Osteoporosis is defined as a weakening of the bones. Many women may develop osteoporosis as a result of menopause and aging; however, some develop it earlier as they transition through the perimenopausal stage.
What Is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the stage prior to reaching menopause. This usually begins two to ten years before a woman reaches menopause and can produce many common side effects, such as hot flashes, irregular periods, and mood swings.
During this stage, the body's reproductive capacity begins to shut down, and the production of the sex hormones progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen fluctuates and slowly decreases. It is often difficult to identify when a woman becomes perimenopausal; however, symptoms like osteoporosis can be an indication that a woman has reached that stage.
What Is Perimenopausal Osteoporosis?
Perimenopausal osteoporosis is a degenerative bone condition in which women experience a hastened level of bone degradation as their bodies begin to lose vital estrogen. Estrogen is important for reproduction, but it also regulates bone cell growth. While vitamins and minerals are fundamental in maintaining bone health, estrogen is also important in the process. The cells that control bone growth are:
- Osteoclasts. These break bone cells down so that new ones can grow.
- Osteoblasts. These are responsible for growing new bone cells.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
The primary cause of osteoporosis in perimenopausal women is hormonal imbalance. Estrogen is crucial in promoting bone growth; and when there is a shortage of estrogen, the bone cells are not as well regulated. During this time, the "bone breakdown" cells can begin to outnumber the osteoblasts, which grow bone mass, causing bones to weaken. When the body has sufficient estrogen levels, there is an equal number of osteoclasts and osteoblasts to maintain adequate bone density.
How Do Women Prevent Perimenopausal Osteoporosis?
Many perimenopausal women who are at risk for osteoporosis are prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to make up for the shortage of estrogen and prevent bone loss. Women may also try to prevent osteoporosis and even out hormone levels with the following methods:
- Changes in lifestyle. The key way to prevent osteoporosis is to eat foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D and exercise regularly, especially weight-bearing activities.
- Herbal remedies. Phytoestrogenic and hormone-regulating herbal supplements may help replenish low estrogen levels and maintain bone health.
Because it is a serious disease, it is important to consult a medical professional before undergoing any treatment for perimenopausal osteoporosis. Your physician can advise you on the benefits and side effects of each treatment method.
- Caetano-Lopez, J. et al. (2007). Osteoblasts and bone formation. Acta Reumatológica Porteguesa, 32(2), 103-110. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17572649
- Office on Women's Health. (2012). Osteoporosis fact sheet. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/osteoporosis.html
- The Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Menopause & Osteoporosis. Retrieved November 27, 2015, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic-what-is-perimenopause-menopause-postmenopause/hic_Menopause_and_Osteoporosis