>Osteoporosis runs in my family. My grandmother had it and suffered for years and my mother was diagnosed with it a couple of months ago. Her diagnosis came as no surprise to me since she’s already suffered two broken vertebra from a stumble down an escalator she had in December and she’s lost at least four inches of height since her cancer diagnosis in 2007, but apparently her diagnosis came as quite a shock to her. I don’t know why she was so surprised. Years of smoking, poor diet, and a lack of exercise combined with a strong genetic propensity (thin, white, female, with strong family history) have conspired against her bones. I guess denial is a powerful antidote to reality even when that reality is right in front of you. I worry every day that today could be the day I get a call that she’s fallen and broken her hip. Her doctor called her risk of hip fracture “likely” or “probable”, I can’t remember which one she said now, in the foreseeable future. I’ve been very worried that my mother will spend the rest of her life crippled and in pain and that seems very likely now.
So at my annual visit at the end of last month with my own doctor I requested a bone scan, even though I am not 50 yet, just in case. Last month was a busy month. Rome. San Francisco with three wonderful girlfriends, my son graduated high school, and at the end of all of that I was diagnosed with osteopenia, the forerunner to osteoporosis.
I underwent a Dexa Scan which is a painless procedure where you lie on a table while the long arm of a machine joggles back and forth over the top of you scanning your hips and spine. My spine is better than my hip, but basically I’m in the mid-range of osteopenia which isn’t very good for a 47 year old woman who hasn’t even hit menopause yet. I frankly was very surprised. I’ve smoked in the past, but not for many years and not for very long when I did smoke. I’ve had an excellent diet most of my life and I exercise quite a bit and consider myself to be in very good shape for my age (or even not for my age).
On the plus side, my heart is in excellent shape and my blood lipids, blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health would rival an athlete’s. But the down side of that is my fear that my bones will crumble but my heart will keep beating and I”ll end up crippled and in pain for a very, very long time. In fact, the statistical probability is high that I’ll live to be 100. Now not only do I have to worry about whether I’ll have any retirement for that sort of thing but will I have any bones left to hobble myself over to the table to blow the candles out on my birthday cake.
I most definitely need to make some significant lifestyle changes now if I want to avoid the crippling disability of osteoporosis later. I now understand why they call this the silent disease because I feel fine. I could walk most people younger than me into the ground. There is nothing about me right this moment that would scream out to anyone that I’m a time bomb waiting to live in pain and suffering.
Now every day is consumed with thoughts about Calcium, Magnesium, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Strontium (yeah, Strontium), and how much and what type of weight-bearing exercise am I getting. Every meal presents a new opportunity to introduce more calcium into my diet along with all the other things that help the osteoblasts make bone. Unfortunately, calcium isn’t something you can take once in a while or even once a day in order to get enough. The body can only absorb about 500mg of Calcium at any given meal, and you need about 1200mg a day, so it has to be taken in smaller doses several times a day in order to get enough. Other things, like Iron, can inhibit absorption of Calcium so that has to be taken into consideration too. There has to be enough Vitamin D and Magnesium in the diet for the Calcium to be utilized or you might as well toss the supplement tablets into the toilet for the good they’ll do you.
And then there’s the exercise. There is no research that shows that diet alone can reverse bone loss. The bone-making osteoblasts make bone in response to need. So bones must be stressed in order to grow and thicken. I now make sure to walk about an hour every day or use my elliptical. We’ll probably be purchasing a treadmill in the fall because our climate doesn’t lend itself to year-round outdoor walking.
Tai Chi seems to have some bone building benefits so I’m looking to take a class in that in the fall.
It takes a long time to build bone. I won’t have another Dexa Scan for two years. I’m worried what it might mean if in two years my density is worse even after I’ve made these lifestyle changes. The medications appear to have some significant side effects and some people simply can’t tolerate them. I’m also concerned about taking medications that may turn out to cause other even worse problems later.
Yesterday, during communion at church, I saw several older women limp up, in what appeared to be a painful shuffle, to get the elements. Bent over and misshapen, these women provided a chilling warning to me as I pondered my own uncertain future. I ran home and drank a big glass of milk and swallowed yet another Calcium tablet in my own personal war to stave off the kyphosis monster.