Brilliant red flowers from Longwood Gardens
Strong Women, Strong Bones (Updated Version) by Miriam Nelson, Ph.D. with Sarah Wernick, Ph.D. The Penguin Group, New York , 2006 (revised edition)
Miriam Nelson has a series of books whose titles all start with “Strong Women.” I chose this particular one because osteoporosis (porous or thinning bones) is one of the major issues of women in and beyond menopause. Unfortunately, I only learned about osteoporosis while going through menopause. None of my doctors even recommended a bone scan until after the fact. Hopefully, this book will be read by younger women like my older daughter, before bone loss becomes osteoporosis. Since women start losing as much as one percent of their bone mass each year, starting around age 35, when estrogen production slows down, premenopausal younger women need to take note. In fact, the subtitle reads: “Everything You Need to Know to Prevent, Treat, and Beat Osteoporosis.”
The book is divided into four sections, starting with prevention and ending with a workbook and questions. If I were to pick one adjective to describe this book, it would be “comprehensive.” The author has done an excellent job of discussing and delineating the issue of osteoporosis in a logical, easy-to-read format. Since osteoporosis strikes 10 million American over the age of 50 (mostly women) with another 34 million having low bone density, this is not a problem to ignore.
The book is a storehouse of knowledge, so I will just highlight some of the information and assume you will find it compelling enough to read it soon. All of us women lose some bone as we go through menopause; it is a natural result of the change. But too much bone loss can lead to its becoming a major health issue, not just a natural progression. (SeeHealth Flashes for Suza Francina’s and Betty Kamen’s take on osteoporosis.) So all of us, including men, need to pay attention to diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits that help retard bone loss, rather than accelerate it.
In the first chapter Dr. Nelson dispels the myths surrounding osteoporosis, which she calls the silent crippler, since we often don’t have any warning until it’s too late, that is, you suffer a fracture, have an X-ray, and learn you have osteoporosis. She dispels these myths:
#1. Osteoporosis is an old lady’s disease. False, because young people who over-exercise or take steroids for long periods, can develop osteporosis early in life.
#2. After menopause, taking calcium in food or supplments will prevent the big O. Not so. We also need Vitamin D to absorb calcium.
#3. Walking is the best exercise for prevention and treatment. Not true. We need higher-impact aerobic activities and strength training (ex. weight lifting), in addition to walking.
#4.Once you’ve lost bone, you can never get it back. False. A combination of medication, exercise, and nutrition can help you regain bone loss.
#5. Men can’t get osteoporosis. Unfortunately, not true. An estimated two million men have it, although it often goes untreated.
The book dispels these myths as it explores all the ramification sof osteoporosis and provides tools for managing your life in order to prevent further bone loss and possibly rebuilding bone already lost. A large part of the book focuses on different forms of exercise with a comprehensive program, including charts for every level of fitness. This section alone is worth the price of the book.
The author also tackles estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), including the latest studies on the risks of using these medications. There is even a section on alternative treatments (herbs and natural remedies) for bone loss, although she frowns upon relying on these therapies and favors standard medications instead.
Perhaps the biggest assets of this book are the charts for an exercise program and her workbook that includes a bone-friendly shopping list and a food log. Nelson also includes an extensive glossary of terms as well as oft-asked questions with their answers. The book is a very complete guide to osteoporosis. What would be nice is a companion book of recipes that make use of all the information about the importance of diet. Using the bone-friendly shopping list, she could create some menus and recipes to offset the effects of bone loss as we age. (See Kitchen Nutrition for my recipes addressing the Big O.)
However, the book is a great resource and I plan to read the other books in her series. Maybe you should, too!
Below is an example of one of the book’s helpful lists on page 102: “The Best Food Sources of Calcium,” followed by a two-page chart providing the name of the food, the milligrams of calcium, and the calories.
- Dairy Foods-Most are high in calcium. If you wish to limit calories or fat, select low-fat or nan-fat varieties.
- Beans-Soybeans and other beans are good sources of calcium. They’re especially valuable for anyone who needs to limit calories or dairy foods.
- Nuts- Almonds and filberts are good sources of calcium. However, they’re high in fat and calories.
- Vegetables-Green leafy vegetables—including spinach, kale, broccoli, collards, and bok choy—are modest sources of calcium. They’re also low in calories.
- Fruit-Certain fruits—especially oranges and raisins—provide modest amounts of calcium.
- Meat, poultry, and fish- Most contain little or no calcium, but there’s an exception: fish consumed with the bones, such as canned salmon or sardines, is a good source.
- Grains-Unless they’re enriched, grains are not a particularly good source of calcium.