Women and Bone Health
Almost 46 million women in India are affected by Osteoporosis. Women have a lower peak bone mass, which is compounded by the hormonal changes that occur at the time of Menopause.
Women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men. Estrogen, a hormone in women that protects bones, decreases sharply when women reach menopause, which can cause bone loss. This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women reach menopause.
This also contributes to significant morbidity and mortality in postmenopausal women. This is because women have a lower peak bone mass, which is compounded by the hormonal changes that occur at the time of menopause. It is a silent disease until fractures occur, which causes important secondary health problems.
Factors that Affect Bone Health in Women
Physical Activity: Just keep moving: yes, regular physical activity and exercise play a role in maintaining and improving bone density. It is not surprising that maintaining strong muscles helps support your bones and reduces the amount of stress placed on them over a lifetime. In particular, women should be doing weight-bearing exercises. This just means moving your body bearing your own weight. Brisk walking, dancing, or skipping are great examples of ways you can move your body every day.
Puberty: There are a lot of changes that happen to the body during puberty. A teenager’s brain becomes more advanced and their decision-making and self-control are improved. They do, however, become clumsier and this is because they are growing so fast it takes a while for the brain to adjust. Not only will their organs get bigger and stronger, but their bones will increase in thickness. In fact, approximately half of a person’s bone mass is accumulated during adolescence. It is important to eat plenty of foods with calcium to help support bone growth at this time.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: A developing baby needs a lot of calcium. If the mother does not get enough calcium, her baby will draw what it needs from the mother’s bones. To help support your bone health during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is important to include at least two to three serves of dairy products or equivalent high-calcium foods every day.
Menopause: Menopause happens when your estrogen and progesterone production begins to slow down, which can affect your bone health. Estrogen plays a role in bone health and during menopause, estrogen levels rapidly decline. When estrogen levels decrease, bones lose calcium and other minerals at a much faster rate.
A woman’s bone loss is approximately 2% per year for several years after menopause. Because of this, women are in fact at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis due to the loss of calcium and other minerals.
Smoking and Alcohol: Long-term smoking can cause a significant reduction in bone density leading to an increased risk of fracture. If you are a smoker, you may also go through menopause 1.5-2 years earlier than the average woman, and this will increase your risk of developing osteoporosis earlier than most.
Ageing: It is no surprise that age is a factor when it comes to your bone health. Most of your bone growth will happen when you are a child and teenager, but you are never too young or too old to improve your bone health. Your bones will stop growing and increasing in strength in your twenties and from 30 onwards, it’s only bone mass maintenance.
Diet and Vitamins: Eating a healthier diet and maintaining a healthy weight is very important in reducing the risk of bone disorders. It’s not just about calcium and dairy; women should include foods such as leafy green vegetables, pulses, etc.
Vitamin D Levels: A lack of sun exposure can mean you are not getting enough vitamin D which your body needs to absorb calcium. Daily exposure to the sun is important in maintaining vitamin D levels. Aim to get a few minutes of sunlight by walking.
Thyroid Problems: Thyroid conditions are more common in women than men. High concentrations of thyroid hormones can lead to more bone breakdown than bone formation, which affects bone density and causes osteoporosis.
Medication and Treatments: Some treatments and medication can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. For example, medicines for breast cancer, prostate cancer, epilepsy, and some antidepressants can affect your bone health.
Self Help Tips
– Chew four Ashwagandha leaves in the morning empty stomach for maintaining optimum bone health.
– As a healthy snack, consume roasted chickpeas (bhuna chana) with jaggery. A daily intake of two handfuls is sufficient.
– Drink at least three glasses of full-fat milk each day mixed with one tsp of ghee. The intake of ghee helps in the proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamin D.
– Massage your body with Til Taila or MahaNarayan Taila before showering.
– Consume 2 soaked walnuts and a teaspoon of flax seeds each day.
– Early morning sunlight exposure minimum 30 minutes. You can go for a walk or do Yoga during the sunlight exposure time.
– Weight-bearing exercises, strengthening, and balancing postures of Yoga to be practiced. Lifting certain weights as per capacity, Yoga like SuryaNamaskar, Taadasana, Bhujangasana, Naukasana, Shalabhasana, Shashankasana, Veerabhadrasana must be performed each day.
– Chew a handful of sesame seeds each day during winters.
– Avoid salty foods, alcohol, beans/legumes, caffeine.
– Calcium helps in building bone density and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Dairy products such as milk, curd, and cheese are good sources of calcium and must be included in the diet.
– Include herbs like Ashwagandha, Shatavari, Jatamansi, and Bala in the diet to strengthen bones.
– Consume green vegetables such as spinach, turnip, whole grains, fortified oatmeal, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, beans, black gram, and chickpea.
– If you are non-vegetarian, consuming varieties of fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines that include Vitamin D is beneficial.
– Soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, and beans, tofu soy milk with calcium is good to restore decreased hormones in women with reference to menopause.
– Have nuts and seeds in moderate quantities. Walnuts and flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and have proven to be quite beneficial in the prevention of osteoporosis. Peanuts and almonds contain potassium which protects against the loss of calcium through the urine.
– Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine and alcoholic drinks. Caffeine has high diuretic properties and excretes high amounts of calcium in the urine. Coffee, tea, and soft drinks decrease the absorption of calcium and contribute to loss of bone density. Alcohol too interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
– Include ghee as a part of daily meals as ghee helps in proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamin D and it also acts as a bio enhancer for the drugs with poor bioavailability.
Ayurveda treatment visualizes the human body as a single unit and this holistic approach has opened many newer methods for treatment. The treatment of Osteoporosis in Asthikshaya includes avoidance of etiological factors (Nidana Parivarjana), Biopurification (Shodhana), Palliative treatment (Shamana), Rejuvenation (Rasayana), and Proper Diet (Pathyapathya).
Nidana Parivarjana: Vata dosha is commonly located in bones and Ayurveda considers the increase of Vata as one of the factors responsible for Osteoporosis in Asthikshaya. Avoid excessive indulgence in etiological factors responsible for provocation of Vata, vitiation of Asthi, Majjavahasrotas, and also the psychic factors.
Shodhana: Panchakarma especially Basti which contains milk (Kshira), Ghee (ghrita), and Tikta Dravya.
Shamana: The main aim of Ayurvedic therapy in Osteoporosis Asthigatvata includes Vatashamak, Tarpak, Brihman, Balya, and Asthisandhankar treatment.
Research studies suggest that drugs like Guduchi, Ashwagandha, Vacha, Dadima have Antiosteoporotic and Phytoestrogenic properties which strengthen the bone.
Different parts of the plants like Withania somnifera, Cissus quadrangularis, Punica granatum, Tinospora cordifolia, Curcuma longa, Nigella sativa, Melia azedarach, Asparagus racemosus, Moringa oleifera, Zingiber officinale, and Sesamum indicum are studied experimentally and found effective in the management of osteoporosis. These should be taken strictly under medical supervision.
All women over the age of 45 years should have a bone density test done. Always remember that screening is an important prevention strategy to prevent bone loss and keep your bones strong. It will lead to early intervention and result in a better quality of life. The frequency for a bone density test depends on a number of factors such as your age, your bone density results, and whether you are taking any osteoporosis or arthritis treatment.
If your healthcare provider hasn’t spoken to you about your bone health, it is time for you to bring it up! Especially, if you have elderly women in the family, who are now confined to their homes due to the present lockdown and pandemic situation, screening for bone health becomes crucial.
Women being considered the backbone of a family must save their bones at any cost!
About The Author
Dr. Chitrangana N Chauhan
Dr Chitrangana specializes in Ayurveda Behavioral Health (Manasa Roga) with experience in Ayurveda-Psychiatry, Stress Management, Deaddiction and Psychology.
Additionally, Dr Chitrangana has expertise in Ayurveda General Medicine, Nadi (Pulse), Counselling and Yoga.