This book calls itself “a definitive guide,” and it well may be. I did a lot of web searching on the subject of osteopenia after getting a diagnosis from my gynecologist last year, and everything I found out in bits and pieces is “right here in this book,” as Johnny Carson used to say. Wish I’d known.
Osteopenia is the forerunner to osteoporosis. That’s the bad news. But it can be reversed. That’s the good news. Bone loss can become bone gain,
but it has to become a top priority. Anyone who suspects she (or less often, he) has osteo problems should ask for a bone scan. Some of the risk factors that pre-select for the condition include low body weight, smoking, genetics, previous fractures, age, early menopause, and certain medications. Oddly enough, women at great risk are athletes such as runners, because their training requires low weight and their diet often causes the consumption of the bones’ stores of calcium. Women who compulsively diet are in the same category of risk.
If you know or suspect that you have osteopenia and might develop osteoporosis, what’s the big deal? Well, old people can die of a simple fall, or can break a hip resulting in great expense, inconvenience and, sometimes, a permanent loss of mobility. Spinal fractures can begin to happen any time along the way once bone loss begins, resulting in chronic back pain. The sad fact is that without testing, a person may consider herself healthy until she has a potentially crippling fracture.
Ways to reverse the condition include a diet high in calcium – dairy products, salmon in the can, broccoli, spinach, all the good foods your mother wanted you to eat. There are a variety of bone-building medications now available that weren’t out there when your great aunt broke her hip and wound up in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. The authors of this book recommend talking these over with your doctor, and they have offered a comprehensive list of the medicines with their generic names and common side-effects. Of course, you can help yourself at any stage by taking calcium supplements, but the authors warn that most calcium tablets (even the ones you get at the whole-foods store) do not deliver much of the mineral, and suggest instead such easy interventions as Tums and the chocolate chews called Viactiv, which pack a more powerful payload of calcium.
Exercise also plays a role. Though highly athletic women may destroy the calcium and other nutrients in their system, moderate sensible exercise including walking and swimming, plus some weightlifting, is definitely part of the bone-building picture. The book makes suggestions for exercise programs – simple stretches, partial sit-ups, nothing beyond the range of most ordinary women.
Men also get osteoporosis; older men, men who smoke, men who have had fractures can consider themselves at risk. But in general, this well-organized, fact-rich book was written with young women in mind, women who have time to correct some of their lifestyle habits and prepare themselves for a much longer life than could have been anticipated by their grannies. Who wants to spend the golden years in a wheelchair instead of walking on the beach? Ladies, the choice is yours.