Make or break: how to tackle osteoporosis

Prevention is key with the ‘silent disease’. What can you do to help in the fight against osteoporosis?  

By Dr Ornella Cappellari 

What is osteoporosis? 

Menopause is about a new you. Some of its symptoms – mood swings, hot flushes – are obvious signs that your body is changing. But there are other developments that often go unnoticed. Osteoporosis, the “silent disease”, is one of these. You may not know you have it until you suffer a fracture – the word osteoporosis literally means “porous bone”.  

Prevention is key with osteoporosis. When you enter menopause, you’re more likely to get bone fragility for several reasons. Let’s look at those first – and how to deal with them. 

Why do women get osteoporosis? 

  • First, lack of oestrogen. This hormone is important for bone calcification, and it decreases drastically during menopause.  
  • Second, ageing. The average age for menopause in the UK is 51. As we get older, our bones naturally lose density and become more fragile.  
  • Third, lifestyle changes. Menopause and ageing can often contribute to a reduction in physical activity, and this is linked to a detrimental effect on bone calcification. Load-bearing exercise is key to maintaining healthy bones.  

Osteoporosis is one of those diseases that needs to be stopped sooner rather than later. There are a number of things you can do to keep your bone health in check, but first, we advise that you get regular Dexa scans – a high-precision type of x-ray that measures your bone-mineral density and bone loss. Ask your GP to refer you. 

Prevention is key: 

To prevent the onset of osteoporosis, and to slow its progression if you’ve already been diagnosed, you can:  

  • Start taking supplements. Vitamin D and calcium are paramount for bone health. Vitamin D is mainly synthesised through exposure to sunlight, so in the UK… better get on a good supplement immediately. Milk and dairy products are great sources of calcium, but there are other ways to take it, particularly if you are lactose-intolerant or vegan. You can increase your intake of leafy green vegetables such as kale and broccoli, or drink calcium-fortified orange juice. And if none of these work for you, you can take a daily calcium supplement instead.  
  • Do load-bearing exercise as part of your fitness routine. If you don’t have a fitness routine, it’s a good idea to start one now. Exercise will not only maintain your bone health, but also help your cardiovascular system. It’s never too late to start. 
  • Consider using HRT. Hormone replacement therapy is another good way to help counteract osteoporosis. And by taking HRT, you will be tackling other menopausal symptoms as you stabilise your oestrogen levels. 

The most important thing in all of this is that women need to be informed about the risks of osteoporosis and the likelihood of developing it during menopause. Information is power: make sure you have all the facts.