By Carol Higgins Taylor
Special to The Weekly
As the temperature rises, cool, creamy treats are the order of the day. And if you read the container labels you might find that your summery snack is a bone builder. Some ice cream and frozen yogurt varieties have good levels of calcium, which can help prevent osteoporosis, the disease that leaves bones thin, weak and more prone to fracture, so don’t feel guilty about getting your licks in. After all it is for medicinal purposes.
Other foods that are rich in calcium include milk, canned salmon, broccoli and fortified fruit juice. Ask your doctor about the proper amount of calcium and vitamin D needed for your age and if supplements are necessary.
“The problem with osteoporosis is the injury that could result if the person falls,” said Robin Long, outreach-education coordinator of Caring Connections, a cooperative women’s health program of the Bangor YMCA and Eastern Maine Medical Center. “Osteoporosis can become so severe that picking up a bag of groceries can break a wrist.”
Bones reach peak thickness or density by age 30. When menopause enters the picture, and estrogen production is reduced, bone loss can accelerate, which increases a woman’s risk for osteoporosis, said Long. Other risk factors can accelerate bone loss.
It is important to get serious about protecting your bones and taking steps to maintaining their strength. Talk to your doctor especially if you have any of the following risk factors:
• Low body weight — less than 127 pounds.
• Post-menopausal — natural or surgical.
• Use of medications such as corticosteroids and certain anti-convulsants. This includes men, who also can be at risk.
• Recurrent falls.
• Low physical activity.
• Life-long low calcium intake.
• History of fracture in a close relative.
• Smoking. It’s toxic to bones and taking extra calcium cannot repair the damage.
• Heavy use of alcohol.
But, there’s good news. Some simple things you actively can do to help yourself may save your bones.
First, see your doctor and ask if you need a bone density test. This will reveal your bone status. Then ask about doing weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, working with light weights and increasing calcium intake or getting a supplement. These are among the most effective ways to protect yourself.
“We are often concerned with high blood pressure, diabetes and other conditions but osteoporosis is also serious,” said Long. Take a look at your surroundings. Clutter can precipitate a fall, while just reaching or twisting for something on a high shelf can cause a fracture if bones are weak, she added.
To increase awareness and understanding of osteoporosis, a bone health and information discussion group is held, usually monthly at the YMCA on Second Street in Bangor.
“The group gives people an opportunity to hear a variety of information about services and information that they might not otherwise hear,” said Long. “We have speakers such as dietitians, pharmacists and practitioners of alternative healthcare.”
Approximately a dozen people come to the group for a variety of reasons. Some have osteoporosis, and some have osteopenia, which is low bone density, while others are simply interested in prevention. It’s a good way to get needed information.
“I think there are women walking around with osteoporosis without realizing it, because you don’t feel it happening,” said Long. “But after a hip fracture, many never get their mobility back or may have to go to a long term care facility.”
For information on osteoporosis or the support group, call Long at 941-2808.
“We’ll go and speak to groups just about anywhere and will mail information to anyone who requests it,” she said.
Carol Higgins Taylor is a senior advocate and owner of a public relations firm in Bangor. Email Higgins Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.