The Link Between Osteoporosis and Menopause - Elektra Health

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Osteoporosis

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SYMPTOM

Osteoporosis

The most important risk factor for bone loss is menopause — and yet, this silent, chronic decline in bone mass is often overlooked and undertreated. We’re here to change that.


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    The science

    Unlike some other menopausal symptoms, the science behind bone loss is fairly simple: estrogen protects our bones, so when estrogen levels decrease during menopause, so too does bone density.

    This can lead to:

    • Osteopenia: an official term for low bone density
    • Osteoporosis: a disease caused by significant bone loss (the name is derived from the Latin for “porous bones”)

    Osteoporosis is most often silent until a fracture or bone break occurs, often during an otherwise routine task. However, some early symptoms may include brittle nails and receding gums (but keep in mind that these can be caused by other conditions, too!). Bones in the ribs, hips, wrists, and spine are most commonly affected.

    Regular screening for the general population is conducted around age 65, with earlier screening for those at high risk due to:

    • Family history
    • History of fractures not related to trauma
    • Early menopause (before age 40)
    • Smoking
    • History of eating disorders
    • Oral steroid use

    “Women experiencing early menopause from natural or surgical causes experience more profound bone loss and are at higher risk of fracture during their life.” — Cleveland Clinic

    High-risk individuals are screened via a bone density test, otherwise known as a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DEXA scan). The 30-minute exam, which can be ordered by a gynecologist or primary care provider, works by measuring bone density primarily in the hips and lower back, and occasionally in the forearm. The score compares your density to that of a healthy, young adult.

    • Normal: greater than -1
    • Osteoporosis: -2.5 or less
    • Osteopenia: between -1 & -2.5

    Doctors may also leverage the FRAX model, which is a calculator that measures the risk percentage of hip or major fractures over the next ten years. If the risk is greater than or equal to 3% for a hip fracture, you are considered eligible to receive treatment. For osteoporotic fracture, the threshold is 20%.

    What you can do

    We’re all about equipping you with the know-how to understand your symptoms, and we especially emphasize the specific, tangible ways to manage them. Our goal is to empower YOU to take charge of your menopause journey, starting today.

    A quick note about product recommendations…Elektra Health is not paid to feature any products. We just like them and think you might too, though we can’t guarantee any results.


    Lifestyle

    Exercise

    Weight-bearing exercise is one of THE best things we can do for our bones since it helps with balance and core strength.

    Balance and core strength prevents us from falling, which is so important since the risk of fractures increases exponentially after the first fragility fracture.

    Weight-bearing exercises pit you against gravity, i.e. walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis, and dancing. Resistance exercises – such as lifting weights – can also strengthen bones. According to the NIH, exercises like swimming and cycling do strengthen muscles and have cardiovascular benefits, but are not the best types of exercise to protect your bones.

    We recommend focusing on major muscle groups twice per week, with a day of rest between each. Not sure where to start? Here are some helpful tips:

    • Kick things off with 10 minutes per day of power walking with small weights in your hands. Put on a good playlist and pump those biceps!
    • Turn to YouTube for guided exercises designed specifically for osteoporosis. This video by Dr. Andrea Furlan, MD, PhD is one of our go-tos.

    Nutrition & Diet

    Calcium is needed for bone health, which is especially important for us to prevent a loss in bone density. We should get about 1,000 – 1,200 mg daily, preferably from food sources. Here’s a great list of foods high in calcium.

    In order to ensure that our bodies are able to absorb the calcium, it’s important to cut down on alcohol, which interferes with the pancreas’ ability to absorb both calcium and vitamin D. As we know, alcohol also affects the liver, which is instrumental in activating our stores of vitamin D to facilitate calcium absorption. Any way you look at it, alcohol’s not great for our bones, especially when consumption exceeds 2-3 ounces (or drinks) every day.

    Interested in more nutrition know-how? Check out Elektra’s guide to nutrition during the menopause transition.


    Supplements & Over-the-Counter Solutions

    Supplements and over-the-counter solutions may be effective in supporting your bone mass…if you choose wisely. We recommend consulting with your healthcare provider first to ensure you’re using something with optimal efficacy and safety (i.e. backed by clinical research) or consulting with Elektra’s providers. Here’s a quick primer from our team on how to go about selecting high-quality supplements.

    Calcium

    As mentioned above, calcium is necessary for bone health and if you’re not getting enough from food you can supplement with additional calcium. There are two types to choose from: carbonate and citrate. Carbonate is typically cheaper, although harder to absorb, so it has to be taken with a meal. Citrate, on the other hand, is more expensive but doesn’t need to be taken with food. It’s recommended that women ages <50 get 1000 mg daily and 50+ get 1200 mg daily.

    There is such a thing as too much calcium (which poses cardiovascular risks), so be sure to read the labels carefully and, if possible, prioritize getting it from natural foods.

    Vitamin D3

    Vitamin D3 promotes, among other things, immune health and bone health. Our bodies need it in order to absorb calcium. While the sun is a natural source of vitamin D, most sunblocks limit the production of this essential vitamin in our skin. And even if we purchase vitamin D-fortified foods (e.g., milk and fish oil), it’s typically not sufficient. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends 1000 IU daily, but some providers may recommend more and if you’re deficient or low, your doctor may recommend higher doses.

    Although there’s controversy over what constitutes an “optimal” level, these are the numbers we typically reference: under 12 as deficient, 12-20 as insufficient, 20-30 as mildly low, and 30+ as normal. Elektra’s founding physician, Dr. Anna Barbieri, MD, aims for a range of 40-60. Vitamin D level is checked by a simple blood test and is often part of a regular wellness exam. Ask your provider or Elektra.

    Vitamin K2

    Data on the relationship between vitamin K2 and bone health is mixed — some studies show it can decrease the loss of bone density and prevent fractures, while others show that it doesn’t. This one’s really up to the practitioner’s judgment.

    Vitamin K can be found in various food sources such as full-fat dairy, egg yolks, liver, and fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, and natto (fermented soybeans). If you do take it in supplement form — either as a stand-alone or combined calcium/vitamin K product — keep in mind that the daily recommended intake for vitamin K in all its forms (K1 & K2) is 90 mcg.

    Magnesium

    Most Americans don’t get enough of this mineral (which is found in leafy greens, salmon, nuts, seeds, legumes, fortified breakfast cereals, and milk products) and opt for a supplement to help prevent osteoporosis. Magnesium also has the added benefit of helping with joint aches and promoting quality sleep.

    An ideal balance is two parts calcium to one part magnesium. So if, for example, your multivitamin has 1,000 mg of calcium, it should have 500 mg of magnesium.

    Keep an eye out for signs of excess magnesium, including stomach upset and diarrhea.

    Note that supplements often come in combinations. For example, vitamin D and calcium, or vitamin D and K2.


    Prescription

    Hormonal

    Estrogen therapy is not specifically used to treat osteoporosis; however, it can have the added benefit of maintaining bone health in addition to treating other perimenopausal/menopausal symptoms.

    There’s more information on the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in our complete guide.


    Non-Hormonal

    Raloxifene & Bazedoxifene

    Both are selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) that help prevent bone loss, improve bone mineral density (BMD), and decrease the risk of vertebral fracture. Raloxifene is typically prescribed for osteoporosis prevention when there is an independent need for breast cancer prevention as well.

    Fosamax

    Fosamax belongs to a family of drugs called bisphosphonates that are used to treat osteoporosis. Fosamax is a pill, and you need to remain upright for at least 30 minutes after taking.

    Prolia

    Prolia is a monoclonal antibody injection used to treat osteoporosis, and is given every 6 months.

    Reclast

    This zoledronic acid is administered intravenously once per year.

    Newer bone-building drugs include Teriparatide (Forteo), Abaloparatide (Tymlos), and Romosozumab (Evenity).


    We’re always keeping an eye out on emerging research and the latest clinical studies. Subscribe to our weekly Elektra Digest for the latest, science-based info direct to your inbox. Something work well for you that’s not listed here? We want to hear it! Shoot us a note at [email protected] (We’re human, promise.)


    Disclaimer: This information is for general educational purposes, and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health condition or problem.

    As with anything you put into your body, taking dietary supplements can also involve health risks. You should consult a medical professional before taking supplements and inform your doctor about any supplements, as well as any medications you already take, since there may be interactions.

    References

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    Learn more

    Elektra Guide to Nutrition During the Menopause Transition GUIDES & RESOURCES
    Elektra Guide to Nutrition During the Menopause Transition
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    Joint & muscle aches
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