Women & Bone Health: Why I Take Calcium

Last summer, this happened:

photo 2

I broke my left 4th metacarpal playing this “children’s” sport:

For those of you who weren’t loyal blog readers yet this time last year, a ball came hurtling towards my face from point blank range during a fateful dodgeball match…I threw up my hands to protect da moneymaker, and the ball shattered my left hand. I instantly knew something was wrong, it wasn’t so much painful as much as it was…discomforting. Something definitely felt out of place. And I was right!

In February (about 4-5 months after getting my cast off), I made my triumphant return to dodgeball.

Though a lot of people thought I was crazy (Hi Mom), dodgeball played a key part in making my post-college life bearable. When I started playing dodgeball, I had few friends left here at home, was living at my parents house, and working an unpaid internship 16 hours a week…that was all I had going for me. Dodgeball gave me a social life, new friends, my first serious relationship, and best of all…I’m pretty good at it! ­čÖé

So back I went, and back I’ve stayed. However, there was a lot of risk involved in returning to this sport that had screwed me so badly just months before.

Because my hand took 10 weeks to heal instead of the normal 6-8 (and honestly, I saw my last xray– it wasn’t even completely healed when I got the OK to get my cast off), my doctor ordered a bone density test and it was determined that I have clinically low bone density, a condition that is referred to as osteopenia. I was on the very cusp of what is considered “osteopenic”, so I wasn’t prescribed any routine medication other than a daily calcium regimen.

The way a bone density test works is a machine measures the density of your hip and spine, then compares it to that of a “young, healthy adult”. This test is obviously normally ordered for women of menopause age or older…The technician at my test was shocked to see a 23 year old getting her bone density checked. The test results in a T-score…if your T-score is between -1 and -2.5 standard deviation below the norm, you have osteopenia. Any lower than 2.5 and you have osteoporosis. I was at exactly -1.1. So basically, when compared to other healthy adults of my same age, my bones are weaker.

When I discovered this, I wrote a blog post about what I thought was the culprit and some ways I planned to keep my bones healthy. My “diagnosis” was kind of a wake up call for me to forget about achieving or maintaining a “goal weight” and start thinking about getting the right nutrients. I also noted that I needed to do more weight-bearing exercise and obviously start taking calcium pills.

calcium

I only know that I have low bone density because I got a bad injury. But with more than half of Americans ages 65 and up meeting the clinical definition of having osteoporosis, it’s better to be safe than sorry when you’re in your 20’s and 30’s and your body is developing (not in the pre-pubescent way…but you know what I mean).

Check out these tips for keeping healthy bones from the US Office of Women’s Health:

1) Get enough calcium each day

The OWH recommends 1,000mg per day. My doctor (and the bone density test technician) said any calcium pill that has both calcium and vitamin D is A-OK. One of my big fat calcium pills is about 60% of my daily recommended intake. I have actually switched to a multivitamin that has 500mg, but it has all the iron and other vitamins I need as well.

silkandcho

toast
Incorporating calcium into my diet has also been key in maintaining my bone health. I switched to yogurt for breakfast and started buying almond milk (which often has more calcium than dairy milk!). The last few weeks, my breakfasts have consisted of 2 slices of toast, each with a wedge of Laughing Cow cream cheese and sometimes with a dollop of grandma’s apricot jam. (Each wedge of Laughing Cow has 10% of your daily calcium!)

2) Get enough Vitamin D each day
sunny legs

ahh! the pale! it burns =P

Vitamin D is my favorite. This is because the best source of Vitamin D (outside of actual Vitamin D pills) is sunshine! Just 10-15 minutes in the sun can give you what you need. OWH recommends 600mg per day. I may be pale, but give me some SPF 70 and I cherish my time in the sun! I am a sun baby for sure.

3) Eat a healthy diet

produce

kale

Kale, black beans, and chicken = recipe for healthy bones?

Protein, vitamins K and C, and several other nutrients are also key in bone health. Leafy greens actually have some calcium, and the WOH suggests lean proteins like poultry and fish.

4) Get moving
baby muscles

Check out those baby muscles!

Weight-bearing activity (anything where your body works against gravity) is best for keeping healthy bones. Walking, running, and lifting weights (a new-ish practice for me – see above) are all activities I do several times per week to keep me strong.

5) Don’t smoke

Never have, never will!

6) Drink alcohol moderately

Well…depends on your definition of “moderate”. I do have more than one drink (usually no more than 3-4) a couple times per week. This is definitely an area that can be improved upon ­čÖé

7) Make your home safe

WOH recommends things like bath mats and less clutter to avoid falling in your home… The main thing I really have to worry about is flying objects:

This may seem like a random topic for a post, but I had a scary encounter last night at dodgeball that has me pretty nervous:

I jammed my thumb pretty badly ­čśŽ It’s currently swollen to about 1.5 times its normal size, is hard as a rock, and is lookin’ all kinds of blue and purple. Heading to the doc in about an hour to get it checked out… lots of happy thoughts please!

When all is said and done, I’m hoping all the precautions I’ve been taking for the past year that I’ve outlined here have served me well and that it’s just a really bad sprain.

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Have you ever broken a bone or had a bad sports injury?

Does osteoporosis run in your family? Start taking calcium!!

Of Injuries, Body Image, and Osteopenia

By the time I post this entry, it will probably have been sitting in my “Drafts” pile for a while.

It’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about, but also kind of a touchy subject, and I didn’t want to be that person who complained that they lost too much weight. Like, everyone hates that person, right? Whoaaa, you’re too skinny? Rough problem to have, buddy. Good luck getting sympathy from anyone on the planet.

The last time I wrote about body image, I mentioned that because I still had my cast that I wasn’t sure what my weight was. When I weighed myself with the cast on, I was a couple pounds over my normal weight, and I figured the cast probably weighed 2 pounds, so I was probably about the same… I was wrong.

Earlier this month, I finally weighed myself cast-free. I was expecting the number to be high, since I had really not felt like I looked my best during the time I had the cast on. I wasn’t running, I couldn’t do any weight training, I basically just did the elliptical and crunches once a week. To be honest, I just felt like crap all 10 weeks that I had that cast. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. I can’t tell you how many times I burst into tears because I dropped a spatula holding my food while trying to cook one-handed.

In reality, I was shocked to see that I weighed 5 pounds less than my normal weight. Evidently, the cast weighed a lot more than I thought.

When I started actively trying to lose weight & get in shape in November 2010, it took me about 5 months to lose 10 pounds. So the fact that I all of a sudden lost 5 pounds in 10 weeks without trying was a *little* disconcerting.

OK, I was freaking out.

But I am a bit of a worry wart, and a hypochondriac at times (WebMD is totally an enabler of this condition, BTW). Most people I expressed concern to said it’s probably just a loss of muscle mass since I’ve been working out less.

Since that initial weigh-in about 3 weeks ago, I have been getting back into my workout routine (Still not running as often as I used to. It’s in the high 90’s here!). The results have been mixed: I keep bouncing back and forth between my post-cast weight, and 2 pounds heavier than that…which is still below normal.

look ma, no cast!

Most girls would be ecstatic at the weight loss, but it came at a cost. Because it took my hand bone so long to heal (10 weeks in a cast, and 3 weeks later I’m still not 100%), my doctor ordered a bone density test. The test indicated that the density of my spine is at a level just low enough to be classified as osteopenia.

Osteopenia is like a stepping stone to osteoporosis. If you have osteopenia, your bone density level is lower than is considered normal, but not low enough to be considered osteoporosis. It is normally seen in older women, and some causes include a lack of calcium and/or vitamin D, not enough (or too much) weight-bearing exercise, and low body weight. Early on in my research about the condition, I learned that I’m in good company:

Gwyneth Paltrow announced a few years ago that she has osteopenia, and there was a lot of speculation about the role her diet played in her diagnosis. She followed a diet that I would consider pretty healthy: lots of whole grains, vegetables, and fish. It also, however, cut out most dairy and red meat. Calcium can come from foods other than dairy (leafy greens like arugula and kale, almonds, etc) but, as the article points out, it seems irresponsible for a diet to cut out an entire food group.

Luckily, my bone density levels aren’t low enough that I need to take prescription medication, but I do have to take this huge sucker 1-2x per day now:

Since finding out about my low bone density, I’ve decided not to worry so much about my specific weight, and more about making sure I get the proper nutrients in my diet.┬áI don’t eat very much dairy, so I’m trying to incorporate almond milk or yogurt into my breakfasts from now on. I also know that I need to get back into my more intense weight-bearing exercises, like running and lifting weights. But looking ahead at this weekend’s forecast, running is DEFINITELY not in my future.

THE TAKEAWAY

The takeaway I’d like my female readers to get from this is that sometimes your head really isn’t in touch with the rest of your body. I felt fat, sluggish, and bloated when I had my cast on, and yet my body was more or less deteriorating. (Dramatic? Maybe….) Even now that I know how much less I weigh, I still find myself struggling with issues of “feeling” fat. I have to remind myself that the best I ever felt and looked was when I was both exercising a lot AND eating a lot. And not just eating a lot, but eating right. As I’ve said before, I don’t like that women aspire to look like a specific super model. Find the weight that is right for you and your body. Whether you fall below the correct body weight, or high above, your body is going to feel the effects.

Have you ever had sudden weight loss? What was the culprit?