Menopause and Bone Loss: Myth or Fact?

Menopause and Bone Loss: Myth or Fact?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

As women get older, their bone mass declines—this is something we've known for decades. But exactly how much do bones change after menopause? According to a 25-year-long study by the University of Eastern Finland, the decline in bone density each year after menopause is a lot lower than previous research had suggested—about 75% less per year, to be exact.

This long-term analysis of menopause and bone density loss looked at data from a random sample of 3,222 women, 60 percent of whom were menopausal when the study began. Participants underwent dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) every five years, which measured bone mass density.

While previous studies reported a 1.6% drop in bone density at the femoral neck (where most hip fractures occur) per year over 15 years, the new study showed the average bone mass density loss was only 0.4% per year, for 25 years.

"This new, long-term follow-up of bone mineral density sheds significant new light on osteoporosis and also changes our understanding of bone loss in older women," the researchers said.

Risk factors for bone loss

Bone loss may be part of the aging process, but the menopausal transition is not the sole culprit. There are numerous risk factors for bone mineral density loss—including age, low body mass, poor nutrition, alcohol use, smoking, lack of physical activity, and long-term use of certain medications that are associated with low bone density and osteoporosis.

On the flip side, women who reported doing hormone replacing therapy, had significantly lower bone density loss. Eating bone-friendly foods and staying physically active have also been shown to promote bone strength and stave off bone loss.

How does menopause affect bone density?

Woman preparing a meal to support halthy bones

So how does the change of life affect bone health? As a normal part of aging, a decline in ovarian function is the hallmark of the menopausal transition. It announces the extensive changes in mental, emotional, and physical health that come with it—cue the infamous hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep disturbances. These common menopausal complaints are due to decreased production of hormones like estradiol and increased levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

The dip in estrogen also can affect bone health and result in bone loss. Linked to estrogen deficiency, postmenopausal osteoporosis is characterized by low mineral density, increasing the risk of fractures. This debilitating condition is the most common bone disease in postmenopausal women.

How to boost your bone health after menopause?

Healthy bones start with the right nutrients. You can maintain bone health at every age by eating foods rich in nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, vitamin K, and zinc.  Add leafy greens, and protein to your meals to help your body keep your bones strong and healthy, especially in the long run.

Got an adventurous palate? Try natto, a famous Japanese delicacy packed with vitamin K. A 2021 meta-analysis revealed that natto has anti-osteoporotic effects on bone mass density. And a 2020 cross-sectional study showed that low vitamin K1 levels could lead to fractures in postmenopausal women. It turns out vitamin K plays a vital role in different pathways that promote bone formation and bone reabsorption. Both studies highlight the importance of regularly eating nutrient-rich foods.

What is the best vitamin for your bones?

When you think about bone health, you probably think adding calcium and vitamin D to your morning regimen is the answer. And you're not wrong, but intake of other nutrients like vitamin K, collagen and glucosamine can be just as crucial.

Does walking increase bone density?

Woman exercising to improve bone health

Staying active is one of the cornerstones of living a healthy and fulfilling life. And taking brisk walks is beneficial for overall bone health.

Want to get the most out of your morning (or evening) stroll? Follow these tips to go the extra mile towards bone strength:

  • Mind your posture

    —Developing and maintaining good posture is crucial for bone health. Sit or stand as tall as you can (lengthening your spine), engage your core by pulling in your belly button to your spine (not the same as sucking in the stomach), lower your shoulders and draw your shoulder blades together. Correct your posture whenever you catch yourself slouching.
  • Challenge yourself

    —Bring a loop band or light weights to build strength.
  • Pick up the pace

    —Alternate brisk walking with jogging.
  • Take the stairs

    —Use the stairs more often, even after you come back from your walks!

Don't have a trail near your home? Full-body-movement exercises including Zumba, yoga, Pilates or cycling three to four times a week, 30-minutes a day is all it takes to support bone health!

 

References

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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.