Every day we hear many women’s fears about what menopause means for bone loss. They may first get concerned when their doctors recommend a bone density scan. Others have a family history of osteoporosis and fracture, or are seeing early signs, such as receding gums. And of course, it’s hard not to be frightened when we hear about “inevitable bone loss” as we age.

No matter the reason, if you’re worried, we want you to take heart in the reality that it’s never too early or too late to protect your bones. That’s because while you will experience bone loss in menopause, you can consider the menopause transition your window of opportunity to prevent the excessive loss that can lead to osteoporosis and fracture.

Bone loss in menopause: the role of estrogen and progesterone

Most of us do experience bone loss in menopause — and that’s completely natural. In fact, the average loss is about 8-10% of bone density in the 10 years around menopause. Most bone loss for women takes place in the timeframe that starts one year before a woman’s last period and ends two years after her last period. It becomes a serious issue when bone loss is excessive — up to 20% for some women.

When it comes to women’s bone loss, there’s been a lot of research about the role played by the reduction in estrogen that occurs with menopause. For example, estrogen helps us absorb, through the intestine, enough of the calcium we need for bone health, and to prevent bone breakdown. More recent research has linked changes in bone health and the decrease of progesterone that happens in perimenopause, when we also lose bone. What’s certain is that increased fluctuations to our sex hormones in perimenopause and menopause influence our bone loss.

Know your risk factors for bone loss, osteoporosis and fracture

We know that only about 20% of your bone health is determined by fixed risk factors, like age and family history. The other 80% are factors you can change, including nutrient intake, diet, exercise, stress reduction and promoting positive thoughts and intentions.

For example, did you know that weighing less than 120 pounds is a risk factor? Or that the more severe your menopause symptoms are, the more likely it is that you’re losing bone? Or that you may be eating an acidic diet that is slowly dissolving your bones?

You can find out more about your individual risk and whether you’re experiencing early signs of bone loss by taking the Bone Health Profile.

Strategies to reduce your risk in menopause

No matter what your risk factors, when you take the steps to support your body it has a remarkable ability to heal itself and continue to build bone. Using natural, holistic approach strategies will help you reduce your individual amount of bone loss during the menopause transition, and even build bone in some cases.

These are the key steps we recommend:

Get all of the 20 essential key nutrients every day for bone health, including vitamin D and vitamin K. Often it is difficult to get optimal amounts of all the nutrients we need from food alone, which is why we recommend supplements.

Remember building muscle and bone go hand in hand. With rigorous strength training routines, women in early post-menopause can gain an average of 1.5% in bone mineral density in as little as nine months — compared with the 2% of lost bone that might otherwise occur.

Alkalize your diet. Many women in the U.S. suffer from chronic low-grade metabolic acidosis, which means the pH in our blood and tissues is acidic. This harms bones because they release mineral compounds to counter the excess acidity. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts and lean protein will help you maintain a more alkaline balance and protect your bones.

Balance your hormones. You’ve seen how fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone affect bone loss in perimenopause and menopause.

Take care with weight loss. Low weight is an important risk factor for bone loss, along with advancing age. Try not to let your weight get below 120 lbs. If you do need to lose weight, make sure you do it slowly and in a careful way. Fad diets are never a good idea, but even less so in menopause.

Improve digestion. This helps ensure your body is absorbing the necessary nutrients. For example, eat foods that are cooked, rather than cold or raw foods. Chewing each bite of food up to 30 times will also aid in the digestive process.

Reduce physical and emotional stress. The hormones of distress, including cortisol, can damage bone. Think about ways you can incorporate rest, relaxation and self-care as daily routines —it can be as simple as a short two-minute meditation.

To help you put everything together, Women’s Health Network offers a comprehensive at-home natural approach that incorporates all of these steps to build bone, balance hormones and prevent other menopause symptoms. Why not make this time in your life a transition to greater health, happiness and peace of mind because you know that you’re doing everything you can for your bone health?