Most women at menopause put on a little extra weight, it is the body’s way of compensating for the lost oestrogen from the ovaries as production switches to the fat cells. Hormone levels fall naturally at this time, but good old mother nature has provided for this by giving us another method of producing this hormone.
The role of hormones in bone development
Throughout our lives, unseen by us, our bones are being constantly broken down as they become old and built up with replacement new bone. To do this we need both our sex hormones to have strong healthy bones at any age. Oestrogen slows bone breakdown and retains old bone and progesterone helps speeds the build up of bone and can improve your bone density long-term.
It seems that oestrogen continues to provide us with protection from breaking a bone as we switch production in menopause to that extra layer of fat on our stomach and hips. New research reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, has found women with an extra layer of fat are less likely to break bones than those with perfectly toned tums – a very good reason to give up those killing abs crunches.
This is based on more than 1,000 men and women aged 50-plus whose health was followed for an average of five years. In that time only 19 of the men and 107 of the women broke a bone which led researchers to conclude that if you take into account the amount of abdominal fat each person has then there is a link between big bellies and breaks in the women. However, it seems not to offer the same help to men, so no excuse for the beer belly and their findings only apply to women who are overweight, not obese.
From the study, the 25 per cent of women with fattest middles were 40 per cent less likely to have broken a bone than those with the flattest midriffs. This led the researchers to conclude that the benefit to the women could be due to the extra force placed on bones strengthening them and the valuable padding the extra fat provides if you do have a fall.
How to have healthy bones at menopause
It seems that worldwide the rate of bone breakage has gone down as obesity levels have risen, but putting on weight is simply not the answer to protect your bones. That ‘extra force’ from the additional weight is not as healthy as undertaking regular weight bearing exercise and that ‘valuable padding’ on the stomach carries real health risks.
Excess stomach fat is associated with higher risks for diabetes and cancer, so it is more important to ensure a healthy weight that is evenly distributed and to ensure good hormone balance.
The role of progesterone in bone building is often overlooked as women are given only oestrogen and synthetic progestogens at menopause. Unless oestrogen is regulated by progesterone there is the danger of oestrogen dominance symptoms and with no balancing progesterone the oestrogen simply retains the old bone for longer, but it is also getting weaker. The protection from oestrogen in HRT only lasts as long as the HRT is taken .
Women at risk through family history or health factors such as long term dieting, anorexia, early menopause may also want to look at supplementing with bioidentical natural progesterone to not only protect their bones but also to offer additional support for other menopausal health risks.