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Health Trends: Menopause and Bone Loss

Avoid it before you have to treat it.

By Robert W Lash MDJuly 6, 2007 5:00 AM


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Menopause seems to be one of those "it" topics these days. If I’m not talking about it at work, I’m reading about it on the newsstands. The fact that many of my friends are getting their AARP cards in the mail doesn’t help, either. There’s so much written about menopause, and a lot of what’s written isn’t necessarily science-based. All this tends to create confusion about what menopause really means.

One of the concerns I hear about most is bone loss and osteoporosis. I tell my patients that osteoporosis is largely preventable for most patients, and there’s plenty that can be done before menopause to improve your chances of keeping your bone density. Prevention is the key when it comes to bone loss, because while there are good treatments for osteoporosis, there aren’t really any cures.

A combination of steps is the best approach to holding onto your bone density. I make it a point to remind my patients to be sure they get the recommended daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D. National surveys indicate many American women and girls consume less than half of the recommended calcium and vitamin D. Depending on your age, you should have between 1,000 and 1,300 mg of calcium per day. If you’re not getting enough calcium, discuss calcium supplements with your doctor.

Weight-bearing exercise is another great step toward osteoporosis prevention. This includes walking, elliptical exercise, stair climbing, and weightlifting. Doing this type of exercise a minimum of three times each week will reduce your chances of bone loss later in life, and improve your health today.

Of course, you should avoid smoking and excessive amounts of alcohol. This will not only preserve bone, but is also good advice for an overall healthy lifestyle. Enough said on this one.

For some women, a bone mineral density (BMD) test is a great way to detect osteoporosis and estimate your fracture risk. Talk to your doctor about if and when you need one. For women at risk of bone loss, the BMD test is painless, accurate, and another good way to take charge of your health.

Robert W. Lash, M.D. is an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. His clinical interests include thyroid disease, diabetes, endocrine disorders in pregnancy, osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease, and medical education. A member of the LLuminari team of experts, a board certified internist and endocrinologist, Dr. Lash has an active clinical practice at the University of Michigan.

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