In 2016, I fell and broke my wrist.
I told my dad about it and he seemed really concerned. I couldn’t understand why as wrist and arm breaks are fairly common. But he reminded me that my mum had suffered badly with osteoporosis and that it can be hereditary. That did worry me and intensified my already heightened feelings of anxiety caused by the menopause.
I made an appointment with my GP and asked him to send me for a test. He was initially quite reluctant as he told me that he wouldn’t normally send as person of my age for a test but after I explained my family history he agreed to refer me. I went and did a bone mineral density scan and put it all to the back of my mind.
Osteopenia is basically halfway between having normal bones and osteoporosis.
I received a letter a little while later saying that I should make an appointment to see my GP to discuss my test results. I made the appointment and was seen by a GP that I didn’t normally see. She told me very matter-of-factly that I had osteopenia and that I needed to take medication as well as high doses of calcium and vitamin D to stop it from getting worse and developing into osteoporosis. She was about to send me on my way with a prescription in hand when I asked her to slow down and explain what osteopenia was. She said that although my test results showed a reduction in bone density, it was enough to be classed as osteoporosis. Osteopenia is basically halfway between having normal bones and osteoporosis.
I started taking the medication which had this horribly chalky taste but something just didn’t feel right and so I caved in and made an appointment to see a private orthopaedic surgeon. I got a print out of my density scan and took it to my appointment along with the medication that I was on. The surgeon took one look at the medication and gasped. He said that the drugs that I’d been prescribed were far too strong and were actually meant for an advanced stage of osteoporosis, certainly not for osteopenia. He told me that at my early stage there are far better ways of getting minerals and vitamins into my bones including taking supplements and doing bone density exercises.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bone’. Losing bone is a normal part of the ageing process, but some people lose bone density much faster than normal. This can lead to an increased risk of fractures. Estrogen is essential for healthy bones and bone density. With a drop in estrogen caused by the menopause, there is a more rapid decrease in bone density and bone loss becomes faster than bone growth. This leaves bones brittle and porous leading to osteoporosis. Women are more at risk of osteoporosis than men, particularly if the menopause begins before the age of 45.
My Top Tips
We’ve been told since we were kids that calcium is great for bone health, and that’s all still true and important at an older age. While milk and dairy products are a great source, there are other sources for those of you who are either lactose-intolerant or vegan like me. Consider green leafy vegetables like kale and broccoli, or calcium-fortified orange juice. If none of these foods work for you, you can always take a daily calcium supplement
Increase your Vitamin D intake
Calcium is only the first step! Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, so to really have the full effects of calcium and strengthen your bones, you should get the right about of Vitamin D as well. Sunlight is a main source of vitamin D, but let’s face it, living in the UK the chances of that are not great and so you can also get it from fatty fish, dairy products, or vitamin D fortified-foods or supplements.
Exercise isn’t just great for your muscles, but also your bones! Good old-fashioned 80s style weight-bearing exercises like light weight-lifting or pilates or swimming are all great exercises for healthy bones. “Weight-bearing” doesn’t just mean adding weights to your exercise routine: your natural body weight provides great weight to work with!
Avoid alcohol and smoking
Since alcohol can damage your bones and smoking can decrease your estrogen levels, it’s best to avoid both.