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Katharine Mikulec, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Center at St. Luke's Hospital

Minimizing bone loss in women

Both men and women lose bone density with age, putting you at greater risk for fractures, or broken bones. For women, the risk is even greater because the rate of bone loss is particularly rapid in the years following menopause. Postmenopausal women lack the protection that their premenopausal hormone levels provided.

Osteoporosis, the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time, is the most common form of bone disease. Researchers estimate that about one in five American women over the age of 50 has osteoporosis, and about half of all women over the age of 50 will have a fracture of the hip, wrist or spine.

To delay the onset of bone loss or to minimize its effects, weight-bearing exercise three times a week for 30 minutes is recommended. This can include activities like walking, running and dancing. Resistance exercise using weights and stretch bands can help, too. Avoid any exercise that puts you at risk of falling.

For added protection, women should also consider taking a calcium supplement to help build and maintain healthy bone and Vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium. It's important to note you need to take calcium carbonate supplements with food, whereas the body can absorb calcium citrate supplements with or without food.

Foods that contain natural sources of calcium include the obvious, like low-fat dairy products, and other foods such as sardines and salmon (with the bones), tofu and leafy green vegetables. Foods fortified with calcium, such as orange juice and oatmeal, are also good choices.

While consuming plenty of calcium will not completely stop bone loss, it will guarantee that a supply of the materials the body uses to form and maintain bones is available. Limiting alcohol and avoiding smoking also help to minimize bone loss.

Women over 50 can benefit from the knowledge gained by measuring their bone density, which predicts bone fragility. A quick and painless scan can measure bone density at the hip and spine, two areas susceptible to serious fractures. That information will help determine what treatment is necessary, if any.

Katharine Mikulec, MD, is the director of the Osteoporosis Center at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-205-6633 or visit her Physician Referral page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 7, 2009.

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