bone health

Bone health is an important consideration as a woman ages. Osteoporosis is referred to as the silent disease because people often aren’t aware of it till they break a bone. Osteoporosis is a disease which affects bone mass and the structure of the bone. This causes bones to lose strength, making them fragile. Which increases the risk of fractures or breaks. In the UK, osteoporosis affects over 3 million people. With more than 500,000 people receiving hospital care each year because of it. Osteoporosis is 4 times more common in women than men.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. With a well planned diet and exercise to support bone health, women can optimise their bone health in their menopausal years.

How and why does the menopause affect bone health?

A loss of bone mass is a natural part of ageing and will generally start to occur in women in their mid-late 30s. During the menopause transition, lowering oestrogen levels cause bone breakdown to increase more rapidly than bone build up, resulting in lower bone density. Bone density loss is at its highest in the year before menopause occurs and the first 2 years post-menopause.  

Risk factors for osteoporosis

Post-menopausal women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than pre-menopausal women. But there are also other risk factors which should be considered.

  • A family history of osteoporosis.
  • Early menopause or Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI).
  • Long term use of oral steroids.
  • Some medications.
  • Coeliac disease.
  • Lack of physical activity, specifically weight bearing exercise.
  • Low Body Mass Index (BMI).
  • Smoking.
  • Excessive alcohol intake. Drinking more than 14 units of alcohol increases the risk of osteoporosis.

Tips to support bone health

The good news is there are lots of things we can do to support the bones.

Prioritise calcium rich foods to support bone health.

Eat a variety of calcium rich foods daily, including:

  • Sardines, tinned salmon or other bony fish.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables, tofu, nuts especially brazil nuts and almonds, seeds especially sesame and chia seeds, white beans and pulses.
  • Dairy products such as Bio Live Yoghurt, milk kefir and cheese (remember a matchbox sized piece is a portion).

Getting calcium from a variety of sources, not just dairy, is beneficial.

Prioritise magnesium rich foods

Magnesium helps support bone health but is also great for relaxing muscles. It can also support sleep, mood, anxiety levels and brain fog. A wonderful mineral to support the menopause.

Eat a variety of magnesium foods daily, including:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Beans and pulses.
  • Avocado.
  • Salmon and halibut.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Dark chocolate but it needs to be at least 70% cocoa content and 2 or 3 squares is a portion.

Prioritise Vitamin D levels

To support calcium uptake in the bones, getting enough vitamin D is important. We get most of our vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. Researchers at the University of Manchester found for lighter skin types, daily sunlight exposure for 10-15 minutes between April and September provides sufficient year-round vitamin D whilst also minimising the risks of sunburn and skin cancer. For darker skin types, 25-40 minutes is recommended.

Between October and March when sun exposure isn’t enough to get adequate vitamin D, supplementation is recommended. Taking vitamin D with K2 helps the absorption of calcium into the bones.

Food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish.
  • Eggs.
  • Organ meats.
  • Fortified foods.

Eat protein with every meal

Protein is integral to bone health and is often overlooked. Prioritising good quality protein rich foods at every meal is recommended. It will not only help with bone formation but protein is involved in numerous functions in the body.

Try to have a good quality source of protein at every meal (a palmful is roughly a portion). Poultry, red meat (preferably grass fed and no more than 2 portions a week), fish, lentils, pulses, beans, quinoa, hummus, falafel, eggs, nuts and seeds are all good sources.

Exercise for bone health

Weight bearing exercises (think running, walking, dancing, netball, skipping, yoga, aerobics), strength and resistance exercises are good for maintaining bone density. Using free weights, gym machines, resistance bands and body weight exercises are all good. Going for a higher load with fewer repetiitions, rather than a low load with higher repetitions is better for building or maintaining bone mass. Try to do this 3 times a week, building up to it gently.

When should I start to think about my bones?

Following these tips in the menopausal years is highly recommended. But all females should be considering bone health from their younger years. Peak bone mass is reached in the 20s, with it slowly start to decline from around the age of 35. By optimising bone mass in the younger years, it reduces the chances of problems in the later years. So it is never to early to consider. I’m sure my 19 year old daughter is fed up of me telling her this!

If you are at an increased risk of osteoporosis or worried about it, then please seek medical guidance. But do remember you are never too young or too old to prioritise bone health. So following these tips will be beneficial in optimising bone health for now and the future.