working your body against gravity, such as walking and dancing—in your routine, suggests the OWH.
Eat Foods That Promote Bone Health
Calcium and vitamin D are important nutrients for bone health.
You can get calcium through foods as well as supplements. Vitamin D is also found in some foods and supplements, and you can get it from spending time in the sun.
Other nutrients that are good for your bones include:
In addition to calcium and vitamin D, milk contains lots of these nutrients. Other foods, such as lean meat, fish and leafy green vegetables, also have many nutrients that promote bone health.
Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs. It can actually increase your risk of getting osteoporosis. Smoking can decrease your body’s estrogen levels, making you more vulnerable to bone loss in the process.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Not only does alcohol may make it more difficult for your body to properly use calcium. The National Osteoporosis Foundation suggests limiting alcohol consumption to no more than 2-3 drinks per day.
Consider Medications To Prevent Or Treat Osteoporosis
If your risk for osteoporosis is high or you are experiencing symptoms of bone disease, you might want to talk to your doctor about any medications available for you to prevent or treat osteoporosis.