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Osteopenia, Osteoporosis Can Be Silent Troublemakers

By Kathy Hubbard
It was the health minute, on a local television station, that got Debbie’s attention. She had just celebrated her 60th birthday and had been bragging about being extremely healthy and active. Debbie is small, weighing in around the 115 pound mark on her 5 foot 2 inch frame and it’s been around three years since the doctor noted “post-menopause” on her chart.
The health report was questioning the recommendation that every woman at age 65 have a bone density scan. She half listened to the report at first, thinking it had nothing to do with her, but when the anchor talked about who’s at risk for osteoporosis or osteopenia, Debbie took notice.
You see, both of her grandmothers, her mother and her father had osteoporosis. Plus, Debbie is lactose intolerant and hasn’t, in her own admission, had a glass of milk in close to 50 years or hardly any other dairy products for that matter. Add to all this the fact that she used to smoke and regularly enjoys a drink or two and this news story sent Debbie to the phone for visit to her healthcare professional.
“Osteoporosis means ‘porous bone,’” explains the National Osteoporosis Foundation’s website. “Viewed under a microscope, healthy bone looks like a honeycomb. When osteoporosis occurs, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb are much larger than in healthy bone. Osteoporotic bones have lost density or mass and contain abnormal tissue structure. As bones become less dense, they weaken and are more likely to break.”
NOF also says that approximately 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or osteopenia which is it’s forerunner and that studies have shown that roughly one in two women and one in four men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Although more common in post-menopausal women because of the loss of estrogen, there are many factors that make it a viable disease for men as well. It’s estimated that 13 million men have osteopenia. Reasons include genetics, lower testosterone, medical conditions and medications.
“If a man falls and breaks his hip, he’s more likely than a woman to have a major complication from it, including death or being confined to a wheelchair,” said Gisele Wolf-Klein, MD, director of geriatric education at North Shore-LIJ Health System on WebMD’s website.
Osteoporosis and osteopenia are diagnosed with a DEXA bone scan. This test is painless, and actually relaxing. All the patient has to do is lie on a flat bed and let the tech do all the work. The scan determines your T-score and Z-score.
“The T-score is a comparison of a person’s bone density with that of a healthy 30-year-old of the same sex. The Z-score is a comparison of a person’s bone density with that of an average person of the same age and sex,” WebMD says. And, it makes sense that the lower the score the lower the bone density. Your healthcare professional will explain it all to you.
The trick is to keep your bones as healthy as possible. That includes making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D. There are tons of foods that are good sources of calcium besides dairy. They include leafy greens, seafood, almonds and more. Supplements are good, even necessary for those like Debbie, so you should talk to the doc about dosage.
Weight-bearing exercises are a must. “Walking is fabulous and so is running, provided you run in the right kind of shoes so you don’t jar your bones, your joints, your tendons,” says Wolf- Klein. She also recommends lifting weights, albeit a reasonable amount. One report I read said jumping was good, as in doing jumping jacks and another suggested Pilates or Tai Chi to improve coordination and balance.
It won’t surprise you to know the goal is to prevent falling. “Each year about one third of all people over age 65 will fall,” NOF says. “Many of these falls result in broken bones. It’s never too early or too late to take steps to protect your bones from osteoporosis fracture risk, especially bones in your spine.”
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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