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Bone Builders

Azriela Jaffe

If you’re a woman — especially if you’re white and in your later years — you’re at high risk for osteoporosis. But don’t get scared yet: There’s plenty you can do to prevent the disease.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

My three teenage children don’t like to drink milk. No amount of cajoling, begging, or espousing the benefits of calcium for growing bones will make them change their anti-milk policy. My pleas fall on deaf ears even when I emphasize that the teenage years are the most critical for preventing future bone problems. To these invincible youths, diseases that develop in the later stages of life are a way-too-distant, eons-away possibility.

I admit that every once in awhile I resort to fear tactics and truth-stretching. When the elderly neighbor with a dowager’s hump scuffles along the sidewalk with a walker, her spine bent in an S-shape and her head permanently facing down, I say to my kids, “She has severe osteoporosis … that’s what happens when you don’t drink enough milk.”

But it doesn’t take long until the image of the frail old lady fades and I go back to being a milk-pusher again.

The truth is, I’m not really so different from my children. I also want to pretend that osteoporosis is one of those diseases that happen to other people — but never me. However, the statistics are hard to ignore: Thirty to 50 percent of women (and 13 to 30 percent of men) will sustain an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. And each year, 1.5 million people in the United States will suffer the fracture of a hip, spine, or wrist bone after minimal trauma, simply because their bones aren’t what they used to be.

Yet too many of us don’t take osteoporosis seriously enough. “My patients will take their prenatals while pregnant, but they stop after birth, even when I tell them that nursing babies suck the calcium out of their bones and they need to continue supplementation to prevent diseases like osteoporosis,” says Dr. Kevin Jovanovic, a board-certified OB GYN in Manhattan.

This shrug-off syndrome may be due to the fact that, unlike other diseases, osteoporosis evolves over the course of many decades. And, as I know all too well, it’s hard to scare people into action when the symptoms show up so far down the line. “I can’t say to my patients, if you don’t do this, you’ll be sick tomorrow. It’s a slow development,” affirms Dr. Jovanovic.

Another factor might be that we can’t see our bones. If we could take a look into our bodies and spot the slow deterioration that’s associated with osteoporosis, we might start chugging milk by the gallon.

 

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