The Menopause-Osteoarthritis Connection

June 04, 2023

The Menopause-Osteoarthritis Connection

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a type of arthritis that is characterized by a wearing down over time of the protective joint cartilage. This leads to pain and stiffness in the affected joints, with OA most commonly striking the joints of the hands, neck, hips, lower back and knees. For a variety of reasons that are not entirely clear, women are more likely to develop the disease, especially if they are over the age of 50. Women who are between 50 and 60 years of age are about 3.5 times more likely to develop hand arthritis than men of the same age. These women are 40 percent more likely to develop knee arthritis, and about ten percent more likely to develop OA of the hip than men.

Medical researchers have identified several theories that may explain why women are more prone to getting OA. These include differences in a woman’s musculoskeletal system that affect the way women stand, walk and run, putting more wear and tear on the joints of the knees and hips than men.

Women unfortunately also tend to carry more body weight over time than men, and that puts more mechanical stress on the joints of the knees and hips. Extra weight is double trouble when it comes to arthritis, as extra weight can cause low grade body-wide inflammation, and this can be a factor in the development of arthritis in any joint of the body.

Besides differences in a woman’s musculoskeletal system and the tendency to gain weight is the inevitable fluctuation in hormones, particularly as a woman reaches the menopausal years.  There is some research to suggest that a drop in estrogen levels has a part to play in this. Although the incidence of osteoarthritis clearly increases in women who have gone through menopause, the exact role that estrogen plays is still unclear. Some medical professionals point out that women who have entered menopause and beyond also have a hard time keeping their weight down, so the combination of decreasing estrogen plus increased body weight could be a factor here also.

There are other risk factors for developing OA besides being female, including having a family history of the disease, as well as a history of an injury to a particular joint. There are also risk factors that you can do something about as well. These include stopping smoking if you use tobacco, and making sure your diet is not deficient in vitamins C and E, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish such as mackerel and salmon, as well as oysters, flaxseed and walnuts. You may also want to add a good quality marine collagen supplement to your diet, as collagen makes up nearly two-thirds of the weight of the cartilage in your knees as well as your other joints. Collagen supplementation has been scientifically proven to be effective in reducing or relieving many of the troubling symptoms of OA, including joint pain and stiffness.

If you are entering menopause or are already through this time in your life, it’s not inevitable that you will develop osteoarthritis. But if you experience stiffness, pain or swelling in any of your joints, see your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. There are many things you can do besides medications that can help. To recap, get regular exercise, maintain a healthy body weight, if you smoke, get help from your healthcare provider to quit, eat a well-rounded balanced diet, try to avoid tasks that are repetitive, as these can cause your joints to overwork.

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