Bone Up for Better HealthHEALTHTRACK - JULY 96
A SUPPLEMENT TO THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE FOR THE WAITING ROOM
What is Osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones lose minerals—mainly calcium—and become thin and weak. With osteoporosis, your bones become so brittle that a minor injury can break a wrist, hip, or spine. It often affects women after menopause when their bodies make less of the female hormone estrogen.
Osteoporosis can occur in younger women, too, if they stop menstruating for 3 months or more, are not getting enough calcium, or have an eating disorder such as anorexia. Doctors have seen premature osteoporosis in very athletic young women who exercise or diet to such an extent that they stop having their periods.
Fortunately, you can protect yourself. A three-pronged approached to avoiding osteoporosis includes exercise, calcium intake, and hormone replacement or other medication. These methods work best in conjunction with each other, rather than alone. If you are worried about your bone density, talk to your doctor.
Your bones, like your muscles, stay stronger with regular exercise. And having strong bones and strong muscles can keep you from getting osteoporosis. (But remember, exercise alone will not create miracles: Your hormones need to be at the right levels for exercise to help you.)
Bone loss is prevented best by exercise performed while you are on your feet—like walking, jogging, or playing tennis—and by resistance exercises like weight lifting and strength training. Whatever exercise you choose, you should do it regularly, ideally for 20 to 60 minutes three to five times a week.
It may be hard to keep up an exercise routine as you age, but exercise does not have to be elaborate to be effective. Taking a stroll after dinner, lifting some hand weights while you watch TV, or meeting a friend for a tennis match are all examples of bone-building activities. What's more, if you keep up your strength, flexibility, and coordination, you will be less likely to fall and break a bone—a real danger if you have osteoporosis.
Calcium is used by the body to form bones and teeth. It also helps nerves and muscles work properly and helps blood to clot. A shortage of calcium in your diet can lead to osteoporosis.
The recommended dietary allowance for calcium is
It's best to get your calcium from food (see box) because it's most easily absorbed by your body this way. But if you can't, ask your doctor about taking calcium supplements. Antacids containing calcium carbonate are inexpensive and easily absorbed if taken with a meal.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a drug treatment that replaces the female hormone estrogen when your body is not making enough naturally. If you are not menstruating regularly, you are most likely low on estrogen. Progesterone is a hormone that is usually also given in HRT because it protects your uterus from cancer (if your uterus has been removed, you will not need the progesterone portion).
Hormone therapy cannot repair weakened bones, but it does prevent further bone loss, especially when combined with exercise and a calcium-rich diet. Treatment must continue as long as you are not making estrogen naturally. You may receive the hormones separately or combined in an oral contraceptive pill.
Prepared by Sarah L. Gall