Menopause is a fact of life for women, yet can be an empowering transition into a new chapter of life. By adopting or continuing a healthy lifestyle during menopause, women can help reduce their symptoms (most will experience them), from hot flushes, sleep disturbance and joint pain to night sweats, bladder changes and anxiety –– symptoms that may present for between five to ten years. It can also help reduce the risk of longer-term bone health complications like osteoporosis.
Women can lose up to 10 per cent of their bone mass on average in those first five years
And it could impact you earlier than you think. The average age for Australian women reaching menopause is between 51 and 52 (although it can start as early as 45 or sooner). In fact, from your mid-thirties, you start losing more bone than you grow – nearly all bone growth is done in your childhood and teen years.
Falling levels of oestrogen during menopause mean women are dealt a double whammy
The female hormone oestrogen is integral to maintaining your bone strength, but unfortunately, your oestrogen levels also drop during menopause. So, if you’re already dealing with a less than ideal bone mass before you enter menopause, you’ll be at a greater risk of osteoporosis. Research suggests about half of all women over the age of 60 years will experience at least one fracture due to osteoporosis.
Your bones are very dynamic tissue comprising many important minerals and vitamins to nourish
99 per cent of all calcium is found in your bones and teeth, with phosphorus comprising more than half of your bone mineral mass, and fluoride, magnesium and sodium playing crucial support roles. The fat-soluble vitamins D and K are also important –Vitamin D3 maintains calcium and phosphorus absorption, while Vitamin K2 supports bone metabolism by ensuring the calcium is deposited into the bones, providing potential protection against osteoporosis.
Five steps to protect bone health and reduce your risk of osteoporosis during menopause
- Catch up on calcium: Calcium is like blood for your bones – aim for 1,300 milligrams a day (equivalent to three or four serves of dairy). But calcium is more than just a glass of milk or piece of cheese. Look for tinned salmon or sardines in a pasta or as a pizza topping as they contain calcium-rich bones; add leafy vegies like broccoli, bok choy and silverbeet to a smoothie; pop cucumber, celery and chickpeas in a salad with a yoghurt or tahini-based dressing; and snack on almonds, dried figs or apricots.
- Soak up the sunshine vitamin: Vitamin D3 helps your body absorb calcium and sunshine is where you’ll get most of it. We’re lucky to be graced with the climate we have in Australia – but please follow recommended guidelines for sun exposure and take appropriate precautions for sun protection. Vitamin D3 is also found seasonally in very small amounts in foods like oily fish, egg yolk and milk.
- Check out Vitamin K. especially Vitamin K2: If you eat a lot of dark leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts; the chlorophyll behind the colour is giving you a solid injection of Vitamin K – essential for protein modification, blood clotting and helping protect against cancer and heart disease. Vitamin K2 is the most important form for bone health and is found in meat, eggs, cheese, yoghurt, and in very high levels in a fermented soybean product called natto. Research shows that vitamin K2 supplements may slow down the rate of bone weakening after menopause and decrease fractures in women with osteoporosis.
- Make friends with your body weight: You don’t have join the gym, but your bones require regular and appropriate weight-bearing physical activity (on your feet), including resistance training with weights. Regular exercise increases the size, strength and capacity of your muscles and strengthens bones if under a certain amount of impact or strain. Take the stairs, try yoga or tai chi, use a resistance band, get outside for a brisk walk or jog (you’ll be dosing up on your Vitamin D3 at the same time), revisit your youth with a skipping rope, or get social playing tennis, basketball or netball.
- Don’t let your diet be a bone of contention: Diet goes without saying. In fact, it’s key to the first three tips and supports your ability to undertake number 4. During menopause and to support your bone health, it’s very important to avoid excessive alcohol (it helps reduce hot flushes too), reduce caffeine and stop smoking (cigarettes are associated with a higher risk of developing osteoporosis). Healthy eating also helps weight maintenance (or loss), also keeping your joints happy.
A supplement formulated with bioavailable Calcium, Vitamin D3 and Vitamin K2 can help support healthy bone mineral density and promote calcium absorption and assimilation into bones. But remember, vitamin supplements should not replace a balanced diet and exercise, and you should seek advice from an appropriate health professional to address any menopausal symptoms and signs of osteoporosis or bone fractures. References available on request