Osteoporosis is something all women should prepare for no matter their age. After age 30, women begin to gradually lose the inner portion of their bones due to sensitivity to hormones, including estrogen, and the amount of calcium in their bones decreases. Osteoporosis weakens bones, leading to the likelihood of fractures, particularly in the hip, wrist and vertebrae.
So what as a woman do you need to know about osteoporosis?
During menopause, bone loss accelerates due to the loss of estrogen, particularly in women not taking hormone replacement therapy. Approximately one third of postmenopausal women have some form of osteoporosis to a certain degree. Women should prepare for the fact they will experience bone loss by taking the following steps:
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. This can increase potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and beta carotene. (Spinach, tofu, almonds, broccoli, lentils and pumpkin or sunflower seeds are a good source of magnesium.)
- Get plenty of calcium from foods like dairy (yogurt and milk), sardines, green leafy veggies like collard greens, bok choy, broccoli and calcium-fortified soy milk or orange juice; calcium supplements may also be necessary.
- Eat a diet with moderate animal proteins, minimal alcohol, low salt intake and limited caffeine (one to two cups daily).
- Increase vitamin D3: This plays an important role in helping the body absorb calcium. Vitamin D3 is synthesized naturally in the skin with sun exposure. Get vitamin D through healthy amounts of natural sunlight, or by supplementing with a minimum of 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.
- Stay active. A sedentary lifestyle causes bone and muscle loss by not keeping the bones and muscles -strong through use. Increase weight-bearing activities like walking and weight-training to at least 30 minutes, three or more days per week. This will help strengthen bones and muscles and prevent breakdown.
- Quit smoking. Smoking weakens the immune system and decreases the body's ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D.
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Due to the diuretic effect of alcohol - and the fact that calcium is lost through urination - it is beneficial to limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol also decreases the body's ability to absorb vitamin D and calcium.
- Reduce your sodium intake. The diuretic effect of sodium causes calcium to be lost through urination and limits the body's ability to absorb nutrients.
- Be aware of the affects of your medications. Steroids and anticonvulsants may contribute to bone demineralization if used over long periods of time.
How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
The most accurate test for osteoporosis is to measure bone density through DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) which uses a computer to scan images of the hip, spine and wrist. This test is recommended for women starting at age 65 and for men after age 70. Anyone with high risk factors for serious bone loss should also be tested. Ask your provider for more information if you think you may have high risk factors.