May we KNOW them,
May we BE them,
May we RAISE them,
May we ENSURE that their strength endures…
Here’s what I heard from one of my women patients’ the other day: “I was recommended Vit D more than a year ago, but I chose not to take it, as I read somewhere that it’s a steroid”. Here was a young, empowered, self-employed, liberated, urban woman, making a decision that will affect her present as well as her future health, and sadly she had taken this very important decision casually and without any research!
To young and impressionable women I would like to say this:
Osteoporosis (weak or brittle bones) affects more women than men (one out of two women above the age of 50, will suffer from it), and to give just one statistic, 75% of all hip osteoporosis affects women (in fact the risk of hip fractures in women is so high, that it is equal to the sum of the risk they suffer of breast, uterine and cervical cancer).
Women are genetically susceptible to OP because they start with bones that are smaller and less dense than men. This risk increases when estrogen (a protective hormone) reduces drastically at menopause.
Some other issues can affect Bone density throughout a woman’s life:
- Teenage Nutrition: Women build their bone calcium stores till the age of 18. Eating well throughout the teenage years, including about 4-5 sources of calcium through the day, getting enough sunlight or supplementing vit D, cutting down on carbonated drinks, and getting enough exercise will help to increase calcium stores that can last you for life.
- Pregnancy and Breast-feeding: Contrary to belief, both pregnancy and breast feeding actually increase the uptake of calcium from foods and supplements, and the increased estrogen ensures that it is deposited in the bones. In fact research shows that the more times a woman is pregnant (for 28 weeks or more), the lesser her risk of osteoporosis and fractures. I do not mean to say all women should get pregnant several times, nor do I wish to say they should get pregnant very early in life (LOL), but physiologically maybe that’s how a woman’s body is designed. This is of course considering that her diet is suitably rich in calcium and well balanced in all nutrients, she gets enough Vitamin D, and exercises moderately. If nutrition is compromised, pregnancy can increase the risk of OP as the baby’s growth requires calcium which will be drawn from the mother’s bones.
- Low Body Weight: Adipose tissue (fat) has been shown to have a protective effect on bone health in women, and several studies have confirmed that low body weight is linked to increased risk of fractures in later years. Of course this does not mean that obesity guarantees strong bones (!!) but being reasonable about body weight and concentrating on balanced diet and maintain a healthy body image throughout life will go a long way in preventing OP in women.
- A deficient diet or Vitamin D deficiency: A diet deficient in Zinc and “B” group of vitamins will affect the production of HCL in the stomach, reducing the absorption of Calcium and other nutrients. Vitamin D is a steroid hormone and facilitates the intestinal absorption of calcium and also stimulates absorption of phosphate and magnesium ions. In the absence of vitamin D, dietary calcium is not absorbed at all efficiently. Vitamin D stimulates the synthesis of proteins involved in transporting calcium from the intestine into the blood.
- Thyroid hormone replacements: Thyroid disorders which fall under “autoimmune disorders” where the body’s immune system targets the organs of the body itself, affect 75% more women than men. Excessive use of synthetic thyroid replacement has been implicated in calcium depletion from bones. Whereas this cannot always be avoided, it is important to remember that regular checkups and dosage modification, good nutrition and supplementation, exercise and maintaining a good weight, all go a long way towards guarding against OP. What we also must look at is stress management, positive thinking, “being happy”, sugar control, and looking after intestinal health. Some other conditions like adrenal stress can mimic thyroid symptoms and end up in overmedication. It is actually possible in some cases to manage thyroid related issues with healthy living.
- Antacids: Regular and long-term use of antacids (they reduce the production of HCL in the stomach) will result in osteoporosis, especially if other contributing factors also exist, as HCL is required for the absorption of Calcium and other nutrients. Use of antacids when medically prescribed for short periods of time is not what we are talking about: abuse of them by self-medicating to support a certain lifestyle is potentially dangerous.
- Cancer treatments, steroids, and anti-seizure medicines are some un-preventable causes.
- Smoking, drinking are some causes that we all know, and some ignore.
- Exercise: A good and moderate exercise program that stimulates the muscles and bones, using weight-bearing moves for the whole body is essential at all stages of life to prevent bone loss and to stimulate uptake of Calcium by the bones. Well-designed exercise can also improve balance and proprioception, preventing falls and fractures in older age.
So to all the strong women out there, live healthy, and make well-informed choices. May the strength of your mind, heart, soul, and body, endure for today, and for the future.