Our bones go through a constant state of loss and regrowth. As you age, more bone loss than regrowth may occur. This can lead to a condition called osteoporosis, where the bones become thin and fragile and can break easily. Estrogen helps protect against bone loss so osteoporosis is a special health threat for post-menopausal women.
It is hard to grow new bone after it is lost, so preventing or slowing bone loss is important. To prevent osteoporosis, you should focus on building and keeping as much bone as you can. Two important ways to do this is by exercising and eating a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D.
Exercise increases bone mass before menopause and slows bone loss after menopause. The best type of exercise to prevent bone loss and strengthen bones is weight-bearing exercise such as running, brisk walking, tennis, and low-impact aerobics. Even walking for 20 minutes each day will slow bone loss.
Bone loss can increase if your diet is low in calcium. If the amount of calcium in your bloodstream is too low, your body will take calcium from your bones to supply the rest of your body. Good sources of calcium are dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Other sources are leafy green vegetables, nuts, seafood, and juices and cereals that are fortified with calcium.
Since your body can’t absorb calcium without vitamin D, it is also important to make sure your diet includes adequate amounts of this vitamin. Milk that is fortified with vitamin D is one of the best sources. Another is sunlight. Being in the sun for just 15 minutes a day helps your skin produce vitamin D.
How Much Calcium Do You Need?
Age and Optimal Daily Intake
Teenagers – 800 mg
Ages 25 – 50 Before Menopause – 1,000 mg
Surgical or premature menopause Over 50 - 1,500 mg
Not taking estrogen – 1,500 mg
Taking estrogen – 1,000 mg
Pregnant or nursing – Additional 400 mg
*Source: National Institutes of Health
The only way to identify if you have osteoporosis is by having a bone density (DEXA) scan. The DEXA SCAN can tell your doctor whether or not you have osteoporosis, your rate of bone loss, and your risk of a future fracture. The DEXA SCAN takes only about 10 minutes. During the test, you lie down while an arm-like device called an imager scans your body. The test is completely painless and safe – you are exposed to less radiation than a regular chest x-ray.
The doctors at Fair Ridge Ob/Gyn Associates can determine if you should undergo a DEXA SCAN. The test is generally given to women over age 65, women who have had a bone fracture, and younger women who have one or more risk factors for osteoporosis. The doctors will also work with you to design an osteoporosis prevention and treatment plan.
In addition to daily exercise and a diet rich in calcium – both of which not only help prevent but also slow bone loss – there are many medications available to inhibit bone loss and reduce the risk of fracture. The early the medical treatment is started, the better the results. The doctors at Fair Ridge Ob/Gyn will talk with you about the role hormone therapy and other medications play in osteoporosis prevention and treatment.