Though bones may feel rock solid, they are actually filled with tiny holes in a kind of honeycomb pattern. Bone tissue gets broken down and rebuilt all the time.
“With aging, humans start to lose more bone mass than we build, and those tiny holes within the bones begin to expand, thinning the solid outer layer. In other words, our bones become less dense. Hard bones become spongy, while spongy bones end up becoming spongier. When this loss of bone density becomes intense, that is what is called osteoporosis,” says Dr. Vonda Wright, American double board certified orthopedic surgeon. “More than 10 million people are estimated to have osteoporosis throughout the nation, and this truly is an astonishing number.”
Dr. Wright has cared for athletes and active people of all ages since 1989, specializing in shoulder, hip and knee arthroscopy. She is currently serving as the inaugural Chief of Sports Medicine at the Northside Hospital Orthopedic Institute and is President of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Heart Association. Dr. Wright also actively promotes National Women’s Health Week & Annual Women’s Health Conversations. Below, we join her in conversation to learn more about osteoporosis in aging women and what can be done to prevent it.
“Bones can break as a result of accidents. If your bones are dense enough, they can withstand most falls,” says Dr. Wright. “However, bones deteriorated by osteoporosis are more vulnerable to breaks. The hip is a common candidate for osteoporosis, and is most vulnerable to fractures. A broken hip can lead to a downward spiral of disability. Osteoporosis is also common in the wrist, knee and the spine,” says Dr. Wright.
Osteoporosis in Aging Women
Dr. Vonda Wright reveals that the hormone estrogen enables women to make and rebuild bones. “However, as with menopause, the woman’s estrogen levels drop, eventually speeding up the bone loss. This explains why osteoporosis is most common among older females,” she says.
Dr. Wright recommends that women get screened for osteoporosis regularly after the age of 65. Additionally, women under this age with a high risk for fractures should also be screened regularly.
Reducing the Risk of Osteoporosis
Thankfully, osteoporosis is preventable. “There is a lot that can be done to diminish your risk of osteoporosis. Taking calcium, vitamin D, and exercising is a where to begin,” Dr. Wright says. She explains that calcium is the vital mineral that maintains bone strength. This mineral can be easily obtained from the food you eat— including milk and milk products and dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach—or from dietary supplements. She further emphasized that women over age 50 should take at least 1200 mg of calcium each day.
Vitamin D is also essential as it allows the body to absorb calcium. “With aging, your body necessitates more vitamin D that is produced by your skin in the sunlight. Alternatively, you can intake vitamin D from dietary supplements or from specific foods, like milk, eggs, fatty fish, and fortified cereals,” says Dr. Wright.
Exercise strengthens bones, too, particularly weight-bearing exercise like walking, jogging, tennis and dancing. The pull in the muscles acts as a reminder for your bone cells to keep the tissue dense.
Smoking, on the other hand, deteriorates bones. The same goes for heavy drinking. Additionally, some drugs may also increase the risk of osteoporosis.
“And even if you have osteoporosis, it is never too late to get serious about your bone health. As your bones are rebuilding all the time, you can always promote more bone growth by providing them with exercise, calcium, and vitamin D,” says Dr. Wright. “In fact, this is precisely why exercise is essential, for it shapes balance and confidence, thus preventing fractures. Some exercises even provide loads necessary to build bone mass, along with improving balance and coordination—empowering you to catch yourself before you topple.”
What Interferes with Successful Breastfeeding?
While breastfeeding is ideal, it comes with many difficulties new parents might face.
After experiencing the intensity of labor and delivery, many new parents are left exhausted. Despite this fatigue and surviving pospartum, new parents soon learn the importance of managing the needs of an infant. Putting aside their own desires, parents learn to quickly adapt.
Exhaustion and recovery are not the only things that discourage parents from breastfeeding. There are a variety of other woes that can make it difficult for a lactating parent to continue to choose this option.
While 83 percent of women breastfeed at the beginning of postpartum, there is a drastic reduction by 6 months, resulting in only 56% of babies still being breastfed.
When a lactating woman’s milk comes in, she may experience intense pain and discomfort. The breasts typically become overly filled with milk because they have not yet regulated their supply. This engorgement can continue throughout the breastfeeding journey for a variety of reasons.
If the baby’s schedule changes, a woman’s breasts can become overly full. If the parent misses a feeding, breasts can experience discomfor which can lead to breastfeeding infection. If a woman becomes preoccupied at work and does not make time to pump, she can experience discomfort.
If breast engorgement is not treated properly, milk ducts can become blocked, and if a woman does not work to move the milk through her breasts (via feeding her baby, pumping, or expressing the milk), this engorgement can lead to further problems and may cause clogged milk ducts.
One of the biggest concerns beyond the pain a woman experiences with engorgement is infection. This is known as mastitis, and leads to a woman experiencing not only breast pain and warm breast tissue, but also flu-like symptoms that come with fever, chills, headache, and further exhaustion.
In order to help prevent infection, regular feedings are essential. Often, the best mastitis treatment, at least for early symptoms, is to massage the breast in a warm shower and express the extra milk.
Furthermore, by working with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), parents can have a great resource on how to best deal with, treat, and alleviate these problems.
Not only is an IBCLC a great resource in helping prevent breast infection, but a great source for your breastfeeding journey to encourage and educate you in best practices.
The best way to achieve breastfeeding success is to utilize the many tools that an IBCLC offers.
To exclusively breastfeed your baby can be quite overwhelming and exhausting. Between nightly feedings, cluster feedings, and pumping sessions for working mothers, breastfeeding is difficult to maintain. Unless a woman is properly supported by her family, friends, and workplace, the chances that a woman will continue to breastfeed are significantly impacted.
Culture also impacts the likelihood of a baby being breastfed beyond 6 months. The CDC discovered that parents in the Southeast United States are less likely to breastfeed their children past six months. This was in contrast to the Northwest, where business policies and the culture is more breastfeeding-friendly and supportive.
Despite the nutritional benefits afforded to a breastfed baby, there are many obstacles that can be discouraging for parents on their breastfeeding journey. From exhaustion to pain to lack of supoort, parents have many reasons to give up.
To increase your chances of success, surround yourself with supportive individuals, reach out to an IBCLC, also known as lactation consultants, and gain the necessary tools required to provide your child with the healthiest option available – you!
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