Stop and think back to when you were a child. You will likely remember this as a time where you felt invincible, fearless, strong and able-bodied. You could do anything, be anyone, and get away with eating and drinking just about anything without worry. Are there health consequences to this fancy-free period of life? There is disease I wish to call to your attention. It preys on children and will not appear until their later years. It most often comes without warning and usually in one quick SNAP! I am talking about your bones.
By the year 2020, over half of Americans will be diagnosed with weak or diseased bones, referred to as Osteopenia and Osteoporosis respectively. Osteoporosis leads to more than 2 million bone fractures per year in the United States. The most common bone fractures are those of the spine, hip and wrist. If you are elderly and fall and break a hip, you are at risk of dying within 3 months because of this fall. This is not only painful physically, but emotionally and financially. Medical care for fractures results in Americans incurring more than 18 billion per year in health care dollars, add losing time from work and the cost is greater. The startling fact is that this isn’t something that just happens; it is a process that evolves overtime dating back to your childhood. For most people it is preventable, and it cannot be stressed enough that prevention starts in childhood. It is imperative we teach our children about their health, and certainly their bones. We must be their role models, creating an awareness and healthy lifestyle that involves and protects the entire family.
Think back to that life-sized skeleton you had in Science class. How can such a dense, solid structure be so vulnerable? Bone is a living organ in our body, it provides us with our form and function, and protects our brain, heart and lungs. Just like the heart must beat to work, bone requires daily remodeling of its framework to remain resilient and strong. If it does not have the vital nutrients it needs for continuous maintenance, then the framework is compromised and weakened. This weakness is much like a brick wall that loses its mortar overtime if left unattended.
You may now be thinking how do I know if I’m at risk? What can I do to prevent this? Am I too late? The good thing is that bone is forgiving and the time to act is now. We can identify those at risk for bone disease. We know that women are five times more likely to develop osteoporosis; however more men are likely to die from this disease. The following factors cause or contribute to osteoporosis and bone fractures:
- You are over age 50
- Family history of osteoporosis or a bone fracture
- Onset of menopause before age 45 or having ovaries removed before age 50
- Breast cancer survivor after radiation and chemotherapy
- Certain medications such as steroids, seizure or thyroid medications
- Diseases of the thyroid and kidney, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus
- Low calcium intake
- Vitamin D insufficiency
- Excess vitamin A
- High caffeine or salt intake
- Aluminum (in antacids)
- Alcohol (three or more drinks per day)
- Inadequate physical activity or being immobile
- Smoking (self or loved one who smokes around you)
- Being thin or petite
- Poor vision, even with glasses.
If you identify with any of these risk factors, talk with your health care provider. Take steps to stop this preventable illness. It’s never too late to start healthy habits through an active lifestyle, balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D and seeking treatment if you are at risk. If you’re 65 or older, or have risk factors for bone disease at a younger age, there is a simple, non-invasive test. It is called a DEXA scan that assesses your current state of bone health. It takes less than 15 minutes and can be done when you fully dressed. Beyond assessing your bones directly, you can even be tested for nutritional or medical illnesses affecting your bones. No matter your age, gender or ethnicity, take the time to stop this preventable illness. Talk to your health care provider and go online. The National Institute of Health and the National Osteoporosis Foundation are great places to start and seek reliable information.
Reference: American College of Obstetrician Gynecologist at www.acog.org, National Institute of Health and the National Osteoporosis Foundation