Helping women (and men) maintain healthy bones
Many people have heard about osteoporosis. However, experts say most people are undereducated about this common affliction. “The most negatively impactful myth is that osteoporosis is a disease that afflicts very elderly women and that it is an inevitable effect of aging,” says Thomas W. Oates, MD, a board-certified endocrinologist at Watson Clinic in Lakeland. “The truth is that osteoporosis can affect the young, can affect men, and is both treatable and preventable.”
However, the time to begin caring for your bones might be earlier than you think. “The time to start trying to prevent osteoporosis is in the early years of life,” says Oates. “Whether or not a person is afflicted by osteoporosis depends upon two factors: How much bone the individual had at the time of their peak, and how much they lose in the subsequent years following their peak.”
Thus, the peak bone mass is very crucial to later bone health. By age 18, 90 percent of women reach their peak bone mass, and 90 percent of men reach theirs by age 20, Oates says. “Many factors contribute to peak bone mass such as genetics, steroid therapy, tobacco use, and alcohol excess,” he adds. “The more an individual’s lifestyle is ‘bone friendly’ in the formative years, the less likely they will have bone problems later in life.”
So when does one start checking adults for significant bone loss?
“This depends upon their risk factors for bone loss,” Oates says. “I generally start to consider screening those who are not at a high risk around the time of menopause in women and around age 65 in men.”
He explains it is estimated that about 12 million Americans have osteoporosis. Roughly, 9 million of these are women and 3 million or so are men. “It is well publicized that the chance that a woman age 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture during her lifetime is one in two,” Oates elaborates. “What is not emphasized is that the risk for men aged 50 is also very high at one in three. Moreover, while men tend to have less osteoporotic fractures than women, their fractures tend to be more severe with a higher mortality rate.”
But even if you ignored your bone health in your youth, you can take steps to preserve bone or develop greater bone density now. Discuss risk factors and talk about options with a doctor, who might suggest exercise routines, taking calcium and vitamin D. Improving diet and exercising also are beneficial and inexpensive steps.
“Virtually every type of exercise has benefits attached to it, but not all types of exercise are helpful for bones,” Oates says. “The exercise has to be weight bearing. While swimming and cycling can be great for cardiovascular fitness, they do not do much to help the bones. Walking and swinging light weights has been a popular choice among individuals who are trying to help their bones and this is physiologically sound.”
A physician may also recommend medications. But don’t wait for a drug to save your bones. Get calcium, vitamin D and exercise, and stop smoking.
story by BEV BENNETT