Home Lifestyles Health-Fitness THE LAZY WOMAN'S GUIDE TO HEALTH



With baby boomers reaching middle age, there is a lot of talk about and interest in menopause, the mid-life issue that confronts women, though I am not altogether certain that men don't face their own version.
One of the diseases that is of particular concern relative to this phase of life is osteoporosis.
Prevention is absolutely the best, most effective cure for osteoporosis. And prevention can begin at any time. Preferably, sooner rather than later.
Heredity is definitely a factor in the disease. If your mother or grandmother had it, your chances of getting it are increased.
Osteoporosis, which literally translated means porous bone, is identified primarily as a disease that affects post-menopausal women, but according to the latest information it is preventable.
Osteoporosis was first described in the 1940s but no significant research was done until the 1960s. And it wasn't until 1984, when the National Institutes of Health publicized the disease, that it was acknowledged as a significant threat to health. The NIH, at that time, also stated that bone loss could be reduced by hormone therapy, calcium intake, good nutrition and exercise.
A number of factors contribute to osteoporosis. The major factor is a reduction in calcium in the body, causing it to be leached from the bones. The bones act as a regulator for calcium, releasing into the system when it is required and acting as a dam when there is too much. Food and dietary supplements are the only source of calcium for the body, since the body does not produce calcium.
There is a hormone, calcitonin, that acts to preserve calcium in the bones. It is produced by the thyroid. As we get older there is a decline in the secretion of calcitonin and an increase in the production of PTH, another hormone that encourages the breakdown of bone tissue. And so, even though the body does have a mechanism for rebuilding bone, as this process begins to take place the body cannot keep up with the breakdown.
An interesting fact about osteoporosis is that Vitamin D plays a very important role in allowing the body to absorb calcium. It would seem that that gives those of us who live here in the tropics an automatic advantage. Vitamin D is converted by the liver and kidneys to a substance that promotes calcium absorption in the intestines.
Many more complicated processes contribute to the breakdown of bone as well. Estrogen and progesterone have definite effects on bone tissue. Interestingly, research indicates that obese or muscular women tend to have higher levels of estrogen and lower rates of osteoporosis.
Ethnic and geographic factors are also involved in incidence of osteoporosis. Small, fair-skinned Caucasian and Asian women are at a greater risk. Their bones are thinner; therefore they have less to lose and the lack of Vitamin D, produced by the sun on the skin, in more northern climates is thought to be a factor.
A number of other factors may also contribute to osteoporosis. Alcoholism, pancreatitis, diabetes and other conditions contribute heavily to bone breakdown.
The most noticeable effect of osteoporosis is the literal collapse of the vertebrae of the spine, causing a visible stooping over and loss of height as the bones break down more and more. This loss of height can be up to 8 inches in severe cases. Of course there are also the accompanying fractures.
So, what can we do to prevent this destructive disease?
To begin with, eat right and exercise. Being a vegetarian can be a plus in preventing osteoporosis, since excess protein drives calcium out of the bones. Also red meat is high in phosphorus, which blocks calcium from being taken in by the bones. And green leafy vegetables are high in calcium.
However, intake of calcium is only part of the solution. It must be able to be absorbed. There are a number of factors to be considered, the phosphorus issue for one.
Some dairy products that provide high calcium also are high in phosphorus and therefore negate the intake of calcium.
Exercise that puts stress on the bones increases their strength and stops loss down the line. The best exercises are those that require the spine and long bones to bear weight — running and walking. Also, as noted before, women who are muscular tend to suffer less from osteoporosis.
Weight-lifting not only builds muscle, but also causes the bones to bear weight. The NIH 1987 conference states that three to four hours weekly of weight-bearing exercise such as walking or jogging increases bone density in those under 30 and slows bone loss in those who are older.
Hormone therapy has traditionally been another form of treatment for this disease. However, some of the methods have had their own devastating side effects.
Some new information and treatments have been developed using progesterone as a substitute for the more toxic hormones. There are also herbal remedies for the more holistic approach. All of these should be discussed with a health professional before embarking on any form of treatment.
However, exercise and proper nutrition need no prescription. On the days when I am out there on the road wondering why I need to spend my time and energy running around like a fool, I remember that I am buying some insurance for the future.
Food, as opposed to calcium supplements, is by far the more effective and sure way to receive calcium into the system. But it does require a conscientious effort, especially for those who avoid dairy products.
Milk is still thought to be the best source, with goat's milk ranking very high. Yogurt, cheese, especially goat cheese, can also serve as good sources.
Among vegetables, broccoli, spinach, bok choy and dandelion greens are high in calcium. Almonds, sesame seeds and some tofu can also be used.
It is important, especially if you are a woman over 30, to begin to think about protecting yourself for the future with a plan for exercise and nutrition that will enhance your life today and offer a chance for a long, healthy and happy life.


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