The Faces of Osteoporosis
Perry Ann, Age 40
Osteoporosis—a disease for older people. Or so I thought. I’ve done thousands of weight-bearing reps in the gym; I’ve climbed many mountains, including a few of the highest peaks in North America and northern Europe; I’ve ridden 2,500 miles on my bike in Europe; I play tennis; I do Pilates; I’m young; I eat a healthy diet; I’ve never smoked; I take vitamins; and I’ve never broken a bone. So my bones are healthy, right?
When my friend, past chairman of the Foundation for Osteoporosis Research and Education (FORE), suggested I, at then age 35, have a free bone-density test (hip and spine) to help train technicians, I said, “Sure!” thinking I was helping them more than they would be helping me. Much to my surprise, my bones weren’t as strong as I had thought.
In fact, my results show that I fall into the osteopenia range, indicating low bone mass and a possible precursor to osteoporosis. Yes, I’m a woman; yes, I’m small-boned; and yes, I’m fair-haired and fair-skinned, all risk factors for osteoporosis, but I assumed my lifestyle choices over the years would have countered those predispositions. So what gives?
Two possible answers.
First, genetics. At 66, my mother’s tests are not indicative of osteoporosis; however, I’m convinced, even in the absence of tests, that my grandmother had the disease, given her hunched-over posture in her later years. Genetics, unfortunately, are out of my control.
Second, childhood diet. As a child, I didn’t like milk much. I poured it over cereal, but was not a fan of drinking it by the glass. Since my osteopenia diagnosis, I’ve learned that 95% of one’s bone mass is built before the age of 18, the very years I was not taking in as much calcium as I am now. The remaining 5% of bone mass is made between the ages of 18–28, the years I had taken a keen interest in my health, but I had missed that great opportunity during the earlier years to set the stage for strong health for the rest of my life.
Now I have two kids, four and six, and am highly alert to the fact that the calcium they take in through the food I feed them will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
What am I doing from here on to preserve my bone density? I’m now working with a bone specialist to establish a comprehensive baseline of my bone health. My blood tests show that my absorption of calcium is sufficient. So I will continue taking calcium through food and supplements. My vitamin D absorption is currently being tested. The specialist prescribed 55,000 IUs of the vitamin per week during the low-sun winter months. We’ll do another bone-density test and vitamin absorption test in a few months to see how I’m doing. We’ll go from there. Of course, I’ll continue all of those beneficial lifestyle choices.
Now, at only 40, I’m very aware of maintaining my bone health and doing what I can to minimize and slow future loss. I fully intend to take after my parents and be active my entire life, especially when I’m older and have grandkids of my own. And I need strong bones to do it!