Women over 50 are at a high risk of developing osteoporosis, which may be due to the loss of oestrogen that occurs after menopause. While studies have linked oestrogen levels to bone health, the exact details of this connection have never been particularly clear.
Osteoporosis is a chronic disease whereby the bone loses its structure and strength and becomes extremely weak, thin and porous. Fractures are a common feature of this disease and due to its lack of symptoms leading up to diagnosis, it is the fractures that usually lead to its discovery.
Bone is a complex substance that is made up of a criss-cross structure (known as a matrix) of proteins and minerals (such as calcium and magnesium) that provide both the strength and flexibility needed for us to move. It is made up of specific bone cells called osteocytes which maintain this structure via a constant dance of rebuilding and remodeling (a bit like an artistic carver of stone or wood). There are 2 types of osteocytes – osteoblasts are the cells that build and osteoclasts are the cells that carve.
What we eat as a teenager influences how strong our bones are in later life. They reach their peak density when we are in our early twenties so it is of paramount importance that as adolescents we eat a diet rich in plant foods, fish, dairy (or fortified non- dairy), nuts, seeds, whole grains and low in sodium with lots of healthy exercise and sensible sun bathing.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- Size – the smaller and thinner you are the more at risk you are due to having less bone
- Bone density – the greater the bone density when you hit menopause due to having reached your high peak bone density as a young adult the lower the risk
- Genetics – it appears that if your mum or grandma had it you are at a higher risk
- Age – menopause is the number one risk factor
- Smoking – increases earlier menopause
Why does menopause increase the risk?
Over our life, many things can influence both the make up, the building up and and the remodeling of bone and oestrogen is one of those things.
Scientists know that as oestrogen levels drop – the cells responsible for the carving, restructuring and remodeling increase and the cells responsible for building up decrease which results in huge amounts of bone loss and strength and more porous looking, thin bone (1)
Researchers at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University discovered in 2019 that as women’s oestrogen declines with age, a specific protein found in bone called ‘Sema3A’ also declined. The osteocytes start to die as a result and so the bone starts to lose its structure and strength (2). This is the first time an actual mechanism has been found.
So what can you do to decrease your risk?
- Exercise, exercise, exercise! Exercise builds and maintains strong bones as much as medication so why wouldn’t you exercise when its only other side effects are also feeling happy, energetic and slim (can’t say the same for the medication). Walking, jogging, dancing and exercise classes have all been shown to be of benefit. Swimming also provides bone strengthening but not as much as other land based weight bearing activities.
- Stop smoking!
- Get plant oestrogens into your diet. Scientists are currently looking at turning these into medicines for osteoporosis so don’t wait – eat them now. These include soy, flaxseeds, beans & peas.
- Supplement the diet with bone boosting nutrients:
- Eat foods rich in calcium such as broccoli, bok choy, kale and dairy or fortified non-dairy products.
- Eat foods rich in magnesium such as green leafy veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes. whole grains, fish and chocolate.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin K such as green leafy veggies and natto (fermented soy beans). Vitamin K has been used as a treatment for osteoporosis in Japan for years.
- Eat foods fortified with vitamin D such as fatty fish, sun bathed mushrooms or fortified dairy. Better yet get some sun on you. Calcium won’t be absorbed without adequate amounts of vitamin D.
You may need to take a supplement so make sure it contains calcium, magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin D at the following amounts for post-menopausal women:
- Calcium 1300mg/day
- Magnesium 320mg/day
- Vitamin K 60 µg/day
- Vitamin D 10 – 80 µg/day
It’s worth asking your GP to test for osteoporosis if you have any concerns.
We specifically check your nutrient levels and dietary intake when you join our VIP programme and Andrea will teach you about what exercise you need to do to prevent osteoporosis. This is a condition that can be prevented and can absolutely be stopped in its tracks. This is a lifestyle condition that requires lifestyle changes.
Email [email protected] if you have any questions or would like to talk about what we do and how we can help.