Most of us have a goal to live a long, healthy life. We have a vision of what that looks like. Running around after our grandchildren, hosting big family meals, staying active, and living a full life. I can bet most of us aren’t envisioning having to rely on others to help us get around as we age!
You may not know this, but your bones are continuously changing. While most of us reach peak bone mass at around age 30, bone remodeling continues. So, it’s never too late to build stronger healthier bones.
Bones play an important role in the body we all hope to have as we age. They provide shape and structure, protect our organs, and help to anchor our muscles.
As women, we need to pay attention to our bone health. During menopause, our levels of estrogen, and other hormones, drop dramatically. This decrease in estrogen triggers a period of rapid bone loss in women that starts one year before our final menstrual period and lasts for about three years. On average, women lose approximately 10% of their bone mass in the first five years after menopause.
This drop-in bone mass can lead to osteopenia, which is when you have a lower than normal bone density, leading to an increased risk for bone fracture. It can also lead to osteoporosis, which is more severe, when our bones become brittle and can break easily. Studies have shown that osteoporosis is more common in Asian and white women.
What does all this mean? The stronger your bones are in our 30s and 40s, the better off we will be after menopause. Bone density (or bone mineral density) is a measurement of how strong our bones are. The higher the density, the stronger and healthier our bones are.
Women aged 65 and older, or those of us who have been through menopause and have additional risk factors, should have a DEXA Scan (a type of x-ray) to evaluate bone mineral density and assess how strong our bones are.
In the meantime, here are some suggestions to keeping your bones strong and healthy!
Physical activity. There are two types of exercises that are important for building and maintaining bone density: Weight-bearing and resistance-training. Incorporate brisk walks and strength training into your daily routine.
Eat a healthy diet. Eat plenty of whole foods such as leafy green veggies, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fruits.
Decrease sugar intake. Sugar triggers an inflammatory response which can decrease vitamin D levels and deplete bone healthy minerals like calcium, magnesium, chromium, and copper. Try to minimize highly refined carbs like breads, cookies, chips, and crackers.
Get optimal vitamin D. Usually we obtain vitamin D from the sun, but many of us still need to supplement. I encourage clients to have their vitamin D level checked at least annually. An optimal level is around 50. I suggest taking vitamin D3 with K2 for great bone health.
Calcium. Make sure you’re eating foods rich in calcium such as dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, soybeans, or fortified cereals. The recommended daily calcium intake for women under 50 is 1000 mg and over 50 is 1200 mg. There are different forms, but I usually suggest calcium carbonate or calcium citrate to optimize absorption.
Magnesium. Known to help with sleep, digestion, muscles cramps, and migraines, magnesium is often overlooked for bone health! It’s key for adequate calcium and vitamin D levels. Foods rich in magnesium are leafy green veggies, avocados, nuts and seeds, bananas, and fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. The recommended daily intake is 320 mg for women over 30. I usually suggest magnesium glycinate or chelated magnesium, which are easily absorbed and have less side effects.
Collagen. Collagen is the main protein found in bones. It contains amino acids, which help to build bone. Studies have shown that supplementing with collagen may help preserve bone health by reducing collagen breakdown. There are many different types of collagen found throughout our body for structure and support. Collagen can be supplemented in a pill or powder form. Since the powder form does not gel, it can easily be added to smoothies, soups, or baked goods.
Tobacco and alcohol use. Studies have shown that tobacco use can contribute to the weakening of bones. In addition, women who regularly consume more than one alcoholic drink per day were found to have an increased risk of osteoporosis.
For those who already have a diagnosis of osteoporosis, you may need prescription treatment. There are several different classes of medications, as well as different forms of treatment (pills, injections, and infusions). I would encourage you to discuss your treatment options with your health care professional and understand the side effects to those medications.
If you are looking for a supplement, you may be able to find a product that has multiple ingredients listed above (calcium, vitamin D3, magnesium, and K2). Make sure you buy from a reputable manufacturer and look for supplements that have undergone third party testing and are certified by organizations like USP or NSF.
The good news is that osteopenia and osteoporosis don’t develop over night. You can work with your health care provider to monitor your bone health over time. Being proactive with your bone health will have a huge pay off with your longevity and overall health. Most importantly, even if you are being treated for osteoporosis, it is still important to exercise and eat a healthy diet.
As always, check with your health care provider before starting a new health care regimen, diet, or supplement.
Meghan Punda, CRNP is a Nurse Practitioner and Functional Nutritionist. She works with women on lifestyle and dietary issues. Meghan is passionate about educating her clients so they can reach their full wellness potential.
Bone health: Tips to keep your bones healthy, Mayo Clinic, by Mayo Clinic Staff, March 6, 2021.
How to Boost Bone Health Before and After Menopause, Everyday Health, by Beth W. Orenstein, February 8, 2017.