According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, nearly 1 in 3 women over 50 years old experience osteoporosis-related bone fractures. It’s normal for people to lose some bone density as they age, but today’s prevalence of osteoporosis in women is startling.
Females have a higher risk of osteoporosis than men for two main reasons:
Estrogen and progesterone, the two female sex hormones, affect the ability of bone reabsorption and bone loss.
As estrogen drops during menopause, women are likely to experience more bone density loss than men.
Knowing how to prevent, address, and identify the signs of osteoporosis is the first step to improving your bone health. We checked with a women’s endocrinologist and MD about taking care of your bones, and it matters no matter what age you are.
Listen to the full episode about women’s bone health and osteoporosis with Dr. Jerilynn Prior on the Fempower Health Podcast.
Optimal Bone Health in Women as They Age
Everyone experiences some level of bone loss as they age. The best way to avoid major bone loss is to proactively prevent it through lifestyle measures. Dr. Jerilynn Prior explains: “We need to think about a whole ‘life cycle’ of bones. If you can maintain your peak bone density through adulthood leading up to menopause, you likely won’t end up at risk for osteoporosis or fractures until in your 80s. That’s the ideal.”
Why is bone health important for women? The combination of women’s hormones, lifestyle, diet, and habits not only affects their bones but their entire bodies and reproductive health. For the optimal healthy aging of bones, Dr. Prior suggests the “ABCs of Osteoporosis”.
ABCs of Osteoporosis
These are the six general guidelines for maintaining bone health and avoiding osteoporosis as women age. The ABC acronym is listed A through F for easy memorization.
Active. Get 30 minutes of enjoyable physical activity per day to stay healthy and strong.
Brawny. “Muscular; physically strong” (not body builder) is the definition of brawny. Strong muscles allow your body to withstand everyday tasks with ease, decreasing the risk of falls or fractures.
Calcium. Calcium is a nutrient we need for our bones to stay healthy. Try to get enough daily calcium through food, or supplements as guided by your doctor.
D (vitamin). Vitamin D and bone health are also linked because without vitamin D, your body can’t absorb calcium. It’s an essential vitamin, especially for those without access to sunlight. Try getting 1,000 units of vitamin D daily, or as guided by your doctor.
Easygoing. Keeping stress levels down is good for healthy living. Cortisol and epinephrine (stress hormones) have negative effects on bone density!
Fertility. Aim to have good reproductive health. Progesterone, the hormone essential for fertility in women, is a key hormone for bone health.
Good Habits. Avoid bad habits like smoking, drugs & alcohol, and consuming caffeine, phosphates, and toxins. Focus on getting healthy in your daily life.
Women can start practicing these ABCs at any age. The most important thing is to maintain consistent habits. After all, we can’t just rely on calcium tablets to magically cure bone weakness.
Can Calcium Reverse or Stop Bone Loss?
You might be wondering how to improve bone health if you’re experiencing bone loss. The short answer is: it’s not easy— but it is possible. Following good health practices that support mental, physical, emotional, and sociocultural wellness is essential.
Many people know calcium and bone health go hand-in-hand. But how much calcium do women need? How do you know if you’re getting enough of it? The tricky thing is, it’s not just how much calcium you get. It’s also about how much your body absorbs.
You can supplement calcium at bedtime since the body increases bone density (reabsorption) while you sleep. Getting calcium from food in your diet is ideal, and supplementing with magnesium and vitamin D helps absorption. (Always ask your doctor for help determining the right amounts of vitamins you need.)
“If you’re doing everything you can to prevent bone loss, improving your balance and muscle strength (core) can aid prevention. Body strength helps prevent bone fractures.” - Dr. Jerilynn Prior
Living with Osteoporosis
Even though there’s no official cure for osteoporosis, there are some treatments. Mitigating bone loss through the ABCs mentioned above is one way you can take charge of your bone health both before and throughout aging.
There are two main osteoporosis treatments:
Slowing bone loss: Pharmaceutical drugs called bisphosphonates slow the process of bone loss. Denosumab is a common medication that doctors prescribe to osteoporosis patients.
Building bone: Although a rare treatment, some patients get prescribed injections of parathyroid hormone. This sometimes works to build bone.
If you live with osteoporosis, or if other women in your family experience bone loss, don’t ignore a fracture. Catch osteoporosis early. Talk to an endocrinologist about hormones. In women, hormones and osteoporosis can correlate.
Revisit the previous Fempower Health episode with Dr. Prior: Why Ovulation is Critical for Women’s Overall Health
Estrogen and Osteoporosis
We know that ovulation affects a woman’s health. Although there’s no perfect treatment for osteoporosis in women yet, perhaps medical research must pay more attention to progesterone and women’s physiology. Osteologists (professionals who study bones) currently focus on pharmaceutical remedies for treatment, which don’t address potential hormonal imbalances.
“For women— and this is why I’ve done this work all my life— if you have enough estrogen, which promotes menstruation, you also need enough progesterone, which promotes ovulation. Estrogen prevents bone loss in women. Progesterone increases bone formation in women. This is something that is still not in the textbooks, despite strong evidence that it’s true.” - Dr. Jerilynn Prior
Taking Charge of Your Bone Health
If you have older relatives that have a history of broken bones as they age, your risk of bone loss and osteoporosis might be higher. It’s a good idea to see a doctor and start prevention early on. Make sure you get enough calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. Manage stress, address your female hormones, and practice strength exercises regularly to keep your bones and muscles healthy.
Want to hear the full interview with Dr. Prior? Click to listen: Bone Health: Why It's Not Just Your Grandmother's Concern.