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Health Tips & Advice

Women and Bone Health

By Dr. Janice Weiss

Women are four times more likely to suffer from osteoporosis than men—but with prevention and maintenance, you can have strong, healthy bones for life.

Osteoporosis is a silent condition—meaning you may not know you have it until you break a bone because of a fall, lift something heavy or let out a powerful sneeze. And if you’re a woman, your risk of having an osteoporosis-related fracture is greater than your risk of having a heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. What most people don’t realize is the high mortality rate associated with complications following hip fractures—which is why osteoporosis is such an important disease to try to prevent.

Why does osteoporosis affect women more than men?

Women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men. Estrogen protects bones—but since this hormone decreases dramatically when a woman reaches menopause, her risk of developing osteoporosis increases as soon as she enters this phase of life.

Bone loss prevention and maintenance

Genetics play a huge role in the health of your bones. But diet and lifestyle from a young age can have a significant impact on future bone health.

Bone density peaks in your late 20s—which is why we educate children and teens to consume adequate calcium, take vitamin D, and exercise regularly. Eating disorders as a teen or young adult can lead to future osteoporosis, as can smoking and heavy drinking.

Calcium: Pre-menopausal women should consume 1,000 mg a day. Ideally, calcium requirements should come through dietary sources, like dairy. If that’s not possible you can take a supplement. I prefer calcium citrate (over calcium carbonate) because you can take it with or without food, and it is much better tolerated.Post-menopause, women should consume 1,200 mg of calcium a day.

Tip: To check how much calcium you’re consuming, use the Osteoporosis Canada Calcium Calculator.

Vitamin D: Almost all Canadians need vitamin D—unless you spend a lot of time down south. For anyone over the age of five, I recommend 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily, taken with food for better absorption. Some people may require more vitamin D to get their blood levels over 75 nmol/l, but for most women pre-menopause, there’s no benefit in taking more than 1,000 IU a day. After menopause I usually recommend 2,000 IU daily. Vitamin D is one of the few vitamins where it’s better to take a supplement than attempt to get the dosage through diet or sun exposure.

Tip: If you forget to take your vitamin D supplement one day, you can double up the next day.

Fun fact: It doesn’t matter how long you stand outside on a sunny fall or winter day—you will not make a drop of vitamin D. That’s because Canada is situated on latitudes too far north during the winter months, and the sun’s intensity is too weak to stimulate your skin to make vitamin D.

Alcohol: Chronic heavy drinking (three or more drinks daily) at any age reduces bone density.

Balance: Good balance helps to prevent falls. Practice Tai Chi or, if you’re just starting out, try standing on one leg at a time while holding on to the back of a chair.

Weight-bearing exercises: Walking, running, hiking, dancing, tennis, aerobics, lifting weights, resistance band use, or any activity where gravity is involved are all great for your bones. But if you have osteoporosis of the spine, please discuss the dos and don’ts with an experienced physiotherapist or kinesiologist first.

Weight management: Don’t lose too much weight, or lose weight too quickly. While obesity can increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes, carrying a few extra pounds can actually protect your bones. Good news for those of us who’ve gained weight during the pandemic!

At Medcan, we measure vitamin D levels as part of the Annual Health Assessment and the Child and Youth Annual Health Assessment. Bone Mineral Density Testing is available as part of the Annual Health Assessment for women over the age of 50 or once she has reached menopause. For more information on how Medcan can help you maintain good bone health, contact us at 416.350.3621.

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