Women and Osteosporosis

Last night my husband and I watched Doc Martin on PBS and in this episode Martin confirmed that his aunt Joan was suffering from Osteoporosis.  She was devastated by the news.  It was as if she had been handed a death sentence.  She didn’t want to talk to him about it and she was depressed–until she began a relationship with a much younger man.

What is Osteoporosis?  Osteoporosis is a metabolic bone disease characterized by low bone mass, which makes bones fragile and susceptible to fracture. Osteoporosis is known as a silent disease because symptoms and pain do not appear until a fracture occurs. Without prevention or treatment, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks, typically in the hip, spine, or wrist. A hip fracture can limit mobility and lead to a loss of independence, and vertebral fractures can result in a loss of height, stooped posture, and chronic pain.

Now that I have an idea of what this disease is all about, I can understand why Doc Martin’s aunt was so devastated by the news.  She is a very independent and active woman who has her own farm.  The prospect of limited mobility must have been very daunting for her.  And no one wants to endure chronic pain.

What are the risk factors of Osteoporosis?  They are:

  • a thin, small-boned frame
  • previous fracture or family history of osteoporotic fracture
  • estrogen deficiency resulting from early menopause (before age 45), either naturally, from surgical removal of the ovaries, or as a result of prolonged amenorrhea (abnormal absence of menstruation) in younger women
  • advanced age
  • a diet low in calcium
  • Caucasian and Asian ancestry (African American and Hispanic women are at lower but significant risk)
  • cigarette smoking
  • excessive use of alcohol
  • prolonged use of certain medications, such as those used to treat lupus, asthma, thyroid deficiencies, and seizures.

I read today that although African American women tend to have higher bone mineral density (BMD) than white women throughout life, they are still at significant risk of developing osteoporosis. The misperception that osteoporosis is only a concern for white women can delay prevention and treatment in African American women who do not believe they are at risk for the disease.

Why are women more likely to get Osteoporosis than men?

Women start with lower bone density than their male peers and they lose bone mass more quickly as they age, which leads to osteoporosis in some women. Between the ages of 20 and 80, the average white woman loses one-third of her hip bone density, compared to a bone density loss of only one-fourth in men.

What issues do African American women face with regard to Osteoporosis?

  • Osteoporosis is underrecognized and undertreated among them.
  • As they age, their risk for hip fracture doubles approximately every 7 years.
  • They are more likely than white women to die following a hip fracture.
  • Diseases more prevalent in the African American population, such as sickle cell anemia and lupus, can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • They consume 50 percent less calcium than the Recommended Dietary Allowance. Adequate intake of calcium plays a crucial role in building bone mass and preventing bone loss.
  • As many as 75 percent of all African Americans are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance can hinder optimal calcium intake. People with lactose intolerance often may avoid milk and other dairy products that are excellent sources of calcium because they have trouble digesting lactose, the primary sugar in milk.  I stopped drinking dairy milk a long time ago and have been drinking rice milk instead.  I think my sister is lactose intolerant.  She drinks Soya milk.  The cheese I recently bought is lactose free because my husband and son are lactose intolerant. However, I am the only one eating this cheese because neither of them is interested in it and I’m not even lactose intolerant.  I should be eating regular cheese with zero transfat.

What can we do to prevent Osteoporosis?

  • Eat a well-balanced diet adequate in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Exercise regularly, with an emphasis on weight-bearing activities such as walking, jogging, dancing, and weight training.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle. Avoid smoking and, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.  I don’t smoke or drink.  I really need to start exercising.  My husband bought me an exercise ball which I still haven’t used.  I enjoy walking so I was thinking that during lunch time, I could walk the path at my workplace.  I also like dancing, so I could work up a sweat to some hip hop or disco.  Was never a fan of jogging.  I need to increase my calcium.

If you have a family history of Osteoporosis, speak to your doctor.  Your doctor may suggest that you have your bone density measured to determine your risk for fractures (broken bones), and measure your response to osteoporosis treatment.  The most widely recognized bone mineral density test is called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DXA test. It is safe and painless, a bit like having an x ray, but with much less exposure to radiation. This test can measure bone density at your hip and spine.

There is no cure for Osteoporosis, that’s why prevention is so important.  Don’t be discouraged.  Medications are available for the prevention and/or treatment of the disease.  If you need more information on osteoporosis, including lactose intolerance, nutrition, exercise, treatment, and fall prevention for the elderly, visit the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center Web site at www.bones.nih.gov

Ladies, let us start taking care of our bones.


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