Opening the Doors to Healthier and Stress-Free Living
A Column by Alice Abbott-Moore,
Content Access/Information Delivery Teams, Ekstrom Library

Nothing Like a Strong Foundation

There is a silent disease out there that is both preventable and treatable, and affects both men and women: osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a disease that gradually weakens bones causing them to become brittle and to break. Normal bone mass is dense and strong, while bones with osteoporosis are thinner and more porous.

Women can lose up to 20% of their bone mass within the first five to seven years after menopause. One out of two women and one out of eight men suffers an osteoporosis-related fracture. A woman has the same risk of developing an osteoporosis related hip fracture as developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. Osteoporosis can cause crippling pain, early retirement, lasting disability, and permanent disfigurement.

For years, although I was reticent, I have wanted to have my bones tested. During my teen years I had participated in many a diet plan, including crash dieting. I have read and have heard that a lot of bone damage occurs during the growing years when proper nutrition is not utilized. So, I bit the bullet and made an appointment to have my bones tested. Now some people, after hearing that I wanted to be tested for osteoporosis, questioned why would I be concerned about it at my age. I have since learned that knowing one's bone mass density at an earlier age may prevent or aid in the treatment.

So, I had a Bone Mass Density (BMD) test to find out how dense my bones are and my risk for osteoporosis. Bone mass is assessed by the measuring of bone mineral density using bone densitometry. This test uses dual energy X-ray technology that detects asymptomatic individuals for hip fracture. Another method uses ultrasound through the heel of the foot called Achilles+. The heel is measured because its bone material is similar to that of the spine and hip where osteoporosis strikes the most. This test offers a highly accurate reading of bone stiffness, which in turn interprets the risk of osteoporotic fracture.

While learning about my bone density, I also learned about the signs of osteoporosis, factors that cause osteoporosis, and life style changes for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.

Signs of Osteoporosis

  • Unexplained back pain
  • Height loss
  • Excessive curvature of the spine also known as "dowager's hump"
  • Fracture resulting from minimal trauma

Factors that cause osteoporosis

  • Age
  • Menopause
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • Abnormal absence of menstrual periods
  • Thin or small body frame
  • Caucasian or Asian decent, although African Americans and Hispanic Americans are also at significant risk
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Excessive use of caffeine
  • Anorexia nervosa or bulimia
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Chronic use of steroids, excessive thyroid hormone, certain anticonvulsants

Life Style Changes that help prevent osteoporosis or prevent further damage from osteoporosis

  • Diet: Eat a balanced diet with adequate dietary calcium. One's doctor can advise if one needs to change his/her diet and if calcium or vitamin D supplements need to be taken
  • Weight bearing exercise: Exercise regularly to keep bones and muscles strong and healthy. Be sure to consult with one's doctor before starting an exercise program. Walking and lifting weights are good ways to achieve such exercise.
  • Smoking and overuse of alcohol use are also thought to contribute to osteoporosis.

Unfortunately for some people, particularly women, calcium and vitamin D, and exercise may not be enough to prevent osteoporosis. It is important to talk with one's doctor to find out more information to prevent and treat osteoporosis. There is a non-hormonal treatment called Fosamax that has been shown to build bone mass in many women past menopause.

When I learned the results of my BMD test, I found that I was at 100% bone density for my age, which is excellent. I learned that my risk for osteoporosis is average to a little below average. However, I also learned that even if I continued with my lifestyle, as healthy as it is, still it will not be enough to prevent some bone loss as I grow older. For example, if I should live to age 70 with my lifestyle, I will experience 32% bone loss. That was an eye-opening item for me to learn. People at the age of 30 and older should take calcium supplements daily consisting of 1500 milligrams.

If one takes calcium supplements in pill form, one needs to remember to take them in increments of 400-500 milligrams at different times of the day. The body can not absorb anything more at each time of ingestion. Also, calcium pills need to be ingested with vitamin D for best absorption.

Authors note: If you are concerned about your bone density, I urge you to call your physician and make an appointment today to be tested. Don't spend time wondering like I did. Find out about your risk for osteoporosis as soon as you can.

Osteoporosis Facts. Mobile Screening Authority, 1998.
Building a Strong Foundation for You. National Osteoporosis Foundation, 1997.
Next Steps after Bone Mineral Density Testing. Merck & Co., Inc., 1998.