If you’re a woman that is approaching or has reached menopause, you may have begun to wonder about the changes going on inside of your body, both in your reproductive organs and elsewhere. One area that is currently well-known is that the hormonal changes induced by menopause can affect the strength and composition of a woman’s bone structure. These changes are believed to be one of the main causes – or perhaps the chief cause – of osteoporosis, which is a reduction in the density of bones leading to increased risk of fractures.
Let’s take a quick look at menopause and osteoporosis, including signs to watch out for, current drug therapies and some preventive measures one can start immediately.
What we Know: Hormonal Changes Accelerate Bone Loss
As mentioned above, it’s well known that the loss of hormones due to menopause – especially estrogens – can cause bone weakness. This is due to a number of reasons, but mainly because the cells that create new bone cells – known as osteoblasts – see a reduction in their workload when estrogen levels decrease. As the osteoblasts are not working as hard, bone density tends to decrease over time which leads to more fragile bone structures.
One common misconception about osteoporosis is that there are signs or symptoms that one can watch out for – but this is for the most part untrue. Women generally learn that they have osteoporosis when they suffer a bone fracture due to something that normally wouldn’t cause a break; these situations are known as “fragility fractures”. If you find that you’re suffering from constant pain in an area where it might be due to a bone fracture, be sure to consult a doctor immediately.
Therapeutic Options: Hormone Replacement and Bisphosphonates
If you are a post-menopausal woman you’ve probably already had the talk with your physician about hormone replacement therapy and why it can be effective for women who have reached menopause.
Bisphosphonates – such as Alendronate (brand name Fosamax) or Risedronate (Actonel) are the current gold standard for osteoporosis prevention and are prescribed to post-menopausal women on a regular basis. These drugs work by blocking the natural breakdown of bone cells by osteoclasts, which are the cells responsible for bone cell turnover. Current medical evidence shows that these drugs are very effective for most individuals over the first 3-5 years, with some questions remaining about effectiveness beyond this point. Regardless, it’s likely you will hear about bisphosphonates if you speak to your doctor about osteoporosis prevention.
It’s also worth mentioning that a diet high in calcium and regular exposure to the sun so the body can generate sufficient vitamin D have also been proven to help reduce the risk of osteoporotic fractures; evidence is, however, inconclusive in regards to calcium supplements so it would be wise to consult your physician before supplementing your diet with calcium tablets or capsules.
Non-Drug Measures that May Help
While HRT and bisphosphonate therapies have proven to be beneficial for post-menopausal women who are at risk of osteoporosis, there are also a number of non-drug measures that are recommended to maintain healthy bones and prevent injury, including:
Regular Exercise Unfortunately you’ll hear this mantra until the day you leave this Earth: regular exercise is the most important step one can take in keeping themselves healthy. It’s not necessary to train for a marathon race or to be lifting gigantic barbells in the gym – even a half-hour walk on a daily basis will do wonders for your health. (Of course, consult your physician before undergoing any new exercise program!)
Joint, Back and Other Braces Braces, hip protectors and posture supports are an important tool in preventing fractures due to osteoporosis. A good brace can help support the weight being placed on a joint or bone structure, ensuring that the bone suffers as little stress as possible . Note that a brace or other supportive material should be fitted by a doctor, pharmacist or a medical expert who can provide assistance with selecting the correct device and size.
Fall Prevention Falls are a significant cause of injury in those with osteoporosis, and for this reason most doctors recommend stringent measures to prevent injuries due to falls. These types of treatments will range from assistive devices like canes or walkers to home alterations, such as railings in the bathtub.
If you believe that you may be starting to experience the effects of osteoporosis, or you have yet to see your doctor to have a talk about menopause and bone density changes, you may want to make an appointment soon. Waiting until an arm or another bone breaks due to bone loss is too late; it’s best to tackle osteoporosis head-on to maintain as healthy a body as possible.
Meriel Anderson is a natural health expert and a blogger who has written a number of articles about menopause treatment and how to manage the physiological changes that come with menopause. She thanks you for taking the time to read her post and wishes you the best of health!