Of all the changes that come with menopause, one in particular has potentially serious health repercussions. Studies show that more than 50 percent of non-Hispanic Caucasian and Asian women age 50 years and older have low bone mass, increasing their risk for osteoporosis which can contribute to serious and debilitating injuries such as broken hips. The average woman will experience an up to 20 percent drop in bone density in the five years following the onset of menopause. A major reason for this is that women’s bodies produce less estrogen after menopause, and estrogen plays an important role in helping to prevent bone loss.
Probiotic supplements can slow this loss of bone density following menopause and thus reduce a woman’s risk of developing osteoporosis. Testing on mice, researchers from Emory University and Georgia State discovered that the loss of estrogen during menopause increases the permeability of the gut. This reduced barrier allows gut bacteria to trigger an immune system response that leads to a break down in bone density. In the study, mice who were given probiotics had significantly reduced bone loss.
The study demonstrated that twice-weekly treatment of sex steroid–deficient mice with the probiotics Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) or a commercially available probiotic supplement, reduced gut permeability, dampened intestinal and BM inflammation, and completely protected against bone loss. In contrast, supplementation with a nonprobiotic strain of E. coli or a mutant LGG was not protective.
The data further suggested that probiotics that decrease gut permeability have potential as a therapeutic strategy for postmenopausal osteoporosis—a promising result for any women facing menopause. For additional perspectives from the probiotic research front, visit our Facebook page.