Better Bones

By on May 10, 2016

By Myrna Beth Haskell–

Not long ago, I was talking to a friend who had just found out she was at high risk for osteoporosis due to the results of a recent bone density test. She informed me that osteoporosis runs in her family. I was surprised because I had always thought osteoporosis was a problem which afflicted the sixty and older crowd, but my friend had just turned fifty. Most understand that Grandma might likely break a bone if she has a bad fall, but many don’t realize that women should start asking questions about bone health in their forties.

As children, we are told to drink milk for stronger bones. I was never a big milk drinker, so my friend’s news disturbed me. Has my love and regular consumption of other dairy products, such as cheese, saved me?

Do all women have a chance of developing osteoporosis? Are there specific things women can do to encourage healthy bones, or is it just too late for those who are already entering middle-age?

What’s a girl to do?

Women are at a much higher risk than men to develop osteoporosis. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, “Of the estimated ten million Americans with osteoporosis, about eight million or 80% are women.

Gino Tutera, MD, FACOG, a specialist in menopause, explains, “If she is forty, Caucasian, a smoker, or a woman of menopause, she should have a DEXA scan (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) for bone density determination. A family history of osteoporosis is also a risk factor.” However, Tutera recommends that all women get a bone density test in their forties.  Bone density scans are painless and noninvasive. One or two years after an initial bone density test, a second bone density can determine if you have low peak bone mass that is staying the same or if you are losing bone

Women need not be victims. There are many things women can do to improve bone health. Tutera suggests regular exercise. Exercise should be both weight-bearing (which includes jogging, dancing and climbing stairs) and muscle strengthening (which includes lifting free weights or using weight machines). He also suggests taking calcium daily (at least 1200 mg) and taking vitamin D3 if needed.

The best source of vitamin D3 is the sun, but liberal use of sunscreen decreases your D3 exposure. Beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, and fatty fish contain small amounts of the vitamin. Fortified milk and orange juice also contain vitamin D, but manufacturers can choose to add D2 or D3. So, many women choose a supplement to be sure they are getting enough vitamin D3.  

Lifestyle choices also affect bone health. Chronic alcohol consumption decreases bone density. According to an article published by the Mayo Clinic (June 2013), “Regular consumption of more than two alcoholic drinks a day increases your risk of osteoporosis, possibly because alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.” Researchers have also found that tobacco use contributes to weak bones. In addition, women should limit caffeine consumption, especially from soft drinks

What does menopause have to do with the equation? Tutera, who is also a pioneer in hormone replacement, reports, “A loss of estrogen increases the speed of bone break down and stops the patient from making bone.” This is why menopausal women have to take particular care when it comes to bone health.

Women should also take care to physically change their environments to prevent falls.

  • Keep ice/snow off walkways in winter.
  • Keep floors clutter free, particularly by stairways.
  • Hold onto stair rails.
  • Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes with good support, particularly when you need to walk long distances.

For more information:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Myrna Beth Haskell is an award-winning author, columnist, and feature writer. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications across the U.S. as well as internationally. For more information, please visit her website at: www.myrnahaskell.com.

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Better Bones