How does menopause affect the risk of osteoporosis?

For women, menopause causes a steep drop in estrogen, a hormone essential for strong bones. The earlier you go into menopause, the higher your risk of osteoporosis. A Swedish study found that women who entered menopause before the age of 47 were nearly twice as likely to have osteoporosis later in life compared with peers who experienced the menopausal transition after that age. "Women lose the most bone in the first three to five years of menopause," says Connie Weaver, PhD, chairman of the department of nutrition science at Purdue University and a calcium researcher. "They can lose as much bone as they gain during puberty." Menopause, says Dr. Weaver, is an important period to make lifestyle choices that protect against bone loss and osteoporosis, namely with exercise and diet.

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Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

There is a direct relationship between the lack of estrogen after menopause and the development of osteoporosis. When estrogen levels start to drop so does the body's ability to preserve bone mass. Estrogen plays a role in bone development. The following supplements, combined with a healthy diet, may help prevent the onset of this condition.

Calcium: If you think you need to take a supplement to get enough calcium, check with your doctor first. A study published in June 2012 in the journal Heart suggests that taking calcium supplements may increase risk for heart attacks in some people; however, the study showed that increasing calcium in the diet through food sources did not seem to increase the risk.

Vitamin D3: Your body uses vitamin D3 to absorb calcium. Experts state ideal vitamin D blood levels are above 30 ng/ml. Treatment regimens vary widely, ranging from 600,000 IU of D2 or D3 as a single dose every 3 months. In general, 2,000–4,000 IU daily is considered enough to prevent deficiency and maintain healthy vitamin D stores.

After menopause the risk of osteoporosis rises because the rate of bone loss increases significantly. An estimated 20% of women in their 50s already have osteoporosis, and 52% already have low bone mass. Osteoporosis is painless and is only evident on a bone density scan or when a fracture occurs. Weight-bearing exercises (such as walking and dancing) and strength-training (lifting weights) can help keep bones strong and prevent or delay osteoporosis. Studies show that even gardening can help prevent bone loss in older women. It's also important to make sure the diet is rich in calcium to keep bones strong.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.