Menopause is characterized by the loss of estrogen production by the ovaries. This may occur by natural means or by the surgical removal of both ovaries. Menopause should not be characterized as a disease or a condition. However the loss of estrogen in the body may lead to other conditions such as osteoporosis.
Estrogen plays many roles in the body, one of which is to maintain healthy bone, estrogen aids not only in the formation of bone in youth, but the remodeling of bone throughout life. Estrogen aids in calcium absorption, another critical factor of bone health.
Osteoporosis is a disease of the skeletal system whereby the bones lose too much density and become weak. This loss of density and weakening of bones often results in fracture.
These fractures can occur anywhere but most often in the spine, hip and wrists. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from a fracture, and 80% of people currently affected by osteoporosis are women.
Men start out with more bone mass and women experience a higher rate of bone loss after menopause. In fact the loss of estrogen as a result of menopause may last anywhere from 5-10 years.
It is no surprise then that osteoporosis affects more postmenopausal women then any other group. It is not so much that menopause itself causes osteoporosis, however there are several factors that are affiliated with both.
Bone Mass Loss
With age, the risk of osteoporosis increases as everyone loses bone mass. Remodeling is a continual process that occurs all throughout life. Bone is constantly being removed and replaced. Throughout childhood and adolescence the bones are still gaining more than they are losing and building mass. In adulthood peak bone mass is reached before the age of 30.
For a few years after peak bone mass is reached the rate is steady. After a few more years, bone loss occurs at a steady, yet ineffectual rate. At the time of peak bone mass, men may have up to 30% more bone mass then women. Then at the time of menopause, or even perimenopause the period of time when estrogen and progesterone levels are fluctuating in the body, the rate of bone mass changes.
At the time of menopause and for up to ten years after, the progression of bone loss is higher in women then in men. The average age for menopause is 52. Women who experience menopause at an earlier age are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis.
Early menopause may occur naturally or as a result of surgery or other medical conditions such as cancer. Women who experience menopause later in life or those who started menstruating at an early age have had more lifetime exposure to estrogen and therefore may have a lower risk of osteoporosis. Estrogen therapy, also an effective treatment symptoms of menopause, has been shown to increase bone mass.
Several experts agree that the lack of estrogen in postmenopausal women prevents the absorption and utilization of calcium and that this is the most important component of osteoporosis in older women.