Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Fix It Before It Breaks

bonesIt’s no coincidence that immediately two days after the International Menopause Day (October 18), World Osteoporosis Day (October 20) happens. The two share an intimate link. To begin with, women have lower bone mass than men and they lose bone density during pregnancy and breastfeeding years. Moreover, when they reach menopause (cessation of periods) women lose up to 10% of bone density during the first 5 years.

How osteoporosis affects the bones

The World Health Organisation (WHO) first technically defined osteoporosis in 1994. It’s an unseen and dangerous process that leaches calcium from our bones, decreasing bone mineral density. It causes back pain as it progresses and, later, curving of the spine and loss of height – sometimes as much as six inches. In extreme cases, it leads to fatal disabilities.

In women the risk of osteoporosis multiplies several times after menopause. Biologically women have lower bone density than men and then they lose bone mass during pregnancy and breastfeeding years. Dr Ambrish Mithal, HoD Endocrinology at Medanta-the-Medicity says, “Women lose bone mass rapidly at menopause because of decrease in the estrogen hormone.”

The diagnosis of osteoporosis can be made using conventional radiography (X-rays) and by measuring the bone mineral density (BMD). The most popular method of measuring BMD is dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA scan). Women post 40 should get their DEXA scan done.

Though bones are mostly hereditary, still you can work on them by following ‘bone-friendly’ lifestyle.

  • Calcium and milk in dairy products builds and supports healthy bones. With increased age our absorption of calcium decreases. Without enough vitamin D, the intestines cannot assimilate, calcium from the diet. Vitamin D forms naturally in the body when exposed to sunlight for a minimum of 30 minutes. Another scary fact is that Indians are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D-rich foods include egg yolks, saltwater fish and liver.
  • Vitamin C in citrus fruits may enhance calcium absorption.
  • Other than dairy products, leafy greens, red beans, almonds, soy, cabbage and cauliflower are good sources of calcium too.
  • Caffeine, cola, cigarette and salt steal calcium from bones. Beware!
  • Wrisk walk for 40 minutes a day for five days a week to keep your heart and bones happy. Incidentally, swimming doesn’t help your bones but weight lifting does.
  • Strength and balance exercises may help you avoid falls, hence it makes sense to learn yoga and pilates.

For preventing osteoporosis eat a reasonable calcium rich diet, walk a lot and dare to play in the sun.

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