Preserving our Bones – Women and Bone Health

As we age, we know we need to pay special attention to our health. We try to eat right, exercise and schedule regular physical exams. We make sure our blood pressure and cholesterol are properly managed. We understand the importance of breast cancer screenings, with one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. However, one area women may not be paying enough attention to, however, is their bone health.

Director of Diagnostic Imaging at Hillcrest South Joy Sandborn says osteoporosis, a disease which weakens bones and increases the risk for fractures, is more common than many of us may realize. “It is estimated 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and eight million are women,” she says. “One in two women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.”

Women are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis compared to men, because their bones are thinner and smaller. Also, after menopause, women experience a dramatic drop in estrogen, which helps protect bones. The good news – you can help prevent losing bone density at any age.

Prevent Bone Loss

The first step in prevention is to know your own bone density. A specifically designed scan known as the Dexa Scan is a non-invasive screening to get a reading of your bone health. Sandborn advises patients to get a scan soon after menopause, for a good baseline reading.

Results from the scan are indicated by BMD, T and Z scores. BMD, bone mineral density, is the number of grams per centimeter of bone. A BMD reading of +1.0 or above is a good reading. T scores compare your BMD to that of an average 30 year old woman, when bone density reaches its peak. T scores of -1.0, +1.0 or greater are normal to good readings. T scores between -1.0 and -2.5 indicate osteopenia, or thin bones. Readings less than -2.5 indicate osteoporosis. The Z score is similar to the T score, but relative to your age at the scan.

On a daily basis, women can help reduce their risk for bone loss, and even reverse bone loss. “A well balanced diet and exercise, mainly low impact and strength training,” Sandborn says will help cut your risk significantly. Strength training can help stimulate cells to make new bone, which works by causing muscles to pull on the bone, increasing bone strength. Weight-bearing exercises also improve flexibility, which helps reduce the likelihood of falls, which can lead to fractures.

Weight-bearing exercises to help strengthen your bones include:

Climbing stairs
Racquet sports
Tai chi
Water aerobics

Who is at risk?

Not all women will have bone thinning that requires medical intervention. However, for women with certain risk factors, being aware of bone density at the onset of menopause is especially important. Risk factors include:

  • Family History
  • Small, thin frame (weighing less than 127 pounds)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Certain medications, such as corticosteroids
  • High alcohol use
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Soda consumption
  • Diet low in calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D

If you are not sure about your bone health and would like to know your bone mineral density, talk with your health care provider.