Menopause is characterized by Osteoporosis, the loss of estrogen production by the ovaries.

The loss of estrogen's accelerates bone loss for a period ranging from 5 to 8 years. The lack of estrogen enhances the ability of osteoclasts to absorb bone.

Osteoporosis is different from most other diseases in that there is no one single cause. The overall health of a person's bones is a function of many things ranging from how well the bones were formed as a youth, to the level of exercise the bones have seen over the years.

During the first 20 years of life, the formation of bone is the most important factor, but after that point it is the prevention of bone loss which becomes most important.

Since there are many factors that can contribute to bone loss, especially as we age, so the more awareness we have the more preventative steps we can take. Bone density is measured on a point scale, called a T score. Normal bone density has a T score of 0 to 1. If your T score measures between 1 and 2.5 you will probably be diagnosed with osteopenia.

Risk Factors

Besides menopause, there are other risk factors that may predispose you to develop osteoporosis:

  • Age
  • Being Caucasian or Asian
  • A thin and/or small frame
  • Family history of osteoporosis

Likewise, there are other risk factors that you can control:

  • Alcohol intake
  • Exercise or activity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Calcium intake
The good news is osteoporosis is highly preventable and treatable. Although you cannot prevent the estrogen loss that occurs with menopause, there are steps you can take to take care of your bones.

Take the Quiz

Osteoporosis is preventable if bone loss is detected early. If your answers to the following questions suggest you might have Osteoporosis see your doctor for a Bone Mass Test.

Complete the following questionnaire to determine your risk for developing osteoporosis:

  1. Do you have a small, thin frame?
  2. Do you have a family history of osteoporosis?
  3. Are you a postmenopausal woman?
  4. Have you had an early or surgically induced menopause?
  5. Did your menstrual periods ever stop for more than a year for reasons other than pregnancy or nursing?
  6. Have you had surgery in which a part of your stomach or intestines was removed?
  7. Are you taking, or have you taken, excessive thyroid medication or high doses of cortisone-like drugs for asthma, arthritis, or cancer?
  8. Are you taking, or have you taken, steroids or anticonvulsants over a prolonged period of time?
  9. Is your diet low in dairy products and other sources of calcium?
  10. Do you smoke cigarettes or drink in excess?
  11. Do you do less than 1 hour of exercise such as aerobics, walking, or weightlifting per week?
  12. Have you ever had an eating disorder (bulimia or anorexia nervosa)?
The more times you answer "yes," the greater your risk for developing osteoporosis, contact your physician for further information.

Nutrition Options

A diet high in caffein-containing foods, such as coffee, appears to increase bone loss, especially in those who have low calcium intakes. High levels of protein and sodium in the diet are also thought to increase calcium excretion. Excessive amount of these substances should be avoided.

Lactose intolerance can lead to inadequate calcium intake. Those who are lactose intolerant do not have the enzyme lactase that is needed to break down the lactose found in dairy products. In order to include dairy products in the diet, lactose-containing foods can be treated with lactase drops or lactase can be taken as pills. There are even some milk products on the market that have already been treated with lactase.

Calcium Supplements

If you have trouble getting enough calcium in your diet, you may need a calcium supplement. The amount of calcium you will need from a supplement depends on how much calcium you obtain from food sources. There are several different calcium compounds to choose from such as calcium carbonate and calcium citrate, among others.

It is necessary for the calcium tablet to disintegrate in order to be absorbed into the body. If you are unsure whether a tablet will break down, you can test how well it disintegrates by placing it in 6 ounces of vinegar or warm water, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. If the tablet has not almost completely disintegrated at this time, it probably will not do so in your stomach.

Calcium is more easily absorbed when taken in small doses several times throughout the day. In many individuals, most calcium supplements, with the exception of calcium citrate, are better absorbed when taken with food.

Remember, a calcium-rich diet is only one part of an osteoporosis prevention or treatment program. Like exercise, getting enough calcium is a strategy that helps strengthen bones at any age. But these approaches may not be enough to stop bone loss caused by lifestyle, medical conditions, or menopause. It is important to speak to your doctor about the need for medication in addition to diet and exercise.

More information on osteoporosis

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