Tuesday, July 17, 2012


No bones about it: osteoporosis screenings are important

Our bones are alive and constantly growing and changing. Throughout our life, some bone cells are dissolving and being replaced by new ones.

With this continuous turnover of new bone cells, most of our skeleton gets replaced every 10 years or so. But for some people, the bone loss outpaces the new growth and thinning of the bones occurs. This is called osteoporosis.  The bones become porous, brittle and prone to fracture.

A bone density scan can test for thinning of the bones at an early stage. Diagnostic Imaging Technologists are able to bring a portable machine to community sites and measure bone density in the heel, reporting the result in about 3 minutes.

These clinicians willingly spend hours leaning over the portable machine during one of these screenings because they are performing such an important service. For example, at a recent employee health fair at Electric Boat, 116 people were screened; 31 were found to have osteopenia, an early stage of osteoporosis, including four men under age 32, and three women under 42. This is vital information to initiate more extensive testing, follow up care, treatment.

What causes osteoporosis, especially in young people?   Most commonly, genetics, poor diet, stress, sedentary lifestyle, and tobacco use. 

The following steps can help protect your bones, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation:
Get calcium and Vitamin D.   The building block of bones is calcium, but our bodies can't absorb it without Vitamin D.  Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy like yogurt, and foods fortified with calcium. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are good sources of Vitamin D.
Stop smoking and drink less alcohol.  The chemicals in cigarettes are harmful to bone cells. More than one alcoholic drink a day may decrease bone formation.  
Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, perhaps with a brisk walk.

We can’t change our genetic make-up, but we can make some lifestyle changes to ensure our bone health. 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at www.backushospital.org/backus-blogs or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

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