Bone health during and after the menopause
It’s a sobering fact that women can lose up to 30% of their bone mass after menopause. Hence osteoporosis and other bone conditions become a real risk for women. However, with some dietary and lifestyle changes the future can look more comfortable. And the sooner women start thinking about the health of their bones, the better the outcome.
It’s not all about dairy!
It’s not uncommon to naturally associate healthy bones with dairy foods. This is because dairy produce is very rich in calcium, the most abundant mineral in bones and teeth. However, there is a downside to dairy that is not always apparent and may be more of an issue for women.
Dairy produce is high in protein, which is essential for hormone production, building and repairing the body and immune function. However, all protein foods contain acid as part of their chemical makeup. When the body becomes too acidic, as part of its normal protection mechanisms, it ‘buffers’ the acidity by releasing alkalising calcium from the bones. Additionally, dairy may promote inflammation throughout the body, therefore it can encourage skin and joint problems as well as mucous production in sensitive people.
Life is all about balance, so whilst it’s great to include some dairy foods, there’s also plenty of dairy-alternatives which are calcium-enriched, particularly milk and yoghurts. Plus, bones need a raft of other nutrients and magnesium works in great partnership with calcium.
The greener the better!
Green leafy vegetables (and indeed many plant-based foods) are rich sources of bone-loving magnesium. Optimal calcium to magnesium ratio is about 2:1 as magnesium also plays a key role in bone health, being the fourth most abundant mineral in the body.
Other plant-based foods high in magnesium are avocados, bananas, asparagus, nuts and seeds and legumes, so there’s plenty of choice. The higher number of green foods you can include into your diet, the better your bones will be.
Enjoy the sunshine vitamin!
As important for bone health is vitamin D, affectionately known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s primarily made on the skin when the sun’s out. The great news is that summer is just about here so hopefully we can all enjoy some rays. The body only needs about 15 minutes per day of sun exposure (without sun cream) to get the body producing vitamin D.
However, busy lives and long work hours in air-conditioned offices often means we’re not exposed to the sun very much. Whilst Public Health England recommends supplementation for everyone during the winter months, it’s certainly advisable to take it all year- round. Food sources such as oily fish, margarine, mushrooms and dairy supply some vitamin D, but the body often requires higher levels and this becomes all the more important for women.
The many heart-benefits of exercise are often discussed. However, one of the best ways of building strong bones and preventing future osteoporosis is by taking regular impact exercise that combines weight-bearing movements with muscle strengthening. Great examples include brisk walking, jogging, weight training, dancing, playing team sports, skipping and stair climbing. Try to take some exercise every day even if you only manage a 20-minute walk around the block. Although peak bone mass is reached at around 30-years of age for women, it’s never too late to get moving.
Exercise also needs to be sustainable so do what you love and then you’re more likely to do it!
Be acid aware!
Just as eating too much dairy produce can create acidity within the body, other factors can have the same effect. Unfortunately, coffee should only be drunk in moderation, certainly not more than one cup per day, for this very reason.
Other acid-promoting foods include sugar, fizzy sweetened drinks, processed foods and fresh and processed meats. Try to follow the Mediterranean way of eating which includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, oily fish, nuts, seeds and plant-based foods with alcohol in moderation, to ensure your body does not have to work harder, and your bones are protected.