Women and Bone Disease Osteoporosis, Part 1

“Drink your milk — it makes your bones strong!” How many times did we hear that growing up? What’s even harder to swallow than all the milk they pushed on us is the idea that our mothers were some sort of osteoporosis visionaries.

But they were right on target. We should have drunk our milk then and, no matter how old we are now, we should be drinking it today — and eating our yogurt, cheese, broccoli and other calcium-rich foods. Calcium is one of our best lines of defense against osteoporosis, a silent bone disease without symptoms or warnings. At this moment, 8 million American women have osteoporosis — and millions more have low bone mass, which places them in the high-risk category for the disease.

“Essentially, we’re dealing with a major public health threat,” says Dr. Charles Chestnut, director of the Osteoporosis Research Group at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. “Osteoporosis isn’t something new. There’s evidence of osteoporosis in the remains of

Egyptian mummies. It’s been a recognized condition for a long time but no one really seemed to care about osteoporosis much.” Until we discovered we could take real action against it.

Bones and Osteoporotic-Related Fractures
Bone is a living tissue made mostly of calcium. Our bodies renew bone regularly — removing the old and replacing it with the new. Until about age 30, new bone is built at a little faster rate than the old bone is removed, so bones grow bigger and stronger. After about age 30, that reverses. The old is removed slightly faster than the new is built.

When we reach menopause — usually somewhere between ages 45 and 55 — we start to lose bone quantity and quality rapidly. That’s because our level of estrogen — the hormone that helps maintain healthy bone — is greatly reduced during menopause. And that’s when we become at greater risk for osteoporotic-related fractures or bone breaks, especially in our hips, spines and wrists. Spine fractures cause stooped posture and backbone deformities.

In fact, the National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that there are 1.5 million osteoporosis-related fractures each year, mostly among women. In 1995, Americans paid a whopping $13.8 billion in hospital and nursing home bills to treat osteoporotic-related injuries — a dollar figure that continues to mount as America ages and healthcare costs rise.

Prevention
Most medical experts agree osteoporosis is highly preventable. For now, our best lines of defense against osteoporosis are healthy living, exercise and good nutrition.

“If you smoke, quit. If you drink alcohol, drink moderately. And the earlier you start exercising and eating a diet enriched with calcium and vitamin D, the more positive an impact you will have on your body,” says Dr. Felicia Cosman, the clinical director of the National Osteoporosis

Foundation. Cosman is also an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University and an osteoporosis specialist with the Regional Bone Center of Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, N.Y. (The late actress, Helen Hayes, suffered from osteoporosis.)

National surveys show that American women are failing themselves at perhaps the easiest measure of prevention: consuming enough calcium each day. In fact, studies indicate we probably only get about half of what our bodies need.

The NOF recommends the following: 1,000 milligrams for women ages 19 to 50; 1,000 milligrams for post-menopausal women taking estrogen and 1,500 milligrams for post-menopausal women not taking estrogen.

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