Osteoporosis – My Personal Interest In The Disease

I have spent over 40 years working in the media, much of that time concentrating on health and fitness, and have a particular interest in issues and illnesses which affect women who are past their first flush of youth. I soon realised how importance it is for women to maintain strong bones, particularly at the time of menopause and in later life. Osteoporosis is a bone-thinning condition that will affect one in three women after the menopause. It is a very serious disease, which in the UK alone, results in 310,000 fractures a year causing severe pain and disability. Over the last two decades there has been significant scientific research into the cause and treatment of the disease. The published results have found that a healthy active lifestyle can help guard against osteoporosis and reduce the risk of falls and resulting fractures.

HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) has now been used for many years as a treatment to guard against osteoporosis and it is known to have a beneficial effect on bones. But, in December 2003 the medical profession in the UK made public their opinions on the results of long-term HRT trials in both the US and the UK and issued their advice to women. Guidelines were published, but medical advice still differs about the use of HRT, and the benefits and risks involved in taking it, particularly long-term. HRT has been proven to help women experiencing menopausal problems, by alleviating symptoms and strengthening bones and despite evidence of some health risks many women consider the benefits of taking HRT outweigh the risks. Others are not prepared to take the risk because of their medical history, or do not wish to take hormones on a long-term basis. Some women simply find HRT just doesn’t suit them.

Whether a woman does or does not decide to take HRT, there is no controversy about the benefits of taking exercise. Exercise is a proven natural way to build, strengthen and maintain bones, and it can help maintain physical independence as the years go by. From my own research and observations over many years, plus a determination to promote a healthy active lifestyle, including the prevention of osteoporosis came about the idea my idea for natural ways to beat osteoporosis.

Why my special interest in osteoporosis? I have been interested in all forms of movement and sport since I was a young girl. I enjoy being active in both my work and play and have taught exercise for over 40 years. It all started informally in my 20’s when girlfriends commented upon my posture and zest for life and asked for advice on how to keep fit and in shape. I taught what I knew, about a healthy diet, my exercise techniques, many of which I had used in my former athletics training, plus exercises I had been given by hospital physiotherapists during and after my pregnancies. I was, and still am, always on the lookout for new, safe and effective exercises.

Gradually the whole thing snowballed and for many years I taught holidaymakers in UK West Country holiday camps. My TV debut as an exercise teacher occurred in the late 1970’s and hailed the birth of the “Green Goddess”. (A nickname due to my hallmark shiny bright green leotard and tights worn for my TV appearance on BBC Breakfast Time). During the 1980’s my daily spot highlighted a healthy lifestyle and made fitness fashionable and The Green Goddess and Jane Fonda became the Fitness Queens of the UK and US! But as a result of unsupervised high impact aerobic classes, some doctors and physiotherapists reported injuries. Exercise teachers in the UK became concerned and we got together to form ASSET (The Association of Exercise Teachers) and set standards and qualifications. Many, including myself conscientiously went back to school to learn more and gain the necessary qualifications for teaching safe and effective exercise and specialist skills including the teaching of 50+ adults (with whom I have a great affinity) since I am 70 years old!

As we age poor posture carries its own risk of broken bones. Recent research suggests that an unstable walk with body sway is associated with hip fractures. The underlying cause is thought to be poor muscle tone, especially in the legs. 20 years ago, being 50-plus, perhaps I should have thought twice about leading a party of similarly aged friends for an ice-skating jaunt at the new Poole ice rink in Dorset. They say pride comes before a fall”. What a painful lesson I learnt as I slipped and – crack! It was all too easy.

A Colles fracture (broken wrist) was diagnosed, and I received first-hand
experience of just how painful (and inconvenient) breaking bones can be. I only regained full use of my wrist, vital for my work, through extensive physiotherapy and much discomfort. The break is common among sufferers of osteoporosis and the experience focused my attention on the disease. Osteoporosis had interested me some years previously, and having read an article in the Daily Mail in 1988; I had taken myself off to the Amarant Clinic in London to find out more. I was interested in claims that HRT could help prevent the thinning of bones. Green Goddesses need strong bones! I was aware that exercise before and after the menopause offers some protection against bone loss.

Evidence had come from a 4 year follow-up of 8 women aged between 35 and 65 some pre and others post menopausal. They went on a 3 day a week exercise routine consisting of 10 minutes warm up, 30 minutes aerobic activity (including dancing and jogging) and 5 minutes cool down. Arm bone thickness was compared over the years with a matched group who did no exercise. At the start, the exercise group was found to be less fit than the control group, but gradually they switched. The rate of bone loss was different too, with a significant reduction in loss in the areas measured. The researchers predicted that only 5% of bone would be lost in the exercisers over 20 years, compared to 25% in the non-exercisers.

I was 47 at the time I read that article, and pre-menopausal. The clinic doctor insisted upon an obligatory”mid-life service” as I called it, before making any decisions as to my suitability for using Hormone Replacement Therapy. I entered the clinic feeling fit and fine, but on leaving there was an unexpected problem. A mammogram, part of the MOT, had revealed irregularities, and breast cancer was diagnosed. It was in its early stages and could be treated successfully. 8 weeks after surgery I resumed my TV work, but it took several more months to regain the necessary strength and stamina required to perform and teach exercise. That mammogram probably saved my life!

Medical opinion even then was divided over whether women with a history of breast cancer like myself, should take HRT. But after my cancer surgery I still had menopausal symptoms and the risk of thinning bones so it was necessary to find out more to investigate the latest developments in the treatment of osteoporosis and to devise a bone-strengthening exercise plan. For some young women a hysterectomy or womb removal brings on an early menopause, with the resultant upheaval in hormone balance. That means women as young as 30 are in danger of bone thinning, and even when the ovaries are not removed, they cease to function in the majority of women within 2 to 4 years after the hysterectomy. During the1970’s the medical profession paid little regard to menopausal symptoms and most doctors had barely heard of osteoporosis. Thinning bones were regarded as just a consequence of growing old. However in the 1980’s from America came news about HRT, with its claims of being an effective treatment against short and long-term effects of the menopause.

Doubts were cast over the original HRT amid fears that it might cause cancer of the womb lining, (endometrial cancer) and the treatment was refined. As a result oestrogen was combined with progestogen, so that women would experience a monthly “breakthrough bleeding”, a regular shedding of the womb lining. Only those who had had a hysterectomy were then being prescribed “unopposed oestrogen”.

Even back then women were worried about the findings; they wanted to keep strong bones but were concerned about the possible hazards of taking a drug regularly for many years, with some who had experienced breast cancer uneasy about taking HRT. Others with a history of non malignant lumps and cysts had heard controversy and possible associated risks from HRT long term. Some women gave up after 6 months because of fluid retention, weight gain or breast tenderness, while others found the return of periods unacceptable. Certain medical conditions precluded certain women from the treatment so there was a dilemma – what were they to do?

Back in the 90’s when I joined the 50 plus age group, I could understand their concerns. The long term, large scale research findings of the US and UK trials were yet to come, and many women experiencing unwelcome side effects had a dislike of a taking drugs long term, and many had realised that taking hormone treatment was no antidote to the odd aches, pains and stiffness of growing older.

Many people dislike taking medicinal drugs on a long term basis. And whilst a short course of steroids is unlikely to have a bad effect on bones a continual need for steroids can be a problem. For instance when they are taken regularly as a treatment for arthritis or to prevent asthma there is no way of predicting who will or will not lose bone through taking steroids over a long period of time. After more research I concluded that if HRT was off my agenda, then exercise designed specifically to strengthen bones must be my top priority. So I devised a regime of Bone Boosting exercises that also boost muscle, and which combined with a calcium rich diet offered protection from osteoporosis and helped maintain strong bones.

I walk regularly, winter and summer, drizzle and shine, take my exercise classes and lead an active life. Research continues into bone-strengthening exercise, and the long-term effects of taking Hormone Replacement Therapy and, on diet, nutrition and natural alternatives. I try to keep up with the research developments in drug and hormone treatments, plus the latest medical findings on the disease itself, plus the sport and leisure activities that will give our bones a ‘boost’.
If you do want what I want – to be able to enjoy life into ripe old age – then it’s all here on my website. The result of my investigations into osteoporosis and other health related issues including advice on diet, exercise, medical treatments and natural alternatives appear in various articles. I hope you find them helpful.