What to eat for stronger bones in Menopause and Perimenopause

Eileen Durward
Ask Eileen

04 September 2023

Bone health in perimenopause and menopause

The problem with osteoporosis or weak bones is that there are often no symptoms or indications that anything is wrong until you fall over and end up having a serious fracture. So, anything you can do in perimenopause and menopause to support your bone health is going to be absolutely vital for how well your bones do by the time you reach post-menopause.

The reason you can end up with weak bones, in really simple terms (if you want to know more of the scientific details, you can find information on Google), falling oestrogen interferes with the way in which your bones keep themselves built up.

There's a whole process whereby calcium is taken from the bones on a regular basis and then calcium is put back. So, this process of to-and-fro can change with falling oestrogen levels, so that you lose calcium from the bones but it's not replaced. So, over time, your bones become weaker. They become more porous, and they can fracture more easily.

Key nutrients for good bone health and foods to eat

What we're going to look at here are some of the key nutrients to help you support yourself in this situation. A well-balanced diet is going to be good for your general health. There are so many studies out there showing that a well-balanced, healthy diet can go a long way in helping to ease general symptoms in menopause (1); but there are some very specific nutrients that can help and support your bones.

1. Vitamin D

This is really important because vitamin D helps your body to absorb and use calcium correctly. If you don't have enough vitamin D, you may have a calcium-rich diet, but there's no mechanism for the calcium to actually get into your bones. So, vitamin D is one of these nutrients that's absolutely vital to help keep your bones nice and strong.

Vitamin D also helps to maintain the balance of calcium in your bones. If you're taking too much calcium out of the bones, vitamin D is going to make sure that you get that calcium replacement.

When it comes to your diet, it's quite a difficult one because the only foods where you get vitamin D are things like mushrooms. There are very few foods naturally rich in vitamin D.

The main way that you top up your vitamin D is via sunlight. The problem today is that if you live in countries where you don't get a great deal of sunshine, then it's much harder for your body to manufacture vitamin D naturally. Also, we're so used to putting suntan cream on now when we go out into the sun, that sunlight can actually be blocked from triggering vitamin D production in our skin.

You can get supplements. They're very easily obtained. The only thing I would say here is please be very careful about not overdosing. Today, we're all about "more is better," so there are a lot of vitamin D supplements that are really, really high. If you take too much vitamin D, it can be stored in the liver and it can end up causing problems over time. So, we tend to recommend a supplement of 400 IU of vitamin D on a daily basis if you feel you want to top it up or you feel that you should top it up.

If you have been diagnosed as vitamin D deficient by your doctor, by your practitioner, by your clinician, then you should follow their advice because, very often, if you're deficient, that can be quite serious; and in that case, you may be prescribed a really high dose.

2. Calcium

We need calcium to strengthen the bones, and to keep them strong right through the perimenopause and the menopause. Foods rich in calcium include dark green, leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Believe it or not, figs, and apricots and other dried fruits can be really high in calcium. But obviously, just a few a day because they contain fruit sugar as well. Eggs, things like tofu, beans, and whole grains, and also sardines. If you like sardines and don't mind the little bones, that can be a very useful source of calcium.

People always ask, "What about dairy?" The problem with dairy is that you need a balance of calcium and magnesium, as I’ll come on to in a minute. Dairy products are very high in calcium but very, very low in magnesium. So, if you have an awful lot of calcium foods in your diet without additional magnesium, that can cause problems as well. So, I always say with dairy, just in moderation.

3. Magnesium

So, it will be no surprise that magnesium is the next nutrient that’s important to bone health. Magnesium is like the bus that takes calcium to the bones. If you're not getting enough magnesium in your diet and you're eating calcium-rich foods, there’s no means of transport to get the calcium to your bones. So, you need to make sure that you are getting enough magnesium.

Nature is wonderful because, very often, it provides both calcium and magnesium in the same foods. You’ll find good levels of magnesium in many of the foods rich in calcium, such as dark green, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, figs, apricots, beans, tofu, seeds, and whole grains.

The other food that contains a nice amount of magnesium is chocolate. But again, be very wary about eating too much. Some people tell me they have one little square a day. I couldn't do it. I would eat the whole bar. But if you are strong-willed and can manage just maybe one or two pieces of chocolate a day, go for the really, really dark chocolate because it's higher in magnesium and much, much lower in sugar.

4. Protein

Why do we need protein for our bones? Well, apparently, protein helps to increase the calcium absorption from our gut, from our food, in order that that the calcium can be taken to the bones. So, this is a really important one.

Also, your protein needs go up generally in the menopause. There are all sorts of other physical changes going on, and protein provides some of the building blocks for your whole body.

The other really important thing here is that as you go through the perimenopause and menopause, there is something called sarcopenia, which means that your muscles just start to waste away. They start to shrink. They get much weaker. If your muscle mass gets weaker, then there's going to be less support for your bones, especially things like the big joints - that's your knees and your hips.

So, if there's less stability for these joints, then you're much more likely to get fractures, especially hip fractures when you do fall or trip over. Making sure you get enough dietary protein, preferably with every meal, is therefore a really important step.

Other ways to top up these nutrients

Another thing you can do if you feel your diet's not quite good enough or you just want to make sure that you're taking enough, is that you can look at our Balance Mineral Drink. This contains vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and potassium - nutrients that are needed for bone health. We also recommend this for things like fatigue and tiredness.

You can put this in water. You can add it to your protein shake, which is a good idea if you don't eat a lot of protein or you're vegetarian or vegan. A plant-based protein powder can be a really good addition to your daily diet for all sorts of reasons. And you can also put this in smoothies.

A.Vogel Balance Mineral Drink with Vitamin D3, Magnesium, Zinc, Potassium and Calcium

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Remember too that regular, daily weight-bearing exercise is absolutely vital for your bone health.

So, I hope you found this one helpful. It's such a common complaint, especially here in the UK and probably in a lot of other countries as well, that so many women post-menopause end up with osteoporosis and serious fractures, so this is such an important one just to get to grips with to help you avoid this later on in life.

If any of you have any other tips or have experienced any issues with your bones and how you sorted this out for yourself, please share them with us. We love to read all about it.

Until next time, take care.

You may also find these topics helpful:

6 ways to protect your bones during menopause

5 oestrogen-rich foods for menopause

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