How menopause affects your bones


Eileen Durward
@EileenDurward


25 April 2016

Read the full video transcript below

Today's topic

Hello, and welcome to my weekly video blog. And today on  A. Vogel Talks Menopause, I’m going to be talking about bone health. Now, I had an email from a lady called Jean who said that she has osteopenia and she’s had this for a number of years. Now, osteopenia is when the bones start to get weaker. And she was really worried because she already had this condition that during the menopause this was actually then going to turn into full-blown osteoporosis.

Fresh air & sunlight

First of all, we’re busy, aren’t we? We’re busy people, we don’t have time for recreation. One of the most important recreation things that we can do is to get out into the fresh air and to get out into the sunlight. Sunlight when it hits the skin will actually produce vitamin D for you. Problem is if we’re busy, if we don’t get out, then our levels of vitamin D can actually drop. And if you’re like me, I live in Scotland and in the winter we get very little sunshine anyway, and so low levels of vitamin D can actually be quite common nowadays.

Weight gain & exercise

We’ve also got weight gain. This is a common symptom in the menopause. We also don’t have time to exercise as well. You know we’re too busy and we don’t want to go home at night and have to run around the streets or go down the gym. We can be very fatigued. We can have achy joints as well and it can be very difficult just to get motivated to get exercise as well. But exercise is absolutely vital, what we call weight-bearing exercise, which means that you have to keep putting your feet on the ground. That can be really effective for helping to keep your bones nice and strong.

Digestion

As we get older our digestion can weaken and we need lots of calcium and magnesium in our diet for healthy bones. And very often our stomach becomes a little bit weaker, we produce less acid and we need a good deal of stomach acid in order to break down and make accessible all the calcium and the magnesium in our diet as well.

We’ve also got poor diets. Again, we’re busy people. Are we eating the right things to give us things like magnesium and calcium in our daily diet?

Stress

We’ve also got stress, we’ve got a lot of stress. Stress of the menopause itself and stress with everything that’s going around us on a daily basis. And stress creates acidic chemicals and these acidic chemicals can affect our bones as well.

So what can we do as individuals to actually look after our bones at this particular time? Well, first of all, good diet. And what do I mean by a good diet? Well, I mean lots and lots of foods that are rich in magnesium and calcium. So that would be things like your nuts and seeds and your dried fruits. These make great snacks in the menopause instead of chocolate biscuits or sweets. And the dried fruits and nuts have got good oils in them as well which are good for the joints. We need to look at our dark green leafy vegetables. We need to look at a good variety of fruits of good healthy grains, pulses, and beans as well can be high in things like calcium and magnesium. We’ve also got sardines. This is such a basic food, but it’s a great menopause food because the very soft bones are rich in calcium and there’s also lots of those lovely fish oils, which is great for your memory and great for you joints as well.

So have a look at your diet, see if there’s any way that you can actually help to improve your diet as well. I’m often asked, is dairy good for the bones? Unfortunately, not really, not if you take too much. Dairy is high in calcium, but it’s very low in magnesium, and you need a nice balance of the two in order for them to be effective for bone health. So, don’t give up dairy, a little bit can be really beneficial for you in the menopause, but don’t go overboard as well.

Stomach problems

Now, if you have any stomach problems then it’s really important to get these addressed as well because poor stomach function can affect the absorption of calcium and magnesium and that’s very important as well. So just check that your digestion is working well. We need to look at our vitamin D levels. Where are we going to get vitamin D from? And in the UK especially, there is quite a low vitamin D epidemic going on especially in the older generations as well. So this is something that we need to look at very, very carefully.

What I would suggest is that all pre-menopausal, menopause and post-menopausal women, if you haven’t done it already, go and ask your doctor to get tested for vitamin D just to make sure that your levels are not too low. We don’t want to be taking supplements if you don’t actually need them. The best way to get vitamin D is a daily dose of the sun, but as I said, for most of us that’s not always possible. So taking supplements can be quite a good idea.

If you need to take supplements then you could look at something called vitamin D3, which is one of the best absorbed forms of vitamin D or you can also look at sublingual sprays. You just take a couple of sprays on a daily basis and that can help to top up your vitamin D levels.

We do need to watch our weight. We need to keep that under control for bone health and joint health as well.

Weight-bearing exercises

And the other thing, as I said before that’s really important, is weight bearing exercise. This needs to be done regularly, it’s not something that you can just do occasionally. It needs to be done every day or at least maybe three to four times a week.

Dancing

You may well be asking, what’s the best exercises for this? For those of you in the UK who saw that program the other week on how to stay young. They actually find that the best exercise for keeping older people healthy on all levels was dancing. So, if you can join a dance class, if you enjoy dancing on a regular basis, this is a really good exercise to do.

Walking

The other one can be walking, either power walking or just a good brisk walk. Try to get up to half an hour a day because that’s really the least amount that’s going to help to get the bones going nice and healthy.

Trampolining

You can look at things like trampolining, balancing on a trampoline. You can do skipping as well, but apparently you’ve got to do these for at least half hour to get any real benefit as well.

Cycling & Yoga

I have been asked about cycling and yoga. These will not really help with bone health. But if you do them, don’t give them up because cycling is a fabulous exercise for keeping your muscles strong and it’s wonderful for the heart, and keeping your heart healthy and strong as you go through the menopause is very, very important.

Yoga is great for flexibility, it’s really good for muscle tone and these are important things as you go through the menopause. And yoga is really good for balance because one of the problems with a lot of women who get hip fractures is the fact that they lose their balance and fall.

Balancing Exercises

So doing some kind of regular balancing exercises will actually prevent these things happening as you get older and older. So this is really really, important.

I’ve actually got one of these, it’s like a board with a platform half way along it and you just stand on it and try and gain your balance and it’s actually really difficult, but I try and do that for two or three minutes a day. If you’re standing waiting for the bus and you don’t mind looking a little bit silly, it’s just standing on one foot and count to 30 and then try and balance on the other foot. I do it sometimes when I’m at the photocopier waiting for the printing to start. So, balancing exercise is very important for later on at preventing falls that can then lead to things like hip fractures and wrist fractures as well.

Reduce stress levels

We need to reduce our stress levels and this is very important. For those of you who’ve been watching for quite a while now, you know that stress creates a whole range of menopausal problems. So this is another excuse, “I’m going to relax for half an hour to look after my bones.” So make sure you get that relaxation done as well.

Calcium and magnesium

One of the things we need to look at possibly is taking calcium and magnesium supplement. You may be asking, “Why do we need magnesium for calcium?” It’s very important. Calcium and magnesium, they work in harmony with each other in the body.

If you just take lots of calcium, it gets lost in the body, it doesn’t know where to go. Magnesium is like the bus that takes calcium to your bones so you need the magnesium in order to make sure that the calcium gets to where it’s needed and doesn’t actually get lost anywhere else. So getting a good calcium and magnesium supplement to add to your diet can be really beneficial. You can look at capsules. I tend not to go with tablets purely because they tend to be very hard and they don’t break down and if your stomach’s a bit weak you might not actually get a lot of benefit. So things like capsules, you can get calcium and magnesium powders now as well, you can get them in drink forms. So anything like that would be a good addition to your daily diet as well.

We also have a lovely little remedy called Urticalcin, which helps with the absorption of calcium as well. Some women find that can be really beneficial at helping with bone health, and we also recommend it for your hair and your nails as well. The other thing you can look at, if it’s appropriate for your situation, is a phytoestrogen supplement. These are plant oestrogens that help to just very gently raise your oestrogen levels so that can help with your bone health as well. We have our wonderful Menopause Support or you could look at herbs like Black Cohosh and red clover as well.

HRT

Now, I get to a number of women asking if HRT would be all right for bone health. If you are taking HRT, and a lot of women who’ve maybe had an early menopause or you’ve had a hysterectomy, will very often be recommended to take HRT to protect your bones and it will protect your bones as you are taking it. But research seems to indicate that within two years of coming off HRT, you lose any of the benefit that it gave before hand. Plus, if you have not made an effort to look after your bones whilst you’ve actually been taking the HRT, then you can end up with bone problems later on. So all I would say in these situations is that if your doctor advises you to take HRT for your bones, is that you ask them how long you have to stay on the HRT for, what happens when you come off HRT, and is there anything else you can do to look to your bones. And you can follow this little plan as well if you like, just to help to minimize any problems later on.

Until next week...

So I hope that’s given you a little bit of food for thought and has made you realize just how important it is, not just for the here and now as we’re going through the menopause, but if we’re going to have a healthy old age, if we’re going to be mobile in our 70s and 80s and not end up with lots of fractures, that just how important looking after our bones are.

I think maybe try and do some kind of weight-bearing exercise if you can and let me know how you get on. So, I look forward to seeing you next week on A.Vogel Talks Menopause.

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