Bone Loss in Older Women Who Lose Weight
Shedding some extra pounds is almost always a good thing since being overweight is associated with an increased risk of numerous health issues. Many people who never had to battle the bulge during their younger years find that as middle age approaches they are quickly growing around the midsection and that it gets harder and harder to lose that weight. But now it appears that there might actually be some downside for women losing weight as they get older. According to new research, they may be losing bone density as well.
The study, which was conducted at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, found that middle aged women who lost just a moderate amount of weight also had a measurable degree of lost bone mass simultaneously.1 The subjects were 424 men and women between the ages of 30 and 70 who were tracked for a period of two years. All were either overweight or obese at the start of the trial, and approximately 60 percent were female. They were randomly divided into four groups, each of which was provided a specific low-calorie diet.
Not only were the participants' weights checked, but bone density measurements were taken throughout the study. The scientists conducted bone density testing of the spine and hip when the research began, six months later, and once more at the conclusion of the two-year period. (It is worth noting that nearly half of the volunteers did not make it through to the end--only 236 of them completed the investigation.)
Among those who finished it out, the men lost slightly more weight than the women. The men shed an average of 8 percent of their initial body weight, while the women dropped an average of 6.4 percent. The difference between the genders was much greater when bone density was considered. The women who were postmenopausal lost bone density at both the spine and the hip. In contrast, the premenopausal women lost bone density only at the hip. Men, on the other hand, actually increased bone density at the spine and had no change in bone density at the hip.
Even worse for the postmenopausal women, those who lost abdominal fat were the most likely to experience bone loss too. This is particularly bad news, since excess fat in the abdominal area is associated with an elevated risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and it is therefore essential to whittle down your middle if you've gained there. And a 2014 study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, discovered that women, as a whole, have experienced a greater expansion of abdominal girth than men in recent years.2
Another factor in the bone loss issue seems to be how much muscle a person loses while dieting. In general, the men lost more overall weight and more fat tissue than the women. The women, on the other hand, lost less fat and more lean mass than the men. This increased loss of muscle mass, combined with the fat they also lost, was consistent with loss of bone density in the hip and spine in postmenopausal women. A 2014 meta-analysis of research at Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam showed that lean mass has more effect on bone mineral density than fat mass does in both men and women.3 Women are at higher risk for osteoporosis than men because they lose bone at a greater rate as they age. What makes things even worse is that a 2005 study at Gifu University in Japan found that cutting dietary fat lowers estrogen, which in turn lowers bone density.4
So what's a woman to do if you've gone through menopause and gained weight around your abdomen? Letting it stay put to protect your bones is definitely not the answer, as the health risks are a serious danger. Neither is taking a supplement of pharmaceutical estrogen to maintain bone density, since synthetic hormones have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, dementia, and more. If you are considering hormone therapy, opt for bioidentical estriol instead, as it is chemically the same as the natural hormones your body produces.
And another way to help prevent bone loss as we age is regular weight-bearing exercise such as walking and resistance training with weights to help strengthen the muscles and protect existing bone mass. It is especially important to incorporate weight-bearing exercise into any weight-loss program to maintain your lean muscle mass while losing weight. Plus, working out has the added benefit of contributing to weight loss around your waist and all over as well. Note: if you're building muscle while on a weight loss program, don't measure your progress with a scale; use a tape measure. Muscle weighs more than fat so that if you're building muscle while losing fat, you may actually notice your weight going up, as your waist and hip size decrease.
- 1. "Weight loss linked to bone loss in middle aged women." Fox News. 15 April 2015. Accessed 22 April 2015. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2015/04/15/weight-loss-linked-to-bone-loss-in-middle-aged-women/
- 2. Ford, Earl S.; et al. "Trends in Mean Waist Circumference and Abdominal Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2012." Journal of the American Medical Association. 17 September 2014. Accessed 23 April 2015. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1904816&resultClick=3
- 3. Ho-Pham, LT; et al. "Association between lean mass, fat mass, and bone mineral density: a meta-analysis." Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. January 2014. Accessed 23 April 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24384013
- 4. Nagata, Chisato; et al. "Fat Intake is Associated with Serum Estrogen and Androgen Concentrations in Postmenopausal Japanese Women." Journal of Nutrition. 1 December 2005. Accessed 23 April 2015. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/12/2862.full