Bone Density and Your Health
It’s not easy to stay healthy these days. So much information, much of it contradictory and confusing. You are forgiven for putting bone density at the back of the burner of your approach to health. But, bone density should be a priority, and by making it so, you will improve all other areas of your health and well-being.
Why Bone Density Matters
If you have ever broken a bone, you know how disabling it can be. All of the little things you took for granted are now a major challenge. Poor bone density can lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis. Both osteopenia and osteoporosis increase your chances of breaking a bone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost one-quarter of women over age 65 have osteoporosis of the femur neck and lumbar spine! Fractures resulting from osteoporosis costs the healthcare system billions of dollars.
But, the cost to people’s quality of life can’t be measured in dollars. Repeated falls resulting in broken bones leads to a downward and debilitating decline. One in three adults over the age of 50 dies within 12 months of suffering a hip fracture. There is good news, however. Regardless of your age or risk factors, you can take a proactive approach to improve your bone density.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
There are well-established and accepted risk factors for osteoporosis. Some you can control and others you can’t. The controllable risk factors will give you some clues as to what changes to make.
Family History: Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk
Sex: Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men
Age: The older you get, the more at risk you are
Race: Your risk is greater if you are white or of Asian descent
Sex Hormones: The reduction of estrogen levels in women at menopause is one of the strongest risk factors for developing osteoporosis.
Medical Problems: Certain medical problems like cancer, celiac disease, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and others are risk factors.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
What You Can Do
Begin by focusing on controllable risk factors. By improving your overall health, you are also improving bone density.
Get a Bone Density Test. Bone density screening has to be step number one because you need a baseline report to know where you are! Bone density screening is easy, completely non-invasive, and not very expensive.
Exercise. Any weight-bearing exercise and activity that promotes balance and good posture are beneficial for your bones. Walking, running, jumping, dancing and weightlifting seem particularly helpful.
Consider Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement. Talk with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of hormone replacement. This is especially important for anyone who has gone through menopause.
Get Adequate Vitamin D
Eat a Plant-Based Diet. Diet fads come and go. Focus on a plant-based diet free from processed foods, and you will be on the right track.
Medication Treatment. Some people consider traditional pharmacological treatment with medications like Fosomax or injections like Prolia. All of these medications have significant risks and should be discussed with your healthcare provider. Ideally your healthcare provider is educated to the facts about hormone replacement therapy.
My Personal Story
Bone density and osteoporosis are personal to me for two reasons. The first is that I have extensive experience working with older adults who are at higher risk for osteoporosis. I have seen the devastating consequences of falls and broken bones in this age group.
This is an example of what happens: a person falls and breaks some ribs. They recover but lose strength, endurance, and function that is never fully regained. Consequently, more falls occur with more broken bones, which leads to continued decline.
I have a client who was completely independent and ambulatory at age 85. She was diagnosed with osteoporosis and prescribed Fosamax and then eventually Prolia. By the time she was 90, she had five falls, and in total, had a broken back, broken neck, broken scapula, and broken ribs. She wasn’t able to completely recover from her last fall and died at age 90.
The second reason this subject is personal to me is that I have osteoporosis. My risk factors are: I am older, I am white, menopausal, and was amenorrheic in my 30’s for several years. Despite those risk factors, I have followed a healthy lifestyle for the last thirty years: weightlifting, hiking, backpacking, eating a plant-based diet, and getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
So, why did I still get osteoporosis? It’s impossible to know, but this I do know. I started bio-identical hormone treatment two years ago after weighing the pros and cons. My bone density scan showed a 6% INCREASE in bone density in my spine and a slight increase in my hips. I am not suggesting that bio-identical hormone treatment is the answer. Treatment for osteoporosis is very individual and depends upon other potential risk factors.
It is never too late to take the leap and have a bone density screening. Ignorance, in this case, is not bliss. Being diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis is frightening. The best antidote to fear is the courage to educate yourself about this disease so you can make informed choices about treatment. Meanwhile, take the plunge into a healthier lifestyle. You will be happy you did.