Why do women lose bone density during menopause?
Updated: Feb 6
So what happens to bones as they age, and why is bone density so much more important to women than men?
It may be surprising to learn that our bones are continually being absorbed, repaired and re-modelled. This happens through a precise balance between two types of cells; Osteoblasts that form new bone and Osteoclasts that absorb the bone. Every day we lose bone and make new bone, and up to the age of around 40 this balance is blissfully co-ordinated and happy.
When menopause happens, whether it’s an early surgical menopause or natural menopause, something happens that makes the Osteoclasts take over and more bone is being eaten away than the Osteoblasts have a chance to make and bones become more fragile, possibly leading to osteoporosis, literally meaning porous bones.
The amount of bone you have before you reach the menopause has a huge effect on your risk of developing bone loss or osteoporosis. Even during years leading up to the menopause, called peri-menopause, bone loss increases. Another unfortunate thing that happens to women is that they lose muscle mass faster than men do, and those two factors combine to make women at a much higher risk than men of Osteoporosis, falls and fractures. There are certain risk factors that make some women at even more risk:
Being of Caucasian or Asian heritage.
Having been on Steroid medications for long periods of time due to conditions such as asthma.
Long-term use of PPI (ant-acids)
Having a diet low in Calcium and Vitamin D
Not being exposed to enough sunlight.
Taking little or no exercise.
Drinking excess Alcohol.
Early surgical menopause due to hysterectomy and/or ovectomy.
Bone loss is a natural factor in ageing so men will experience some bone loss too, but their bones are thicker and stronger than women’s to start with and they don’t experience the hormonal effect on bones that women do.
Sometimes it feels like female hormones are our enemy, causing us all kinds of troubles ranging from PMT to POC. Sure, female sex hormones allow us to bear children and breastfeed and contribute towards our nurturing nature, but once we get to menopause it’s like our bodies properly turn on us. Menopause happens because our bodies stop producing as much Oestrogen and this drop in Oestrogen causes the osteoclasts (the bone destruction cells) to become more powerful and the osteoblasts (the bone building) to become less effective. So while we’re going about our glamorous lives and making huge efforts to look our best, our bones are doing their own thing, wilfully ignoring that we look fabulously younger than our years, and in order to anti-age or age-proof our bones, we have to make serious effort in terms of life-style, exercises and nutrition, and we have to start now! The rewards are immense, and not only will you be at lower risk of painful osteoporosis, fractures but you’re also less likely to develop a bent-over kyphotic posture as your posture and how you move and carry yourself is the most anti-ageing thing of all.
Bone is a living thing and throughout our lives the body keeps a delicate balance between the making of bone and the loss of bone. Our bones are their strongest between the ages of 30 and 35, but then the body starts to lose more bone than it makes and that's true for both sexes. The menopause, which is caused by reduction in oestrogen, and usually happens in our late forties or early fifties dramatically speeds up bone loss.