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Many women assume that when their menopause symptoms stop, they are on safe ground. Sadly, we face some long-term risks to our health. As well as being at greater risk of heart disease, we start to lose more bone each year than we make, increasing our risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis involves a loss of calcium (the mineral in bones) and collagen (the gluey protein that helps strengthen them). As a result, the fine, honeycomb texture of normal, healthy bones is replaced by gaping holes. Bones lose their ability to absorb shock and may become so weak that even a small impact or fall can cause a fracture.
What causes osteoporosis?
You may not think of bones as living tissue, but they go through a constant process of renewal. Until the age of about thirty-five, we generally make as much new bone as we lose, keeping the scales in balance. But from then on, we tend to lose around 1 percent of our total bone mass each year until we reach menopause. From that point, bone loss can accelerate a further 2 to 3 percent per year for up to ten years.
The rate of bone loss is estimated to be about 70 percent due to our genetic makeup. But lifestyle factors are also involved, some of which can be managed to help maintain the strength of our bones for life.
Factors That Build Strong Bones
- Diet, especially the intake of calcium during the growing years
- Physical activity, particularly weight-bearing exercise
- Hormonal factors, particularly estrogen balance
- Genetic factors, which determine the size of bones and muscles
- Optimal levels of nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, boron, vitamin K2, vitamin D, and omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids
Quiz: How Strong Are Your Bones?
- In your childhood and teens, did you consume a diet low in calcium (and lacking dairy products)?
- Do you regularly consume red meat and dairy products rather than vegetarian sources of protein?
- Did you experience an early menopause, spontaneously or following surgery?
- Do you have a history of thyroid or other hormonal problems?
- Have you been underweight or suffered an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia?
- Have you always had a petite build?
- Do you smoke ten or more cigarettes per day?
- Have there been times in your life when you regularly drank alcohol to excess (more than the equivalent of seven glasses of wine per week)?
- Do you only rarely perform weight-bearing exercise?
- Do you lead a sedentary lifestyle?
- Have you had periods of highly strenuous physical activity in your life, for instance, as an elite athlete or a ballet dancer?
- Have you ever taken steroid drugs for an extended period?
- Have you suffered more than one fracture since your menopause?
- Has a close relative suffered from osteoporosis?
- Have you experienced a chronic illness that affected your digestion, kidney, or liver function?
- Did you ever stop having periods, especially when you were young?
If you answered yes to just one of these questions, you may be at risk of osteoporosis. If you answered yes to more than two questions, you need to start making changes to your diet and lifestyle as soon as you can.
Assess Your Diet
Building bone is a complex biological process. Calcium is the main component, but magnesium, phosphorus, boron, and vitamins C, D, and K2 are also important. Magnesium helps the body to absorb and use calcium, and establishing a healthy balance of these two minerals is vital. Vitamin K2 is also necessary for calcium metabolism. It is produced in small quantities by gut bacteria in the large intestine; it is also found in fermented foods, including soy, and in animal products, including chicken and eggs.
Dairy products are rich sources of calcium, but they contain almost no magnesium. So how do cows grow such large, strong bones after weaning? They eat grass. And this is the key: any green, leafy vegetable, such as watercress, kale, broccoli, or cabbage, provides the perfect balance of calcium and magnesium. Nuts and seeds also provide balanced amounts of these two minerals.
Get Phyto Rich
In addition to all their other health benefits, plant phytoestrogens have been shown to increase the number of new bone cells made after menopause. Good sources include soybeans (especially edamame beans), tofu, soy milk, flaxseeds, and to a lesser degree lentils, chickpeas, and mung beans.
Consuming five prunes a day (50 g) for six months has been shown to reduce bone loss and lower risk of osteoporosis. To prevent gas and bloating, choose prunes that haven’t been preserved with sulfur dioxide.
Vitamin D helps your gut absorb the calcium you need for bone health, but it’s one of the most common nutritional deficiencies among women. The action of sunlight on our skin provides the main source, so it’s important to get a little sunshine regularly, without overdoing it. Those with fair skin should apply sunscreen after ten minutes of sun exposure, and those with medium or dark skin can be exposed for a little longer.
Sunlight alone is now not thought to be sufficient to keep our vitamin D levels in an optimum range. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that women over fifty take a supplement containing 600 IU of vitamin D3 each day. However, in nutritional circles this is considered insufficient.
Go for Essential Fatty Acids
Research suggests that foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids may help us absorb calcium from food. Omega-3s are found in fish oils, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies), chia seeds, and some oils, such as soy and walnut oil. Good sources of omega-6 EFAs include walnut, olive, and coconut oil, almonds, green leafy vegetables, flaxseeds, and whole grains.
Foods to Avoid
Try not to include too much animal protein, salt, or caffeine in your diet, as excessive quantities can reduce your body’s ability to absorb and retain calcium. Excessive alcohol is also thought to interfere with calcium metabolism and affect bone-building cells, resulting in loss of bone density.
Exercise plays a vital part in keeping bones healthy. Try to include both aerobic activity and strengthening exercises in your regular routine. Weight-bearing activities that cause a slight impact on the bones are more effective in maintaining bone health than activities where your body weight is supported, such as swimming or cycling. Running, jogging, brisk walking, tennis, table tennis, jumping rope, and lifting weights are all good choices. Gentler alternatives include golf, gardening, and dancing. Aim for at least thirty to forty-five minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week.
Strengthening exercises make it possible for you to target body parts such as the upper spine, hips, wrists, and ankles, which are more vulnerable to fractures. You can do these in a gym with weight-training equipment or at home with free weights. Pilates and yoga are also good for building strength, flexibility, and balance, lessening our chances of falling and fracturing bones as we age.
Your bone health can be checked with a bone density scan. Over the years my team and I have regularly seen good production of new bone in clients not taking hormone replacement therapy, but it does take several years to notice the difference on a bone density scan. Fifteen years ago, my own bone mass measured average for my age. That was quite a shock, as I expected it to be higher. Five years later, after doing regular weight-bearing exercise for over four years, I had another bone density scan and was delighted to find that my bone mass was now 17 percent above average for my age.
Findings of the Osteoporosis Survey
At the Natural Health Advisory Service, my team and I carried out a survey of one thousand women to analyze the link between diet, lifestyle, and osteoporosis. The respondents varied in age from 18 to over 80; the average age was 55 years.
The survey revealed that many women are unaware of the nutritional and dietary requirements for preventing osteoporosis. Nearly 75 percent of the women were unaware that soy products should be incorporated into the diet to prevent osteoporosis. Over 50 percent were not fully aware of the importance of calcium in the form of dairy products, and 66 percent did not do enough exercise to maintain their bone health.
Joanne, a mother of two in her early forties from Toronto, Canada, was diagnosed with early-onset osteoporosis.
I went through an early menopause in my early forties. I had a bone density scan and was shocked to discover a 7 percent loss of bone mass in one year. I was advised to take long-term medication, but after reading one of Maryon Stewart’s books, I decided to give myself a year of natural solutions before accepting the drugs as the solution.
I went and saw Maryon, who helped me refine my program. This involved making significant dietary changes, taking nutritional supplements, and doing daily weight-bearing exercises.
A year later, my follow-up bone density scan showed almost no further bone loss, and the advice this time was “Keep taking the tablets.” I’m hoping that next year’s scan will show I have made some new bone. I’m certainly feeling well and much fitter as a result of my new regimen.
What the Research Says
A study published in 2017 examining the role of exercise and sports in the prevention of osteoporosis demonstrated that walking, aerobic weight-bearing exercise, muscle-strengthening exercise, and weight-bearing plus muscle-strengthening exercises maintained or increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.
There is evidence that foods containing nutrients like vitamin K, boron, manganese, copper, and potassium can help to reduce bone loss. Fifty grams of dried prunes per day, for example, have been shown to reduce bone loss after six months.
Copyright 2020 by Maryon Stewart. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher
New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com.
Manage Your Menopause Naturally: The Six-Week Guide to Calming Hot Flashes & Night Sweats, Getting Your Sex Drive Back, Sharpening Memory & Reclaiming Well-Being
by Maryon Stewart
Menopause is too often treated as a problem to be solved or an illness to be cured, not the natural process it is. World-renowned healthcare expert Maryon Stewart outlines her wonderfully comprehensive and practical Six-Week Natural Menopause Solution with steps that women can take to feel better right away. Detailed questionnaires help you assess which areas of your life most need addressing — from brain fogginess and mood swings to painful sex, weight gain, and complexion issues. Maryon then shows you exactly what to do, nutritionally and in other areas of your life, to overcome symptoms. The powerful results of Maryon’s program don’t end after six weeks; instead, they point the way toward not just a good life, but a life that’s better than ever.
For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as an Audiobook and as a Kindle edition.
About the Author
Maryon Stewart is the author of Manage Your Menopause Naturally and 27 other books. A world-renowned healthcare expert, she has helped tens of thousands of women around the world overcome PMS and menopause symptoms without using drugs or hormones.
In 2018 she was awarded the British Empire Medal and was recognized as one of the 50 most inspirational women by the Daily Mail.
Visit her website at: https://maryonstewart.com