International Women’s Day is an opportunity to re-focus on the importance of health, ensuring all women have access to the knowledge and resources they need to make informed decisions about their own health.
Many women neglect their own health while caring for others. When health conditions do not show symptoms in the early stages, opportunities for prevention and early diagnosis may be missed.
One such condition, osteoporosis, does not get as much attention as other women’s health issues.
Osteoporosis is classified as a silent disease , as it often develops without symptoms or pain. The first sign of problems may be a bone fracture.
It is more common than you think:
Approximately one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.
Women are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis.
A woman’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
The risk of osteoporosis does increase with age, but it is not inevitable. Taking preventive steps as early as possible can decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis and experiencing bone fractures.
Spontaneous fractures can occur with only mild pressure in weak bones. Stress fractures may occur in the foot or hip, due to walking.
Although women most commonly start to experience osteoporosis problems after the menopause, bone mass starts to reduce from around age 35. In girls, 90% of bone mass is already acquired by the age of 18. It is never too early to develop good lifestyle and dietary habits. Ensuring that you have enough calcium and vitamin D will help to build and maintain your bone mass, reducing your risk of developing osteoporosis as you age.
You cannot feel your bones getting weaker as you lose bone density. An unexpected fracture may be the first sign of osteoporosis. A bone density scan may be the only way to tell if you have it before a fracture occurs.
What can I do to prevent problems from osteoporosis?
How much calcium do I need?
The recommended daily intake for women under 50 is 1000 mcg of calcium. For over 50’s this increases to 1200mcg.
Which foods contain calcium?
Good sources of calcium include dairy products, green leafy vegetables, fish, and soy products such as tofu. Some foods may also be fortified with calcium, such as cereals.
How can I tell if I’m getting enough calcium?
The International Osteoporosis Foundation has a calcium calculator on their website to help you estimate the amount of calcium in your diet.
Why do I need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D helps improve absorption of calcium and maintain bone health. There are a small number of foods, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and egg yolk, which contain Vitamin D. It can also be obtained from safe exposure of the skin to sunlight.
Should I take supplements?
It is generally better to obtain vitamins and minerals through food, but if you find it difficult to eat enough calcium-containing foods or obtain sufficient Vitamin D from either sunlight or diet, ask your doctor about supplements. Taking the recommended supplements is important for pregnant or breast-feeding mothers.
How can I find out more about my risk of osteoporosis?
A specialist orthopaedic doctor can discuss factors such as age, medical history, diet, hormonal levels, and lifestyle issues. A bone scan, which uses low levels of X-rays to measure the density of minerals in your bones, may be recommended for post-menopausal women, or younger women with risk factors for osteoporosis.