Friday, September 23, 2005

The Bone Bandit: Osteoporosis

Keeping Fit with the Guru

"Like a thief in the night, (osteoporosis) imperceptibly weakens the bones by slipping away with their substance. Its unwitting victims remain wholly unaware that they are losing bone...until one suddenly breaks." - G.Birdwood, M.A. Understanding osteoporosis and its treatment


Osteoporosis is a chronic degenerative disease, when bone mineral density is well below normal values. Osteopenia is low bone mass levels. Bone mass reaches its peak for everyone between the ages of 25-30, but through a process called bone remodeling, in which bone matrix is reabsorbed and replaced by new matrix. As we get older, the bone formation doesn't keep pace with re-absorption. That's when the robber of bone, osteoporosis, leaves a trail of porous, easily fractured wrists, hips and vertebrae in its' wake.

Scientists understand how the disease affects women more than men. The risk factors include being female, Caucasian, or Asian, having a family history of osteoporosis, smoking, inactivity, alcohol abuse and early menopause. Although there is some decline in bone mineral density during mid-life, the most rapid loss in women occurs in the years surrounding menopause. The decline in estrogen levels can be as great as 3-5 percent of bone mass per year.

Men: you shouldn't tune out, as it's not only a women's disease. About 20 percent of all cases affect men, maybe more, because most men are never screened for the condition or bother to discuss symptoms with their doctors.

The use it or lose it rule applies as much to bones as it does to muscles. Exercise plays an important role to ensure that they are directly loaded, as in running, tennis, or soccer. Running, for example, increases bone density in your legs and spine, but doesn't place a load on the arms.

A recent four-year study, funded by the National Institute of Health, identified the best exercises for preventing and improving bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. Called the Bone Estrogen Strength Training (BEST), weight-bearing and resistance exercises were combined with a regime of twice daily calcium citrate supplementation (800 mg Citracal). The women preformed two sets, at high loads, and 6-8 repetitions, in good form. The cardio activities had 40-65 year-old women walking with weighted vests, stepping, walk/jog intervals, and uphill walking. All these exercises had a positive effect on bone density, especially in the women lifting heavier weights. Also, without the daily supplementation, the study participants wouldn't have achieved optimal calcium intake for bone health. Including calcium-rich foods, like skim milk, yogurt, almonds, and dark green vegetables is a good idea, also.

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