Bone Up: How to Prevent Osteoporosis
Why the Increase?
Experts believe the spike among younger women is due to several factors, not just to better diagnostic tools. Many women are not getting the nutrients they need for healthy bone development during childhood and adolescence. "Tweens and teens are drinking soda instead of milk," says Dr. Diemer. "Either they think it's not cool to drink milk, they don't like the taste, or they think dairy products make them fat. Whatever the reason, they're not getting the calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients they need during those prime bone-building years. And that puts them in a precarious situation later on."
Yo-yo dieting as well as eating disorders can also deplete bone strength, says anthropologist and nutritionist Susan E. Brown, PhD, author of Better Bones, Better Body: Beyond Estrogen and Calcium. So can depression or chronic stress. What's more, athletes and ballet dancers may stop menstruating for months at a clip, depriving their bodies of bone-boosting estrogen at critical times.
Certain health problems, and the medications needed to treat them, can also affect bone health. High doses of steroids or thyroid medications, some antidepressants, and proton pump inhibitors for gastric reflux can all be bad for bone health. "I was so bummed that after years of running and choking down calcium tablets I was diagnosed with osteoporosis when I was 51," says Debra Jarvis, a chaplain at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. "Why didn't anyone tell me that the antacids I was taking for reflux could wreak havoc on my bones?"
Some very fit women, like Becky Williamson, an exercise physiologist in San Jose, California, are shocked to discover they have weak bones. When Williamson was 38, her doctor suspected she had a stress fracture in her heel. The X-ray was inconclusive, but a bone-density test showed she had osteopenia. "I couldn't understand why this happened," she says. "I worked out all the time. I made sure I ate lots of calcium-rich foods. I was doing all the right things." A few Internet searches later, she realized she'd ignored many clues: For eight years she had taken Depo-Provera, a contraceptive that can cause you to lose stored calcium in bones, possibly causing osteoporosis. Williamson was also small-boned, another risk factor for the disease. "My gynecologist never told me that since Depo-Provera doesn't contain estrogen -- which helps to protect and maintain bones -- my bones were at risk," she says.