Why is bone health important during menopause?
Bone health and osteoporosis are of concern for many women around the time of menopause because it is then that estrogen levels begin to decline. This is a hormone that plays an important role in maintaining bone strength throughout a woman’s life, and when estrogen levels drop during the menopausal period, increased bone loss occurs.1 It is estimated that a woman loses 2% of her bone mass each year for several years after menopause or an average total of 10%.1,2 This puts her at risk of developing osteoporosis.
How menopause influences osteoporosis
Throughout life bone is constantly being broken down and renewed. Up until about our mid-30’s, a person normally builds more bone than they lose, ultimately reaching their peak bone mass. After this point, the rate of bone loss exceeds the rate of bone formation, leading to a gradual reduction in bone mass with age.3
When a woman reaches menopause, which is normally between the ages of 45-55, she loses bone at an accelerated rate. If a woman’s peak bone mass is less than ideal, any bone loss that occurs during menopause may lead to osteoporosis,1 a condition characterized by weak, fragile bones that are more susceptible to fractures.
Other factors involved
Decreased estrogen levels are not the only cause of osteoporosis in menopausal women. Other factors that may contribute to its development at this time include:
- Existing bone density – The acquisition of bone mass in childhood and early adulthood is often compared to a ‘bone bank account’. Maximizing bone mass is important while we are young in order to support bone health and protect against the consequences of age or menopause related bone loss.4 As such, the greater your bone density at menopause, the lower your chance of developing osteoporosis is.
- Body composition – Women who are very thin or have a small body frame are at a higher risk of osteoporosis as they may have less bone to draw from as they age.4
- Family history – Osteoporosis can be strongly inherited. A person with a parent or sibling that has a history of osteoporosis or bone fractures has a 50-85% increased risk of developing osteoporosis.4
- Diet and lifestyle – There are various diet and lifestyle factors that can affect overall bone health. Calcium intake, vitamin D levels, the amount of physical activity, smoking, and alcohol and caffeine consumption, can all influence bone density and the development of osteoporosis, both before and after menopause in women.1