Osteoporosis, Ostriches and Cheetahs: A Public Service Announcement

So it’s been a couple of weeks since my trip to the Osteoporosis clinic. And to say the entire experience was an education is quite an understatement…

Before my visit to the clinic I tried to google a bit about what to expect from the bone density x-ray procedure – I’m still having very vivid, nightmarish recall of the Radiation-Ray-Gun-Machine, MRI’s and CAT scans so I thought I should be prepared with mantras and the like should I need them!

But despite scrolling through various online articles on bone scans and osteoporosis in general, I was still pretty clueless when I got there… Perhaps that had more to do with the speed at which I was doing the scrolling rather than lack of relevant information.

I have recently discovered the more useful first cousin of the “Ostrich syndrome” … “Cheetah syndrome”! And this is how it works: when you have no choice but do the research and to face scary, toe curling, grown up things head on – do so at incredible, gravity and ocular defying speed! How could that possibly help your situation you may ask? Well, OK, technically it doesn’t. BUT it saves you a heap of guilt from just sticking your head in the sand, AND if someone asks you the inevitable question: “have you looked into it” you can look them in the eye and say with an extra dollop of indignation: “of course I have”. Try it, it works 😉 and it makes perfect sense to me!

So there I was sitting in another waiting room filling out another medical aid form and listing my medical history, which these days takes a heck of a lot longer than it did 2 years ago! And from the peals of laughter resonating from the treatment room next door, I came to the conclusion that at least the procedure clearly wasn’t going to be too stressful or torturous in any way!

The therapist was amazing and dynamic and extremely passionate about all thing osteoporosis!

She asked me what I understood about osteoporosis – and to be quite frank despite, or rather due to my previously mentioned research, I knew very little other than it was a disease that “old” people got. I told her rather nervously that I understood why I was at risk – due to chemo and the resulting lack of estrogen in my body right now.

She immediately reassured me by saying that she considered osteoporosis to be a condition and not a disease, which meant like most conditions they were manageable and even preventable as long as you had the correct information at hand. And that even if the bone density scan indicated that I indeed had osteoporosis, it wasn’t something that could not be treated. I hadn’t realised exactly how much fear I had been hanging on to until I heard those words!

She then asked me a whole host of other questions including if I had any history of osteoporosis in my family and immediately countered with that this was less to do with genetics but more about “familial lifestyle bad habits” possibly passed down from a previous generation. She also asked about diet and exercise and seemed pleased when I mentioned that I enjoyed walking and went to regular Pilate’s classes (thanks Allison!). She questioned me about my alcohol intake adding that this concern was aimed at the risk factors associated with breaking bones when imbibed frequently and a little too much and not only how alcohol affected calcium absorption! I do admit – I had visions of grannies dancing on tables, so I clearly could understand her point of view! I could also understand the origin of the laughter I had heard from her previous patient (a rather elderly lady had emerged from the room!)!

She asked me if I knew the stats with regards to the risk of breast cancer in women – I quoted the latest U.S. stats: 1 in 8, quite expecting to shock her. “Well”, she countered, “do you know how many women die from breaking a hip”, thinking these percentages would be pretty insignificant; I was SHOCKED when she added “1 in 5”!

The actual x-ray was relatively quick, painless and totally un-scary! Bone density measurements were taken in my spine, hips and ankle area.

The therapist said the report and x-rays would be sent to my GP and Oncologist.

She then sat me down and gave me advice on nutrition and exercise planning, explaining about the bone re-absorbing and bone building cells – vague, hazy recollections of High School Biology classes started to run through my head. The bone absorbers pretty much do their job without much prompting but the bone builders were apparently VERY lazy and need to be pushed into action (totally could relate to that!) in order for new bone to be created. Weight bearing exercises such as walking at least 3 times a week, for a minimum of 20 minutes is what will wake up the bone building cells; and once they were up they required building materials in the form of Calcium and Vitamin D in order for them to even begin doing their job. And if I could not provide enough of these building materials in my food, I had to consider supplements.

She said my recommended dosage of Calcium should be around 1200 mgs a day and sent me off with a diet sheet of sources of calcium and exercises that would help strengthen my spine and hips as a preventative measure against osteoporosis. I was relieved to see that most of these were in my Pilates class curricular! (Thanks again, Allison!).

She mentioned that Vitamin D deficiency was also becoming a big problem in South Africa, quite astounding you would think with all our days of sunshine a year. But with more and more people working in offices around 8 hours a day seldom seeing the sun and when the fear of skin cancer has most of us reaching for high factor sunscreens before heading outdoors, we are not getting enough of this vital vitamin. So supplements are our only option!

Before I left she asked that I tell all my friends and family about preventing osteoporosis as it really was all about education and ensuring that by changing habits early in life, this condition did not need to be my reality or theirs.

So hence today’s blog.

There are some website links below as well as the info sheets she gave me – please feel free to share with everyone you know, and yes, men get osteoporosis too.

Happy Calcium and Vitamin D absorbing everyone!

http://www.osteoporosis.org.za

http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/

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Osteoporosis

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