You may have heard that women can lose as much as 20% of their bone mass as they transition through menopause. Why is this so?
Prior to menopause, ovulation is orchestrated by the production of estrogen and progesterone, among other hormones. Estrogen and progesterone have positive effects on bone health. They increase the absorption of calcium and lessen the loss of calcium from bones. Estrogen also has an inhibiting effect on parathyroid hormone, which is a bone-breakdown hormone.
Women with irregular or absent periods have an increased risk of poor bone health because without regular ovulation, estrogen and progesterone levels remain low. In young women this can interfere with reaching an ideal peak bone mass.
After menopause, ovulation stops entirely and your ovaries produce much less estrogen and progesterone than during your reproductive years. Your bones lose these hormones’ protective effects. But unlike irregular periods earlier in life, your body evolved to anticipate menopause, and menopause does not normally cause osteoporosis.
In fact, in otherwise healthy and balanced women, bone has sufficient surplus of mass to remain strong indefinitely after menopause. But when additional factors are weighing on your bones, this decline in sex hormones may worsen an imbalanced bone metabolism.
What is your bone burden?
Our bones face numerous demands, and the cumulative effects of these demands tend to hit around menopause. We eat too many acid-forming foods, consume insufficient vitamins and minerals, are exposed to toxins on a daily basis, exercise too little, and we face relentless stress, to name a few.
Chronic inflammation is particularly harmful after menopause. Inflammation harms bones by triggering activity of the cells that break down bone. Estrogen is a natural anti-inflammatory, and helps mitigate the inflammatory factors that we experience on a daily basis. When estrogen levels fall due to menopause, many women experience a flux of inflammatory symptoms like joint pain and stiffness — along with an increase in bone breakdown.
What about HRT for menopausal bone loss?
Because estrogen protects against bone loss, it might seem as though hormone replacement therapy (HRT) — specifically estrogen replacement — could be used to treat menopausal bone loss. However if we consider the risks of HRT and the availability of natural bone health alternatives, it’s clear that HRT is not the answer.
Remember, declining estrogen levels are not the real problem. Only when menopause is combined with a range of other bone-depleting factors and insufficient support do bones weaken.
Menopause is not a disease, and osteoporosis is not caused by declining estrogen levels. Rather than fight this natural transition and expose the body to the side effects and health risks of HRT, we believe it is best to work with the body to solve the causes of weak bones — an approach that works no matter what your menopausal status.
Hormonal health and bone health go hand in hand
If you’re pre-menopausal and your periods are irregular or absent, it’s important to identify the underlying cause. Dietary changes, nutritional support, stress management, and moderate exercise are simple steps you can take to regulate your cycle. If your periods don’t return to normal see your healthcare provider to rule out other problems. PCOS and hypothyroidism are common culprits.
If you’re over 35, irregular periods could be a sign of perimenopause. Women with moderate to severe symptoms of perimenopause or menopause are usually suffering from hormonal imbalance beyond the normal tapering of reproductive hormones. Gentle endocrine support, like phytotherapy, can help support your body’s natural hormone levels and ease your symptoms.
If you’re menopausal, rest assured that your declining estrogen levels are not a threat to your health as you may fear. If you support your bone metabolism by reducing the demands on it and increasing the support to your bone-building cells, you do not need reproductive levels of estrogen or progesterone to maintain healthy bones. You can’t reverse menopause, but nor do you need to — you have many options for building and maintaining natural bone health during menopause and beyond.
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