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  • Writer's pictureLisa Magnuson

Estrogen, bone health, and all things "heavy"

This post is obviously directed toward women, however if you aren't a woman but know a woman, it might also be good for you to read so you can share the knowledge and sound smart.

Menopause- "the big change", mother nature sure has a fantastic sense of humor. As women, we get the opportunity to have a fluctuating hormone cycle for 30-40 years with some lovely hormones that are quite beneficial to our health and wellness. Then, during a very short period of time, those hormones all but disappear, leaving us suffering from a myriad of side effects and having lasting effects on our overall health. I want to discuss today, how our steroid hormones (particularly estrogen) can be useful in helping maintain our bone health and keep our hearts happy.

Without dragging you all into the weeds of a long debated study, I wanted to provide a brief background on why estrogen is important and how it became demonized during the last 20 years. In 2005 the Women's Health Initiative study findings were released and it is to this date the most expansive study conducted on women's health ever. However, this is also the point in history where hormone replacement therapy (HRT) took a deep dive off a cliff. The study found that hormone replacement therapy (using estrogen, or a mix of estrogen and progesterone) can increase your risk of breast cancer and possibly affect your heart health. Yikes! That sounds like something to avoid.

But for the last 15 plus years, doctors and researchers have been trying to find out just how much of these findings are impactful for menopausal women.

Most the subjects in the study were older and past menopause (like 65 years old) and many of them had contributing health factors (like obesity). There are multiple other flaws in the study design and participants that can be debated also.

So the question is, is estrogen really all that bad?

Well, when we are younger (pre-menopausal), it seems to do all sorts of wonderful things for our heart and brain and body. But is it ok to supplement with it during or after menopause to help alleviate some of the negative symptoms of menopause? There are two schools of thought on hormone replacement therapy and many variations between the two extremes.

Group 1: Nature intended for you to lose these hormones over time so it's "natural" to just go through the change, deal with the symptoms, and move on. Plus it causes breast cancer and possibly heart issues.

Group 2: We have the medical knowledge and know-how to safely replace these hormones to allow women to remain feeling good while they transition through menopause, so why not use it?

Some new findings (and not so new findings) about what estrogen does for women:

  • Increased elasticity of the blood vessels, allowing them to dilate (widen) and let the blood flow more freely throughout the body

  • Improved short-term symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and mood swings, dry skin, and sleeplessness.

  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis and fractures (broken bones)

  • Decreased incidence of colon cancer

  • Protects against heart related disease in young women

  • Can positively affect cholesterol by increasing HDL and decreasing LDL

Osteoporosis is scary. Women lose up to 20% of their bone density 5-7 years after menopause. When your bones become more brittle, your likelihood of breaking them increases and breaking a hip is a leading cause of death in older populations! You need strong bones ladies, and drinking milk isn't gonna cut it.

Estrogen replacement can help with this, and do you know what else can? I bet you can't guess........ that's right!; lifting up heavy things and putting them back down again (aka strength training).

Exercise that puts stress on your ligaments, tendons and muscles, helps to strengthen your bones as well. So walking, although pleasant and good for your health in general, is not going to build stronger bones. You need to stress your system by loading it with either body weight dynamic movement (think jumping, sprinting, plyometrics) and/or loading it with weight and doing big movements.

So, if you are menopausal, or post-menopausal, I would suggest doing some more research into HRT and don't just write it off as a bad idea. The tide is turning on this subject and it's worth re-visiting if you had once discounted using estrogen replacement because you heard it caused cancer. I listened to this podcast and found it fascinating.

They speak about a book titled, Estrogen Matters. I haven't read it yet but I plan to.

AND.... keep loading your skeleton. Jump, run, lift...... keep at it. Your bones will thank you!

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