12/16/2011 12:03 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2012

Keep Your Bones Strong After Menopause

Every day our bones go through a complex process of building and remodeling. After about age 30, the breakdown component starts to take over and leads to a loss of bone density. In postmenopausal women, estrogen production slows, making women more likely to suffer from osteoporosis.

Soy isoflavones were once considered a possible alternative to improve bone health. However, clinical trials of soy have had mixed results. A study in Archives of Internal Medicine found no evidence for osteoporosis prevention as a result of soy supplementation. [1] In terms of menopause treatments and bone loss, each woman has a unique physiology and needs a plan that is customized to her individual needs.

Can prunes protect postmenopausal women against osteoporosis? Prunes, known for their nutrient-dense, low-fat, and high fiber content, provide many vitamins and minerals while keeping us "regular." Recent studies show other unexpected health benefits of these super-fruits.

The British Journal of Nutrition reported that dried plums protect against bone loss and significantly increase bone density in the spine and forearm. The study followed 100 women eating either 3.5 ounces of dried plums (about 10 prunes) or dried apples a day for one year. The dried apples had no affect on bone density or bone loss. [2] This evidence reflects an earlier study that found "dried plums reversed the loss of trabecular architectural properties such as trabecular number and connectivity density, and trabecular separation." [3]

The small experimental groups in these studies raise questions about the practical application for all postmenopausal women. Also, the average woman doesn't need an additional 240 calories (about 10 prunes) per day. Diets high in all fruits and vegetables, besides prunes, provide us with vitamins and phytochemicals that promote bone health, adding a "neutralizing capacity" for bones to retain their calcium.

There are many other ways to improve your bone health, in addition to eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables.

• Increase your intake of Vitamin D3. Even if you take in enough calcium, it could be going to waste if you are deficient in Vitamin D3! Vitamin D3, the "sunshine" vitamin, helps your body effectively absorb calcium. Women past menopause or who have had a total hysterectomy need 800-1000 IU of calcium per day.

• Eat your green, leafy veggies. Vitamin K, abundant in these plants, plays a role in building the bone protein osteocalcin and binding calcium to the bone matrix. Most Vitamin D supplements come with K1 and K2 versions to combine your bone-building potential.

• Limit your alcohol consumption. One drink a day may be good for your heart and your health, but chronic alcohol consumption results in deficient bone repair and may slow down fracture healing.

• Keep your bones strong through regular exercise. Exercise not only decreases stress and increases muscle mass, but specific programs can target osteoporosis and bone status. A 2010 study showed that physiologic bone loss, bone quality, and bone density improved in postmenopausal women after a specific, multi-component exercise program. [4] Combining exercises and challenging yourself gives the best results.

For more information about your personal bone health, ask your doctor about a DEXA test (central bone test) as well as other peripheral bone tests. These tests will give you a "T score." This number shows how your bone density compares to the bone density of an average, healthy individual.

Diet Designs offers plans providing proper bone-building nutrients that you need.


[1] Silvina Levis, Nancy Strickman-Stein, Parvin Ganjei-Azar, Ping Xu, Daniel R. Doerge, and Jeffrey Krischer. Soy Isoflavones in the Prevention of Menopausal Bone Loss and Menopausal Symptoms: A Randomized, Double-blind (2011) Trial Arch Intern Med,; 171: 1363 - 1369.

[2] Shirin Hooshmand, Sheau C. Chai, Raz L. Saadat, Mark E. Payton, Kenneth Brummel-Smith and Bahram H. Arjmandi. Comparative effects of dried plum and dried apple on bone in postmenopausal women. (2011) British Journal of Nutrition, 106 , pp 923-930 doi:10.1017/S000711451100119X.

[3] Viewpoint: Dried plum, an emerging functional food that may effectively improve bone health (2009) Ageing Research Reviews, 8 (2), pp. 122-127.

[4] Silvia Tolomio, Andrea Ermolao, Alberto Lalli, Marco Zaccaria. The Effect of a Multicomponent Dual-Modality Exercise Program Targeting Osteoporosis on Bone Health Status and Physical Function Capacity of Postmenopausal Women. (2010) Journal of Women & Aging Vol. 22, Iss. 4.