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Published on: 08/31/06 2:47 PM

Feature: Osteo Alert

Osteo alert!

Asians, more particularly women, are susceptible to osteoporosis,  according to research. Have you put your osteo-fighters in place?

We’ve been noticing them for years, bent old men and women, with gnarled fingers and toes. People who only need to trip to break a bone or two. People who suffer from chronic joint pain.

Some of them, alas, are men and women from our own family.  Now, it has been confirmed why there are so many suffering from osteoporosis around us; a recent U.S.-based study has found  that the most vulnerable types are Asians, small framed people, thin persons, those with a family history of osteoporosis, those accustomed to a low-calorie diet (not much greens, mainly), and those taking corticosteroids for asthma or thyroid conditions.

What is osteoporosis? It is a medical condition where the bones in the body become increasingly brittle as a person ages. Since, till the age of 30, bone is constantly being renewed, osteo alerts for
the young and healthy are few and far between. In fact, a person’s bones only become stronger in these years.

After the peak period of 30, comes the decline; now you find more bone is taken away than is being replaced, causing a dangerous  and gradual thinning of the bone. In a person’s later years, the bones tend to become fragile, weak and prone to fractures of the hip, wrists and the spine. More conditions that put a person at particular risk to osteoporosis are women entering menopause,
low calcium intake, lack of exercise, smoking, drinking and medical conditions like an overactive thyroid.

Now that the warning has been sounded, it’s time to  take precautions. Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoporosis,  only precaution; that too, your protection is best built when you  are between 25 and 35 years of age. After that, as we have mentioned, the peak bone building years are over.

However, all hope is not lost. The three-pronged antidote  to osteoporosis is increase of calcium intake, exercise and quitting smoking.

We need between 1,000 and 1,200 mg of calcium per day. Contrary to popular belief, calcium alone is not the best cure or protection against brittle bones. What really matters is a  diet rich in green vegetables, nuts, lentils and brisk exercise  every single day of your life. Once these staples are put in place,  you just have to fine-tune the details.

While taking calcium supplements is a good idea, you need to take a second look at the food you ingest, too. The best source  of calcium is from dairy foods. Here, we are talking about milk,
cheese, yoghurt and buttermilk.

A popular misconception is that milk alone is the main calcium provider. Not so. Rajma, tomatoes, carrots and apples are excellent calcium providers. The calcium-phosphorous ratio in milk is only 1:1. Greens are a good 2:1; fish (salmon is an excellent source), the same.

So, making vegetables like broccoli, turnip, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, almonds and dried beans part of your meal is acting out on an osteo alert. Calcium-enriched  foods like bread too are good for the bone, if not for your weight. Red meats, alcohol and caffeine are absolute no-nos.

Exercise slows bone loss, helps prevent fractures and alleviate chronic pain. One excellent form of exercise, whatever your age,  is weight-bearing activity. These aren’t only aerobics and workouts with weights attached, they include activities like walking, cycling and dancing. Swimming is another top rated osteo antidote.

Do remember, just 30 minutes of exercise a day will go a long way in staving off bone decline.

As for the third prong in the antidote, quit smoking now and don’t look back.

Unfortunately, osteoporosis shows a strong genetic strain. Be all the more careful if elders in the family suffer from the disease. Therefore, if you suffer from bone fractures in your thirties, see it as a `osteo ahead’ warning.

Then again, if you think you fall in the vulnerable zone,  take a DEXA bone densitometry test and find out for yourself. Knowing is arming yourself, in this case.

This ran in THE HINDU of 31 Aug 2006.

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Sheila Kumar • August 31, 2006

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