Thursday, May 19, 2011

Building Bone Density, part 2

I'm back with part two of this little mini-series that I am writing about how to build bone density.  This issue was never "on my radar" when I was younger.  I have no family history of early osteoporosis and have lived an active, healthy life~ ME?  Low bone density?  Who woulda' thunk it?  : )  If you haven't already read the first part of this post, you can find it here.

Anyway, without further adiu, here is the treatment regimen that I have prayerfully decided to follow~ at least for now.  I am always reading and researching, so all of this is most certainly subject to change.

and of course, some pretty photos that are totally unrelated to this post, just 'cause.
When my general practice doctor saw my DEXA bone density scan results his initial response was that I needed to go on prescription medications.  I was so completely shocked to receive the diagnosis of osteopenia that I didn't know *what* to think!


I went home and began to research the side-effects of osteoporosis medications.  What I found sobered me.

There are two types of prescription drugs for osteoporosis.  The majority fall into the category of biphosphonate drugs like Fosamax, Actonel and Boniva.  These work by stopping the production of osteoclasts which are supposed to reabsorb old, infirm bone.  When these medications are taken, your bones may stay denser, but they will be composed of a higher amount of old, poor quality bone cells which over time makes your bones even more brittle and weak.  Crazy and ironic, isn't it?  These medications are supposed to increase bone strength, but instead the result is weaker bones!  Our bones must have balanced bone reabsorption and rebuilding.

Studies have shown that long-term use of Fosamax is associated with unusual fractures of the femur and some potentially terrible problems with the mandible or jaw bone.  Yikes!


After my initial research I made an appointment to see my orthopedic doctor.  It was with some trepidation that I told him my plan to avoid prescription drugs to increase bone density and instead pursue a more "natural" protocol.  To my great surprise, he wholeheartedly agreed with me and encouraged me to follow my plan for a year and then have my DEXA bone density scan repeated.

He told me that even on the prescription drugs the very *best* I could hope for would not be an improvement in bone density (WHAT???), but merely to "hold my own."  I was so shocked at this statement that I had him repeat it!  He reiterated that he would consider my plan a "success" if my bone density doesn't get any *worse*!  Up until that point I had considered "success" to be getting back to normal bone density.

My bone density is already as much as 25% low in my left hip and the best I can do is "hold my own?"  In addition, I haven't yet gone through menopause.  During the first 3 years after a woman goes through menopause she can expect to lose an additional 20-30% bone density!  This, of course, does not take into consideration the fact that with God *all* things are possible!  In addition, our bodies have amazing restorative capacity, when given the right "building blocks" to work with.

He agreed with my concerns about the side-effects of the prescription medications and with my initial "plan of action."  So, what is that "plan of action," you ask?

morning dew on the chives in my herb garden
The Plan!
*Please understand: I am not a medical professional or expert.  Do your own research and prayerfully consider what the Lord would have you do.

Part one: Supplements
In Addition:
  • a dark green, leafy salad every day
  • a smoothie with keifer, fruit and some of that additional magnesium that I mentioned above.
  • yogurt and granola for breakfast
  • apple and cheese for lunch.  (Did you know that Sams Club carries a really yummy cheddar cheese in their deli section~ Tillamook~ which has no growth hormones?)
Now I'll be completely honest here... I don't always get all of this done each day.  It's a goal, and I'm working toward this.

Herbs that may be beneficial:

  • Chasteberry
  • Horsetail
  • Oats
  • Alfalfa
  • Nettle
  • Rooibos tea
I'll be the first to admit, if something is an "acquired taste," I don't usually go to the work to acquire it!  LOL!  I am the *worst* about drinking herbal teas, etc.  But who knows, I might work on an herbal tincture or tea because I really want to do all that I can to get this issue resolved.  I'll keep you posted, ok?


Part 2: Exercise

God made our bones to respond positively to stress... as long as it is not too much stress!  Specifically, to build bone density, we need "load-bearing" exercise.  Swimming and biking don't count.  Running (and walking) and weight training do.

Here's what I'm doing:

  • running every other day, being very careful to use correct running form (short strides, quick turn-over~ about 90 steps/minute/foot)  (ChiRunning has great info on correct running form)
  • biking on the days that I don't run.  There is a relatively quiet gravel trail that I can get a good 17 mile ride in on without being too worried about wrecking.  I'm not riding out on the roads with cars (at least not yet~ we'll see how long I can refrain!)
  • weight training three days/week.  Here is a good plan for beginners with excellent videos and descriptions of each exercise.  I like the fact that all of these exercises can be done at home with minimal equipment.
  • I am seriously considering adding in swimming several mornings a week.  While it won't specifically help my bone density issue, it is a great workout (especially for me~ I'm a terrible "challenged" swimmer!) and I am still considering competing in the triathlons that I had already signed up for this summer before I found out that my bone density was so low.

It is most certainly a balancing act for me.  I need enough stress to encourage my bones to get stronger, but too much stress and I'll be back where I was last year with a stress fracture in my other hip.


The whole issue of building bone density is a big one~ there is *so* much information out there.  I am quite sure that I have not even begun to cover all of the options for treatment.  In addition, I have not specifically addressed what younger women who are still in the midst of having babies should do to prevent low bone density as they age.

I do know this: standard prenatal vitamins might not be enough.  They weren't for me.  Please research and do your best to provide your body with the vitamins and minerals that it needs to stay healthy.

Serving Him joyfully here,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

If you are a mom, you NEED to read this...

As I briefly alluded to last week,  my little world has been rocked by a totally unexpected medical diagnosis.  Don't worry, no cancer or anything like that.  : )

If you've been reading here since last year you might remember that I spent a significant portion of 2010 limping and on crutches, then eventually having surgery to correct a femoral neck stress fracture in my hip. I recovered from that and began running again in December.  In February I was trail running with Tom and Jake, twisted my ankle and ended up with two compound fractures.  sigh.  So it was back on crutches and in a lovely "boot" for another six weeks.
nope. absolutely nothing to do with this post, but I *had* to include some spring prettiness, 'cause that's how I roll.
At that point I questioned my orthopedic doctor pretty pointedly about the possibility that I might have low bone density.  He repeatedly reassured me that the fractures I experienced are very common... at least the ankle fractures.  The stress fracture in my hip, I was told, was merely the result of my overly-zealous triathlon training.  Now I'll readily admit that I tend to overdo things sometimes, and I do know that my running form needed some work, but three fractures in a year?  Honestly!!!?

I already knew that my vitamin D levels were pretty low~ in the low 20s (Vitamin D is critical for proper bone density and many doctors would tell you that somewhere around 90 is much more optimal), so I took matters into my own hands and asked my primary care physician to order a bone density scan for me.
more random springtime pretties!
The DXA bone densitometry showed that I have significant osteopenia in my left hip (they didn't scan the right hip due to the three screws there).  The bone density is so low there that I was placed at "moderate" risk of a fracture.  Oh my!  I suddenly felt like a young active person trapped in a fragile 80 year-old body!

My orthopedic doctor told me that I really shouldn't be out riding my triathlon bike in traffic and zipping down hills at 30mph.  Anyone who rides bikes would tell you that a bike accident isn't a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when." He explained that if I wrecked at this point I am pretty much guaranteed another fracture.  If I would fracture my hip there is a significant chance that I would need a hip replacement.

Unfortunately hip replacements don't last forever and you can't run with a hip replacement either.  sigh.
so, um, yep.  I even think that dandy-lions are pretty this time of year...
Now I'm not sharing this to garner any sympathy~ although I'd definitely take some!  ; )  The real reason I felt compelled to share this is that I suspect that there are other women reading this who could benefit from what I am learning about bone health.

Please understand, I am not a medical professional, just a mom who *really, really* likes to be active with her family and is determined to do my best to figure this out.  Plus I'd love to help someone else avoid the problems that I am facing!

Are you at risk for osteoporosis or osteopenia?
Here are the typically listed risk factors for osteoporosis:

  • being a woman~ of thin or small body frame
  • a family history of osteoporosis
  • cigarette smoking
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • poor diet
  • poor general health
  • malabsorption from issues like Celiac Disease
  • low estrogen levels~ women who have gone through menopause
  • hyperthyroidism
  • vitamin D deficiency
  • long-term use of certain medications like steroids
  • living a sedentary lifestyle
Here's the sobering thing:  none of those risk factors apply to me... except the vitamin D deficiency. None of them!  So here's the deal... the one thing that is left off of "risk factor lists" like the one above is this: women who have had multiple pregnancies and breastfed as well.  I have had 15 pregnancies... 12 that went to term (three miscarriages) and breastfed each of our babies for an average of 12 months each.

Basically, if your body doesn't have enough calcium for immediate needs, it will leach what it needs from your bones.  That's the sobering truth.  For me, 23 years of taking prenatal vitamins pretty much nonstop wasn't enough to keep my bones healthy.  Twenty-three years of eating a "whole foods" diet wasn't enough either.  Neither was it enough for me to exercise, hard, pretty much every day during that time period.  

Now granted, each of us has our own "weak link" and this might be mine and not yours.  Please don't think you are immune to weak bones simply because you don't match the risk factors or because you are young and that issue simply isn't "on your radar."

Did you know that once a woman goes through menopause she can count on losing an additional 20-30% of bone density in a span of only three years?  Yikes!  I'm already ridiculously low and I haven't yet gone through menopause!  I keep having mental images of me as an amoeba!  
chives beginning to bloom in my herb garden
I'm writing this in hopes of helping other women who are just beginning to have children avoid the low bone density issues that I am dealing with.  In addition, I want to encourage other "moms of many" to consider having a baseline bone density scan done, even if you haven't had any fractures and haven't yet gone through menopause.

This is getting long, so I'm going to stop here for today.  Next up: a plan of action (and it doesn't involve prescription drugs!)  There is hope!  God is good and He created our bodies with amazing restorative capacity.

Persevering joyfully here,

(and prayerfully trusting God's plan)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Laugh and be inspired...

I have been thinking lately about what it means to actively follow the Lord.  To "buck the system" and say "yes" to God, even when it is hard.  You will *love* this!  (Thanks Kelly!)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Praying for those affected by the tornados

On April 27 an incredibly devastating outbreak of tornadic storms destroyed and damaged thousands of homes in the Southern part of the US.

Among the families affected were several large homeschooling families.  Kelly Crawford (of Generation Cedar) lost their home~ it's totally gone.  The Crawfords have nine children~ including a 3 week old baby.

And on an even more somber note, the Lee family's (Baker's Dozen Farmhouse) father literally gave his life for his family of 13 children as he tried to shelter them from the storm.

Their church has set up a page to inform people who want to get involved and help here.

Here are some interviews as well.... the first is with Aaron Crawford.

The second is an interview with the Jordon Lee, the oldest son of the Lee family.

An adendum: Samaratian's Purse has a page here with additional info on ways to get involved and help.

Praying here,