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
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
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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