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Osteoporosis Cannot Be Prevented By Calcium Alone

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Everyone knows how important calcium is in the long-term prevention of osteoporosis. By drinking dairy in your youth, you are building strong bones that will hold up longer against the disease in adulthood. However, few people understand how calcium is absorbed into the body. When you drink a glass of milk, the calcium doesn’t simply soak into your bones on the way down. It must interact with other molecules in your system and bond to them in a way that makes them part of your digestion. Without this bonding, the calcium will simply be flushed out. Unfortunately, many people who try to get enough calcium in their diet don’t get as much as they think they do because it is not properly absorbed. To absorb calcium, your body also needs vitamin D.

Think of vitamin D like the doorman. You can make sure calcium pays a visit to your body by eating an adequate amount, but it will be turned away if no one is there to let it in. To make sure your body actually absorbs calcium and transfers it into your bones, you need to also get enough vitamin D. Studies show that vitamin D and calcium on their own do not effectively prevent fractures in people with osteoporosis.

To learn how much vitamin D you should be getting at your age, make sure you talk to your doctor. He or she will perform tests to first find out whether or not you are deficient in the first place. You can get vitamin D from sun exposure, but you should be careful to avoid too many UV rays at a time. You can also get it from dietary supplements and certain foods such as egg yolks, liver, and fortified milk.

Calcium is certainly important in the prevention of osteoporosis, but vitamin D is equally so. Don’t assume that just because you are getting a lot of calcium, you are safe from weakened bone strength in old age. To prevent the pain and inconvenience of fractures later in your life, start increasing the amount of vitamin D you get today.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Early Menopause is Bad News for Women and Their Bones

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Let’s face it.  None of us looks forward to getting old, but we try to do it with as much grace as possible.  For some women though, menopause, a hormonal change that should come later in life, comes sooner than expected.  Instead of dealing with hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and all the other symptoms of menopause in their 50s, they’re facing it in their 40s or even younger.  And as if early menopause isn’t bad enough, studies now show that it increases their risk for osteoporosis and even shortens their life expectancy.

Swedish researchers from Skane University Hospital in Malmo conducted a study of almost 400 women over the course of just under 30 years.  They found that of the women who started menopause before the age of 47, 56 percent developed osteoporosis compared to just 30 percent in the women who started menopause later in life.  Women suffering from osteoporosis are at greater risk for bone fractures, bone pain, and loss of height due to bone loss.  Their findings also showed that women who had undergone early menopause had a greater risk of fragility fracture and death with a rate 17 percent higher than the women with later menopause.  The rate of fractures in women with early menopause was 44% compared to 31% in those women who entered menopause later.

The cause of early menopause is not yet clear, though there seems to be a link between it and premature ovarian failure, hysterectomies, chemotherapy, and possibly even stress.  Premature ovarian failure has been associated with Fragile X syndrome, so there may be a genetic link. Unfortunately, preventing and reversing early menopause is not yet possible, but there are ways to decrease your risk of osteoporosis.  The bone masses of most women peaks in their 20s.  You can increase yours by getting plenty of calcium, vitamin D and exercise.  A balanced diet and thirty minutes of weight training or other moderate exercise every day can make big difference when it comes to your bone health.

The association found between early menopause, osteoporosis, and death is causing some to call for more studies to determine a more definite correlation. The higher mortality rate in women with early menopause does need further study in order to address the confounding variables, such lifestyle, medications and smoking.  In the meantime, we should take the results as a warning to take care of our bodies, particularly our bones, as early as possible.

— Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.