Building up bone strength

Sources of calcium include vegetables, dairy, nuts and grains. Courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

You or a loved one grow old, take a little fall, and suddenly fracture a hip. It’s an all-too-common scenario, but doesn’t have to be. Many of these fractures are preventable, not just by being more careful, but by gradually building up bone strength over time.

Dr. David A. Halsey, staff orthopedic surgeon at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, told The Times that bone health is something that affects the whole Island population — the young, middle-aged, and old.

“African Americans are more likely to have loss of bone density than the population in general,” Dr Halsey said, “Women are also more at risk.”

Halsey explained we all have a bone bank of calcium and other important minerals that give bones their toughness. People make deposits into their bone banks up until about age 25. After that time, they are at risk of making net withdrawals from the bone bank, and they need to supplement with additional calcium and vitamin D. Just relying on diet doesn’t work to get a sufficient amount of vitamin D — you’d have to drink about eight glasses of milk a day.

Bone densitometry is a simple, recommended test for people around age 45, which calculates bone density quickly and accurately. It can be taken at the hospital, and scans the hip and spine to determine if you’re in a normal or low bone-density range for your age.

Dr. Kevin Mabie, orthopedic surgeon at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, points out that osteoporosis — when the bones become fragile from loss of tissue — affects women more than men, and can accelerate bone loss, especially after menopause. “Asian and white individuals are more likely to be affected than other groups,” Dr. Mabie said. “Persons of low body weight, inactive persons, smokers, and people with poor diets are more likely to develop osteoporosis, as well.

“All persons may be affected by osteoporosis — men, women, and people of any ethnic group. Anyone over age 60 with a fracture should be screened for osteoporosis to try to prevent further injuries.

“Diagnosis cannot be made by plain x-rays until the disease is advanced. DEXA scans can measure bone density and confirm the diagnosis. This is a sort of x-ray exam that takes 15 to 30 minutes, and can be used to diagnose and follow progress of the disease and treatment.”

Osteoporosis cannot be “cured,” but can be controlled in many cases by diet, weight-bearing exercise, calcium supplements, and vitamin D. Bones can get stronger or weaker over time, depending on how we take care of them.

You are never too old or too young to improve your bone health.