For a long time, many of us have thought of osteoporosis — a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle — as something only post-menopausal women need to worry about. But as this story by Reader's Digest's Sari Harrar points out, no one gets a pass when it comes to bone health. Despite ongoing advances in osteoporosis treatments and prevention, "fractures are becoming more common, not less" in women and men of all ages.
How can this be? Harrar chalks it up to a "deep misunderstandings about what really affects our bones," combined with "overblown fears about bone-building drugs, changes in health insurance coverage for bone scans, and the 'I feel healthy, so I must be fine' hubris of aging baby boomers." That combo platter of factors has "put our bones at risk."
So what can we do to protect our bones as we age? To start, women over 65, men over 70, and younger folks with "at-risk bones" — a group that includes "postmenopausal women, smokers, and anyone who is underweight, drinks more than two alcoholic drinks a day, has a family history of osteoporosis, or has previously broken a bone" — should have a bone density test, Harrar reports. The results will show whether you're on the road to becoming one of the estimated 2 million Americans who suffer an "osteoporosis-related fracture" each year.
If you do join that group, it's important to take steps to avoid future fractures says Bart Clarke, M.D., a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist and president of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. "After a heart attack, people are evaluated and put on a plan with medication and lifestyle changes to prevent another one," Dr. Clarke tells Harrar. "The same thing should happen after a fracture."
Dr. Clarke says we can also protect, and strengthen, our bones by making sure we're getting regular exercise and not relying on milk or calcium supplements alone to do all of the bone-building work for us. "It's also important to have an overall healthy diet with enough protein and not to overdo alcohol, caffeine, sodas, or refined carbohydrates," he tells Harrar.
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