10 Osteoporosis risks and 8 step action plan

What’s the first thing that menopausal women worry about that they’ve never given a second thought to before? You’ve got it – their bones!

 

Bones are like everything else in life – totally taken for granted until something threatens them. Along comes the menopause and suddenly our bones are under scrutiny. It’s easy to feel helpless if you don’t know what your bones need to stay strong so the threat of osteoporosis can seem out of your control and inevitable.

 

Like many people, I grew up assuming that bones were like concrete pillars in a house; solid, static and lifeless and I well remember the fascination I felt on learning that they are actually living organs of bone tissue that are constantly being broken down and rebuilt by little fellas called osteoblasts and osteoclasts.  Plus that they are interspersed with blood vessels and nerves and surrounded by a matrix of collagen and infused with crystallized minerals, mainly calcium and phosphorous.

 

In other words – living, breathing and constantly changing.

 

Healthy bones do have holes within them but in osteoporosis (which means porous bones) the holes become larger and more numerous resulting in increasing weakness, more likely to break under pressure. In simplest terms the bones are being broken down faster than they are being rebuilt.

 

Oestrogen and progesterone are protective of women’s bones just as testosterone is protective of men’s bones and progesterone is the major hormone for bone strength in women but through the menopause the levels of both these hormones drop, removing some of that protection.

Risk Factors

 

There are of course, like most things, factors that increase the risk of developing osteoporosis and here’s some of them:

 

  • Early menopause (either naturally or surgically) early loss of oestrogen and progesterone’s protective qualities.

 

  • Anorexia or bulimia nutrient deficiencies, nutrients that are needed to keep building strong bones.

 

  • Deficiencies in the nutrients needed to build bone – number of possible causes, poor digestion being one Calcium – the major building block of bone. Vitamin D – needed for calcium to be absorbed. Magnesium, boron, potassium, folic acid, zinc and vitamin C, vitamin E & vitamin K – all vital co-workers in bone building.

 

  • Acidic diet rather than an alkaline diet i.e. fast-food/processed food diet rather than a plant-based diet A high processed food diet is too acidic for the body, lacking the alkaline effect of fruit and vegetables so calcium is taken from the bones to restore the body’s alkalinity. Sugar and salt are also acidic, causing calcium to be leached from bones and lost in urine.

 

  • Lack of physical exercise Bones are encouraged to strengthen when put under pressure so a sedentary lifestyle does not supply the pressure.

 

  • Many missed periods Women who have a missed a great many periods throughout their productive years for whatever reasons, missed out on progesterone’s bone protection in those months.

 

  • Excessive caffeine, alcohol or carbonated drinks consumption

    • Excess caffeine also has an acidic effect and tea contains tannins that bind to minerals like calcium and stop the body from utilising them.

    • High alcohol consumption kills off the bone builders (osteoblasts) and causes disruption to our hormones that leads to calcium being leached from our bones.

    • Fizzy drinks contain phosphoric acid and it is thought that, in women it increases the loss of calcium in urine (phosphoric acid is in the fizz) – think teenagers with permanently attached coke bottle. In fact check your own hands, is diet coke your go-to drink?

 

  • History of heavy cigarette smoking interferes with calcium absorption and disrupts several hormones that lead to a weakening of bones and a higher risk of fractures. Heavy smoking also induces an earlier menopause by as much as two years.

 

  • Family history of osteoporosis Being genetically predisposed to osteoporosis does not mean that it is inevitable, it just means that your diet, exercise and lifestyle choices are even more important.

 

  • Prolonged use of medications such as corticosteroids or antacids corticosteroids for example encourage bone breakdown and inhibit bone building.

 

Bottom line: Many of the above risks are either because they cause bone breakdown, interfere with calcium absorption or result in a lack of the nutrients needed for bones.

 

Bone strength is at its peak by the age of around 30 years and unfortunately goes downhill from there so by the time we reach menopause and want to start looking after our bones we can only work with the bone density that we have left, that’s our starting place but there is every reason in the world to take action straight away, whatever our age to make sure that we prevent any further bone weakness developing and by strengthening the bones that we have by following the actions below.

Action plan

  1. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you suffer from any kind of eating disorder. I know there can be a lot of shame attached and you may not even feel like you can face it even to yourself but please be encouraged. There’s a lot of help out there if you will only have the courage to ask. Why not approach your GP, a trusted friend, family member or church pastor and start the journey to a happy relationship with food.

  2. Quite smoking! I know… but try! Smoking is so last year.

  3. Swop caffeinated drinks such as coffees, teas and colas for filtered water, sparkling water, herbal and fruit teas etc. Way more refreshing and actually do quench your thirst!

  4. Keep alcoholic drinks for those occasional social tipples rather than nightly ‘de-stressors’ which can be a common temptation.

  5. It may be worth having a chat with your GP if you have been on long-term drugs so see if there might be alternatives. If not, then follow all other action points to help to minimise the damage.

  6. A processed and fast food diet means a high salt and sugar diet (and don’t even get me started on the trans fat content!) and a complete lack of the vitamins and minerals that were listed above so start to replace with home cooked meals. Start small if this is new, nothing fancy, just aim towards more natural foods one step at a time i.e. add vegetables to your ready meal, have an apple for a snack, try unsweetened porridge oats and add some berries and nuts to it. Next stage? Maybe try out making omelette and salad, prawn stir fry, baked fish and steamed vegetables. You’re going to love it (eventually!)

  7. Ditch the sugar! Apart from the obvious sources (I see that doughnut behind your back!) it’s hidden in the most unlikely places. Check ingredient boxes on foods and be aware that sugar comes by many names: anything ending in ‘ose’, malt, maltodextrin, starch, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), molasses, honey and many more. Natural fruit juice has a surprising amount of sugar, often as much or more than a Coca-Cola.

  8. Exercise! Any type of exercise that is weight-bearing i.e. any movement that puts pressure on the bones such as walking, exercising with weights (pushing, pulling), carrying heavy shopping. This encourages new bone to be built.

 

Bonus tip:

 

De-stress! Long-term stress means high cortisol levels and cortisol causes bone to be broken down to release the calcium. Long-term stress is really damaging to health so please take it seriously and make time to de-stress and relax. You can’t afford not to. If nothing else, at least try regularly stopping and taking some deep, slow breaths; this can be so helpful for helping tense muscles to relax.

Now… next step, how to get the calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, boron, potassium, folic acid, zinc and vitamin C, vitamin E & vitamin K that we need?

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