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The month of May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. Osteoporosis is one of the most prevalent conditions within the aging and geriatric community and it is the most common metabolic bone disease in the US. It is also one of the leading causes of fractures in the elderly population, which can lead to countless hospitalizations and vast amounts of medical funding toward rehabilitation or end of life care. About half of all adults aged 50 years old or older are at risk of breaking a bone. Osteoporosis affects 5 times more women than men.

 

So, you may be wondering why this demographic in particular is at such an increased risk for osteoporosis than their male counterparts? The answer lies within the sex hormone estrogen. Estrogen is a sex hormone that prevents the breakdown of bone at all stages of life, when it is present in high enough amounts in the body. When women go through menopause, estrogen levels drop rapidly. This is when most women see a rapid bone loss, or sometimes the beginning stages of osteopenia (“bone deficiency”).


Naturopathic doctors have many more tools in their toolbox and suggestions to help maintain healthy bones before, during, and after menopause:

 

Before menopause:

Research has shown that a low BMI (under 19) is a risk factor for developing osteoporosis later in life. Additionally, those who have poor nutrition habits or are obese are also at risk for developing osteoporosis. So, make sure that you are working on maintaining an optimal weight and eating healthy foods. Instead of supplementing with increased calcium (as this has shown to have negative effects on cardiovascular health), consider adding foods that are higher in calcium levels: seeds like poppy, sesame, or chia; sardines and salmon (with bones); beans and lentils; dark, leafy greens; and of course, dairy products if you can tolerate them. Make sure you work on getting adequate exercise, including doing weight-bearing activities like weight lifting, hiking, dancing, stair climbing, walking, jogging, and running. These types of exercise increase bone remodeling (the constant cycle of rebuilding of a healthy skeletal system), help with maintenance of a healthy metabolism, and for some, helps to get you outside to help absorb adequate amounts of vitamin D (which is a a vitamin that has an important role in musculoskeletal development); it’s an all-around win!

 

Perimenopause (before and around the time of menopause):

If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, consider working with a naturopathic physician on ways to better balance your fluctuating hormones. During this time, estrogen decreases rapidly, so women often experience symptoms like hot flashes, weight gain, emotional and mood swings, sleep problems, and changes to sexual function. Did you know, though, that it isn’t only estrogen that changes during menopause? Because estrogen changes, other hormones change as well, including DHEA, progesterone, and testosterone. Make sure that you are working with a doctor who understands hormones and the importance of balance for all of them. It is generally during this time that health issues like bone health might take the back-burner because the signs for decreasing bone density won’t show up until later, so find a qualified naturopathic physician who will help you work on this hidden change as well as the more prevalent symptoms. Remember, every aspect of your human experience is connected. Working with someone who can touch on all aspects is the best way to make it through this transition period. As always, continue to work on those foundational aspects of health that we touched on in the previous section: getting quality nutrients and adequate body-weight (load-bearing) exercise to maintain a vibrant musculoskeletal system!

 

After menopause:

At this point, making sure that those foundational aspects to your health are crucial. Making sure that your diet is sufficient with protein, healthy fats, has limited alcohol intake and enough food-containing calcium is crucial. Consider making sure that you are not vitamin D deficient, and if you are (like most of us), supplementation may be necessary. Keep moving your body, especially in the sunlight if you can! If achy joints are a concern, try doing some more low-impact exercise like swimming or Tai Chi. Look into decreasing your risk of falls, which may include some new arrangements of furniture or carpet. Limit alcohol intake and avoid tobacco products, as these can have detrimental effects on bone health. Make sure you are keeping a regular schedule with your visits to your primary care provider for regular blood work and check-ups, and emphasize a regular schedule for your “bone scans,” or DXA imaging evaluations to take a look at your bone density. Work with a naturopathic physician who understands how to naturally help build or maintain bone strength with diet, lifestyle, and specialized, evidence-based supplements. 

 

Wherever you are in your human experience, consider working with us to help better manage your hormones, maintain a healthy weight for your body, and eliminate nutritional deficiencies that put you at high risk so you can keep your musculoskeletal system in an optimal state to live an active and happy life!