What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis literally translates to “porous bone”. It is a multifactorial systemic skeletal disease. Osteoporosis is characterised by low bone mineral density (BMD) and micro-architectural deterioration of bone tissue. Basically your bones become fragile. Losing bone represents a physiological part of the ageing process, but in some people the loss in bone density is much faster than in others. This can easily lead to an increased risk of fractures. Oestrogen is essential for healthy bones maintenance and consequently bone density.
What is the link with menopause?
Entering menopause causes a sudden drop in oestrogen level. This results in a more rapid decrease in bone density becomes faster than growth. This, in time, leads to brittle and porous bones. For the reason above, women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, particularly if the menopause begins before the age of 45. You can find more information here.
How does it correlate with oestrogen?
The achievement of bone mass is an important step of osteoporosis prevention. Bone mass building starts in childhood and finishes in adult life. Peak bone mass varies. Some bones reach peak mass around 40 years old. After this age, it normally starts to decline. Healthy bones undergo active process of remodelling, paramount for bone density maintenance. Oestrogen affects bones through the following mechanisms:
- lowering the sensitivity of bone mass to parathyroid hormone (PTH), which reduces bone resorption
- increasing calcitonin (a hormone produced by the thyroid: it regulates level of calcium and phosphate in the blood) production, inhibiting bone resorption
- accelerating calcium resorption by the intestine
- reducing the calcium excretion from the kidney
- also having direct effects on the bone since there are oestrogen receptors in the bone.
Vitamin D’s role in osteoporosis
Vitamin D is essential as it helps absorbing calcium from the food you eat. It is a fat absorbable secosteroids (a class of steroids with a “broken” ring, it means in fact cut ring). Fat absorbable means that it can be stored in fat, therefore you can fuel up in summer. Between its function, it is responsible for increasing the intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphate which are all very important for bone health.
The most important groups are vitamin D3 known also as cholecalciferol, and Vitamin D2. The major source of Vitamin D (cholecalciferol) production in the lower layers of the skin happens through a chemical reaction dependent on sun exposure (UVB rays).
What can you do to prevent this?
The best thing you can do for osteoporosis is prevention. Attend regular check-ups, especially after entering menopause. You should have Dexa scans every year. Taking calcium and vitamin D (D3 cholecalciferol) supplements is pivotal especially if you live in a country that is not particularly sunny and you don’t expose yourself to the sun long enough to naturally absorb Vitamin D.
Load bearing exercise helps bone calcification therefore even walking or gentle running can protect against osteoporosis. Check out this video for further explanation about how exercise can prevent osteoporosis and for some examples.
Can sunbathing help?
Sunbathing can be very beneficial to your body. Obviously, it is important to sunbathe properly. Sun exposure is pivotal for our health. In fact, you will never reach the efficiency of Vitamin D production exert by the sun with supplements.
Usually, a 30 minute sun exposure is enough to start producing Vitamin D. Of course, you should not cover yourself with 50 plus protection as you would not activate the reaction in your skin, this is why it’s so important to be careful when doing so. You should still use a lower protection to help Vitamin D production. Also, you need to expose the biggest area of your body in the proper hours of the day, therefore better avoid peak hours in summer. Always be careful with sun exposure, but do expose yourself as it will increase your Vitamin D production.