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Keeping Your Bones Strong

Sensational Seniors

A message from the Arthritis Foundation

Roughly 80-percent of women aged 75 or older say they would prefer dying to breaking a bone. One out of six women will fracture a hip during their lifetime. That risk is as high as the risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer combined.

A man aged 50 or older is more likely to break a hip during his lifetime than get prostate cancer.

An estimated ten million Americans now have bones porous enough to warrant a diagnosis of osteoporosis. Another 18 million have a bone density that is not quite osteoporosis but still low enough to be considered at high risk for a fracture. Bone loss and hip fractures are now at epidemic proportions amounts those aged 65 and older, making this a very serious concern.

A common misconception many people have in regard to bones is that our bones are like steel structurally. The truth is, the bone mass in our bodies is actually an active organ. Cells called osteoclasts are cells that dig holes in the bone. Another type of cell called osteoblasts keeps filling them back in. Age and other factors shift the bone mass into a negative balance of these cells which causes the osteoclasts to dig more holes but the osteoblasts are not there in sufficient amounts to fill those holes in.

Drugs now prescribed for osteoporosis do slow down the osteoclasts thereby inhibiting the removal of bone so you will not lose as much. This can lead to a gain in bone density.

Women do have a greater risk of bone loss due to the fact that they have less bone in their bodies to begin with. To add insult to injury, during the first five to seven years after menopause women lose as much as 20-percent of their bone mass. The reason for this is low estrogen levels.

In regard to men, the loss of bone mass as they age is less clear however, physicians and health professionals are seeing more fractures in men today. Twenty percent of all hip fractures occur in men and when they do, they are more devastating than they are in women. Men are twice as likely to die within the year following a fracture than women are.

Who is at risk?

Any Caucasian woman aged 65 or older. However, people who have fractured any bone after the age of 50 are at higher risk for another fracture. This applies to both men and women. Note this does not apply if you broke a bone from a severe force such as in a car accident or some other massive force. This applies only if you simply have fallen and broken a bone.

Women over 50 who weight less than 127 pounds are also at greater risk for a fracture due to smaller bones and less padding when they fall. (Do not use this as an excuse to gain weight, however!) If you are a woman with a low body weight and are over 50, you should be tested for bone density. Consult your physician and he or she can aid you as to what type of test you may need, etc. Researchers now know what a bone density score means and have more options for drug treatment. Estrogen is no longer the only option and have the added bonus of not adding to the risk of breast cancer.

What to Do? Get enough calcium!

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Adequate calcium intake will slow the rate of bone loss and reduce the risk of fractures in most bones in older adults. You can get your calcium from food, a supplement or a growing number of cereals, juices and other products that now add calcium.

Memo to Men

Men need to be very careful not to exceed the recommended levels of calcium because too much calcium (more than 2,000mg daily) was linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer in some studies. It is still too soon to know if further studies will confirm this fact, but it would be smart to follow the 2000mg daily just in case. Saw Palmetto is a great supplement for support of prostate health.

An added bonus to calcium and vitamin D supplements is that those who took them were less likely to lose teeth than those who took a placebo. Calcium and vitamin D now prove to aid in reduction of the threat of tooth loss. The recommendation for vitamin D is 600 IU (international units) daily for people over 70. The best source of vitamin D is the sun! Try to get out and take a walk in the sunlight or spend some time in your garden or on your lawn -- anything that gets you a little sun. You could even just sit outside on a nice day and read a book or magazine or simply enjoy the peace and beauty of nature - just sit in the sun while you do so! Just 20 to 30 minutes can do wonders.

Experts also advise you to get sufficient protein; however, the link between protein and bone loss is still uncertain. Some scientists feel protein actually harms bone due to the fact that it forces the kidneys to excrete more calcium in the urine. The question now is, does the body adjust over the long term? To date, no one knows the answer.

Eat More Protein?

What studies do suggest is that people aged 65 or older who eat more protein are less likely to break a hip. One possible reason for this is that protein increases calcium in the urine as well as a bone growth factor. The balance between loss and gain determines bone density. To sum it up, evidence strongly suggests that protein does protect the bones as they age. Therefore, cutting back on protein is exactly the wrong thing to do. Meat, of course, is the most common source of protein, but you can also get sufficient amounts from chicken, fish, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. In addition, one clear fact is that protein supplements can help elderly women recover from a hip fracture.

Further studies also show vitamin K may be extremely beneficial to your bone density. Researchers are not certain how much vitamin K is enough. There are some guidelines set for recommended levels for all people. Those levels are 90 micrograms a day for women and 120 micrograms for men. Currently, it is not clear if vitamin K can prevent fractures until scientists complete several trials testing the vitamin against a placebo. Meanwhile, it makes perfect sense to try to get the recommended amount of vitamin K in your diet. Some excellent sources are dark green lettuce, spinach, collards and other greens, olive oil, soybean oil, coleslaw and Viactiv Soft Calcium Chews, which contain 40 micrograms of vitamin K per chew.

CAUTION:  If you take coumadin or other blood thinners, check with your doctor before taking any vitamin K because it may change the dose of drug you need to prevent blood clots.

As in most other health issues, exercise plays a key role in bone density as well. When you exercise, the muscles pull on the bone and produce strain and a slight bending. If you increase the strain it increases the bone! Exercise will have the greatest impact when bones are still growing, but will work in older people as well. Walking can help because as an exercise, walking requires standing which in turn will build bone! This bone building also occurs in jogging, stair climbing, dancing and tennis. Swimming is not a weight bearing exercise and cycling is only partially weight-bearing therefore are not recommended exercises to aid in the building of your bones.

Take Care Not to Fall Down

Researchers at Virginia Tech have found that falling is the second leading cause of accidental death among those over the age of forty-five and the leading cause of accidental death among those over the age of seventy-five.

Most people worry more about the rare and awful things that might occur than the common, more likely threats. Conditioning both your body and your surroundings to make falling down a less likely occurrence is one of the most significant steps you can take to protect your health. Common reasons for falling can vary, but recent studies show a few causes to be among the most common:

  • If you take beta-blockers, which lower blood pressure, this can cause you to become light-headed when you stand up.
  • Strength gained from exercise aids you in maintaining your balance to avoid a possible fall by keeping your stance instead of "going down".
  • Poor vision:  Cataracts or other visual impairment can easily cause a fall. A Lutein Supplement can help support eye health.

To lower your risk overall, get rid of scatter rugs in your home, remove clutter and make sure you have good lightening, especially on stairs.

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