Around one in three Australian women over the age of 50 will sustain a fracture as a result of osteoporosis and the risk of fracture increases around the time of menopause.
As women approach menopause they need to focus more closely on maintaining healthy bones to avoid becoming a statistic, says Dr Sonia Davison, an endocrinologist at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health.
Friday October 18 is World Menopause Day and Sunday October 20 is World Osteoporosis Day – a great time for women to focus on how menopause affects their bones.
“Around the time of menopause women can often worry about symptoms like hot flushes, night sweats and mood disturbance and they may not think of the impacts of menopause on their bones,” Dr Davison says.
“Bone mineral density peaks between the ages of 25 and 30 and after that it gradually starts to decline,” she says. “But that decline accelerates sharply around menopause. It’s important at this stage in life that women see their doctor to find out what they can do to prevent fracture and osteoporosis.”
Osteoporosis is a disease where bones get thinner, becoming more fragile and more likely to break. Because there are usually no symptoms, women may not realise they have the condition until a fracture occurs.
Menopause speeds up the thinning of bones and at this time your GP may recommend a DXA scan to check your bone density and to identify any risk factors for osteoporosis.
“The female hormone oestrogen plays a major role in maintaining bone mineral density. At menopause there’s a drop in oestrogen levels and women lose about 2 per cent of bone mass each year after menopause,” Dr Davison says.
The good news is there are ways to slow the loss of bone density and so reduce the risk of fracture.
“Hormone replacement therapy is an option for women aged under 60 years as it will help maintain bone mineral density,” Dr Davison says.
Calcium and vitamin D are also important, as is weight-bearing exercise.
“Calcium requirements vary through life but menopausal women usually need about 1000mg a day (3-4 serves of dairy a day) and a calcium supplement may be required if you are struggling to get enough,” Dr Davison says. “Vitamin D, vital to help build up calcium in bone, may also need topping up with a supplement.”
Weight-bearing exercises include any movement where your skeleton is supported by your legs. Walking, running and dancing are ideal, but not cycling or swimming, as these don’t place any impact on the spine, Dr Davison says. “Most people should aim to do some exercise every day but at a minimum do at least 30-40 minutes, three or four times a week. Weight-bearing exercise will help slow bone loss and it’s also good for balance and general fitness.”
And there are things to avoid if you want to maintain bone strength. Drinking too much alcohol and caffeine, smoking, not exercising at all (or over-exercising), and not getting enough calcium from food, can add to reduced bone density.
Dr Davison says menopause is an ideal “wake-up” time for women to have a general health check and to check their bone health.
“You’ve got to the middle of your life and you want to make sure that you are in the best health possible for the rest of your life. Part of that is looking at your bone health, talking to your doctor and assessing what you need to do to maintain good bone mineral density,” she says.
“It’s never too late to do something to help maintain strong bones.”