Osteo-What? 16 Important Things Women Need to Know About Our Bone Health

I have never been the most coordinated human being. Throughout my childhood, I was always at least 3 sizes bigger and 5 inches taller than the average girl in my grade. In fact, I remember making my parents cry at my 5th grade lyrical dance recital because it was the most graceful they’ve ever seen me (and still is). To everybody’s surprise, including my own, I have never broken a bone in my body. I’ve been waiting for that moment I eat the pavement and get to pick out a colored cast that I’ve always wondered about. However the more I learn about women’s health and take graduate classes on health and physical activity, the more I’m realizing I hope to gosh I never break a bone in my lifetime and will do everything in my power to prevent it.

Did you know that approximately 1 of every 2 Caucasian women compared to 1 in 5 men, will have an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point in their lifetime?

Bone health is a rising concern as we’re all getting older and living longer. Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease and skeletal disorder, while osteoarthritis is see in over 27 million US adults and the most common form of arthritis. Both of these depressing diseases are more likely to occur in women, and are more preventable than we think. I used to think osteo-whatever just meant that my bones are getting weaker. While this is true, osteoporosis, osteopenia, and osteoarthritis are all three different things. Here are 16 facts about bone health that’ll keep you running from a walker or wheelchair:

Over 27 million US adults are affected by this most common form of arthritis.

1. Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that breaks down the cartilage around your joints, causing inflammation, swelling and uncomfortable pain. With time and aging it worsens, as it slowly reduces your movement, and can cause bones near the swollen cartilage to break and float around your broken joint. It is caused by overuse or long time impact, distorting joint positioning in your body allowing your body to become like broken puzzle pieces that no longer fit where they’re suppose to. Most commonly it happens in fingers, knees, hips and the spine, but it can occur in any bone in your body.

If you get osteoporosis, you might feel like your bones are made of fine china.

2. Osteoporosis is a bone disease and skeletal disorder that is characterized by low bone mineral density (BMD) and deterioration of bone tissue. With a low BMD, your bones become more like fine china, weak, delicate, and it increases your risk of fracture. Studies have been shown that the older you get, the more likely you are to fracture a bone.

3. Before being diagnosed with osteoporosis, you go through a stage called osteopenia, which is the precursor to osteoporosis. Being aware of your bone health at any age is ideal, since there is not a cure for OA and osteoporosis. OA can be treated with surgery, while osteoporosis cannot be. Sure there are medications, physical therapy and home remedies for both, but why go through that pain and spend money on medical conditions that you can prevent?

Being a woman and a woman of color does matter.

4. Being a woman, over the age of 60 and having a family background in poor bone health are the three biggest fractures for osteoporosis. I gave you the crazy statistic about 1 in every 2 Caucasian women, but what about the rest of us who aren’t Caucasian? According to recent evidence, Caucasians, Mexican Americans and Asians are at higher risk compared to African Americans.

5. What other risk factors are involved with OA and osteoporosis?

  • The CDC states that OA’s risk factors that are modifiable are:  excess body weight, joint injuries, infections, and occupation 
  • Your lifestyle can also play a role for your risk of osteoporosis: history of a past broken bone(s), low calcium intake, not enough vitamin D, high sodium or caffeine intake, drinking 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day, physical inactivity, being underweight, tobacco smoking, and lastly being an astronaut without gravity (really, this is actually a risk factor). Some things you aren’t in control of but increase your risk include: having a smaller frame, if your parents have history with hip fractures, have broken a bone before, and being on certain medications like glucocorticoids.

Call your parents and thank them for forcing a glass a milk with dinner. Every. Night.

6. Remember the milk chugging contests during lunch that the cafeteria ladies wouldn’t mind? In fact my assistant principal competed against my middle school friends and I in a chocolate milk chugging competition, and actually encouraged it. As humans, we have a “window of opportunity” for peak bone mass during our childhood and teen angst years. Our bones stop growing and becoming stronger once we hit the dirty thirty, and our bone mass slowly decreases about 10% per decade. What sucks even more is that men typically have 30-40% higher peak bone mass than women as well, which makes us an easier target for this bone disease.

Maintaining peak bone mass is crucial for women! We have to take action now in order to continue being the kick-ass individuals that we are.

Change up your daily routine and be in control of your bone strength.

7. Reducing your risk of fractures and osteoporosis can be done by small daily choices. Buying calcified orange juice if you grew out of drinking milk, or buying the vitamin D milk for your cereal. Taking your friend up on that free HIIT class at the gym and getting your sweat on 2-4 times a week. Smoking too is a no-no,because it ruins your teeth AND it’s terrible for your health. Eating the rainbow of fruits and veggies help a great deal along with whole grains, dairy products, low sodium and less pop. Multivitamins with iron, folate, and vitamin D supplements are typically encouraged (but try to get them naturally from foods) and these bad boys now come in tasty gummy form if you don’t like pills.

Wear those fab workout clothes you just bought!

8. Walking, running, stair climbing, dancing, yoga, weight training, random pick-up games with your family and friends – all of these activities can decrease your chances of falling and fracturing a bone. Exercise with some level of impact improves your bone mass and strength, and giving your muscle gains to help with your balance, flexibility and posture. Staying active will keep you active and independent as you age, and less reliant on your loved ones or walker.

HIIT the gym with a friend, and prevent bone loss starting today!

9. Research has shown that high intensity resistance training has shown increases in BMD in estrogen deficient women (Cussler, 2003). Exercising on a regular basis has prevented or reversed 1-3% of bone loss per year in postmenopausal women as well. This percentage may seem small, but improvement in 1% of your bone mass can decrease the risk of fracture by 10%. I’d take that 10% ANY day. High intensity resistance training sounds intimidating, but stair climbing or aquatic exercise can simply help improve your strength and balance!

Watch your step! Breaking a bone is common with falls.

10. Aging comes with some consequences. Your BMD, balance and strength become a little lost due to multiple reasons. With age our bones will weaken and gaps become more relevant on our bones, which also causes us to lose height and our lady-like posture as well. Being the graceful, independent women that we all are, the majority of fractures and broken bones come from falling.

11. Hip and vertebral fractures are actually the most common and truthfully sound like the most painful. This is a concern since one-third of hip fractures require long-term nursing home care, and a majority of patients with a hip fracture become wheelchair bound or need assistance when walking. The National Osteoporosis Foundation also states that with lower bone mass, increased incidence of fractures occur.

12. Why women instead of men? Our wonderful hormones! Since throwing small tantrums and sobbing while watching ‘This Is Us’ once or twice a month wasn’t enough for us. Because we have estrogen pumping through our bodies, some studies have shown that there could be a direct link to bone growth with our lady hormone.

Menopause IS a BIG DEAL and we need to take it seriously (even if we aren’t old enough to be thinking about it).

13. Having low estrogen levels increases your risk for osteoporosis and osteopenia and early bone loss is typically seen. Hitting another milestone like menopause slows down your estrogen production and bone loss normally happens.

Women – you can lose up to 20% of your bone mass during the first 5 to 7 years following menopause! 

14. Family history of low BMDs have been shown to play a smaller role than we think. This means that YOU are in control of your future health. You can determine whether you’ll be in walker/wheelchair races or in the senior exercise group at the local Y with your old college roommates like you promised. That peak bone mass is so crucial because once you reach that peak. You can sustain that bone mass and prevent further damage, but it’s difficult for your body to add bone once it’s fully matured.

Getting your BMD tested and taking  a quick survey can help estimate a 10-year probability of a fracture.

15. If you’re over 50 or post-menopausal, you’re in for a check-up with the doc to get clinically assessed. Your PCP should give you a physical exam, and evaluate your diet and supplement use. They might even consider getting your BMD checked through a scan called DXA that can analyze your bone mass.

Did you know, only 1/4th of vertebral fractures come to the doctor’s attention?

16. Hormone replacement therapy is common in postmenopausal women, and women who use HRT for 7 years between menopause onset to 75 years of age have a 50% risk reduction in fractures. The only downside is that it increases your risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Attempting to balance out the pros and cons by yourself is unnecessary and stressful. That is why your relationship with your primary care doctor/physician is so important to help guide you through your health and lifestyle decisions. When they do their job right and with personal care, they’re able to give your body the attention it needs and they’ll be able to decide if the risks exceed the benefits of taking it.  

While all of this information I just threw at you can be overwhelming and a lot to take it, chances are you are already mindful of a couple of things. Talk to your primary care physician about specifics for your and your health if you are concerned. Set small goals to start taking care of your body and bones. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and grab one of those delicious greek yogurt parfaits for some extra calcium. Be BONE STRONG!

For more information, check out some of these links!

National Osteoporosis Foundation

Cussler, E. C., Lohman, T. G., Going, S. B., Houtkooper, L. B., Metcalfe, L. L., Flint-Wagner, H. G., . . . Teixeira, P. J. (2003). Weight Lifted in Strength Training Predicts Bone Change in Postmenopausal Women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 35(1), 10-17. doi:10.1097/00005768-200301000-00003

Written by: Nicole Bidolli. READ MORE ABOUT NICOLE HERE!

What are you doing to take care of your bone health?

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