May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month

When May arrives every year, I think of my mother. Although it’s true that Mother's Day is in mid-May, May is also National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. For the last ten years of her life, my mother suffered greatly from complications of osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones become weak, making them more likely to break. Nearly 54 million Americans have low bone mass or osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), a health organization dedicated to preventing osteoporosis and broken bones through awareness, education, and research.  This silent but devastating disease affects more women than men. Women have a 50% chance of suffering a hip, spine, or wrist fracture during their lifetime. However, this bone disease doesn't affect only women; nearly 30% of men will also experience a broken bone from osteoporosis. Osteoporosis-related fractures aren't just painful; they can be deadly. One in four women and one in three men WILL DIE within one year of experiencing a broken hip. If you are female, the likelihood of you breaking a bone from osteoporosis is equal to your risk of having breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer COMBINED. My mother broke her left wrist when she was 74 years old when tripping on a curb while trying to catch a bus in downtown Seattle. Four years later, she fell when getting out of bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, breaking her hip.  I gently suggested that she get her injury checked out by her doctor, but she stubbornly insisted to me, "It's not broken, I just sprained my knee." She hobbled around on it for nearly two weeks before she gave in and saw a doctor, but by then it was too late. The bone of her right upper leg had split apart, then started knitting together in the wrong position as she walked on it, leaving her with the discomfort and awkwardness of having one leg an inch shorter than the other for the rest of her life.  Although its complications show up in old age, osteoporosis can start in childhood because the thinner your bones are when young, the more likely you'll experience a fracture later in life.  We build nearly 90 percent of our peak bone mass before we turn 20 years old. In middle age, that process begins to reverse. We lose 1% of our bone mass every year, doubling to 2% every year for women after menopause. Find out more about osteoporosis at the National Osteoporosis Foundation website,

Here are 6 Tips to Help Keep Your Bones Strong and Healthy:
1. Get adequate calcium and vitamin D. 
Eating a variety of foods rich in calcium is essential to building and maintaining a healthy bone density. Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale are good sources of calcium, along with dairy products like milk and yogurt. A calcium-rich diet is more effective at preventing osteoporosis than taking calcium supplements. If you take prescription bone-building medicines, you may need additional calcium and Vitamin D supplementation.
2. Do weight-bearing activities as often as possible. 
Walking, cycling, dancing, even gardening will help your body keep your bones healthy. Activities like tai chi and lifting light weights strengthen your thigh muscles and improve balance, helping prevent falls. 
3. Don't smoke.
My mother started smoking when she was 18 years old, and it took her over 60 years to quit. Stopping smoking decades earlier could have helped her avoid the fractures which plagued her later years. 
4. Ask your doctor. 
Testing your bone density helps determine how likely you are to have a bone break in the future. If your bones are too thin, future bone loss can be slowed with medicine and other strategies. My mother never knew her bones were thinning until she broke her wrist. With screening and bone-building medicines, she might have avoided the hip fracture that changed her life so drastically. 
5. Try eating prunes every day.
Eating prunes every day can build up your bones, according to two recent studies. The participants consumed about ten prunes every day for a year, but you don't have to eat nearly that many to benefit your bones. Since prunes have a natural laxative effect, I suggest starting out eating just a couple prunes daily, then gradually increasing as you can.
6. Take your medicine.
Several bone-building drugs are available: tablets you take every week or every month, or injections given daily, every six months, or once a year. 
Dr. Louise Achey, Doctor of Pharmacy, is a 40-year veteran of pharmacology and author of Why Dogs Can’t Eat Chocolate: How Medicines Work and How YOU Can Take Them Safely. Check out her NEW website for daily tips on how to take your medicine safely. ® 2020 Louise Achey


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