I’m five foot nothing, and don’t weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet. I went into menopause on the early side, at 45, and when I did, I got my first bone scan. I know now that it showed I had a 17 percent loss of bone density in my spine and 15 percent in my hip, but my doctor at the time considered these results normal, and she never even called to give them to me.
So a whole year went by where I had no period, no estrogen, and no information. The next year, when my annual scan showed 23 percent bone loss in my spine and 16 percent in my hip, my doctor diagnosed me with osteopenia. She still said it was no big deal, and not to worry about it. She suggested I take calcium, but she didn’t breathe a word about vitamin D or magnesium or exercise or anything else I could do to help myself.
I’ve always been health-conscious. I’m a runner. I teach nutrition. So when I found out I wasn’t as healthy as I thought I was, I freaked out. I also knew there had to be a role for improved nutrition in keeping my bones strong. So I calmed down and got proactive. I started to get myself informed. I read every book I could find with sections on bone density. I searched the Internet. I checked out mainstream and alternative sources. The more I read, the more confused I got, and it started to seem that every new thing I read contradicted the last one. I went to a naturopath, and also to a mainstream doctor at a rehab center who specialized in exercise. That doctor asked for the results of both bone scans I’d had, and he was the one who told me about how much I had lost even at the time of my first scan. Then he told me I had the spine of an 81-year-old woman. I hit the roof. Of course, I’ve never gone back to my original doctor who neglected to alert me to the loss. But I can never get back that year when I could have been doing all the things I’ve since learned to do to prevent any further loss.
I really like my rehab doctor. He is a big believer in HRT, particularly for the first few years of menopause, but I have a knee-jerk reaction against the hormones even though I have no family history of breast cancer. So he listens to all my beefs and works with what I’m prepared to do. The naturopath, on the other hand, was hysterical at the mention of HRT. Even though I can relate to that, I wanted a more balanced, open-minded perspective. With all the information coming at you, in the end, you just have to go with your gut.
So 1 did start taking Fosamax. I increased my running to three times a week. I added in some exercises with hand weights. I take calcium supplements regularly, and other supplements—expensive trace minerals and extra vitamin D—with a bit less devotion. I have alfalfa and some Chinese herbs, and I started using a natural progesterone cream a year ago after I found out the “wild yam” stuff I was using doesn’t have enough active hormone to make any difference.
My diet is totally focused on calcium and my bones. I have a calcium chart stuck on my refrigerator, and I know spinach isn’t as good a source as kale, and so on. I eat tofu every single day. I buy extra-firm, not the jiggly, wiggly stuff, slice it thin, marinate it in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, and pan-fry or grill it. It keeps in the fridge for a week, and I eat some plain for lunch every day. When my students make faces at the thought of tofu, this is what I bring in to let them try—anything marinated this way will taste good—and they always love it. I eat at least one can of salmon every week, bones and all, and broccoli, sesame seeds, fortified soymilk, leafy greens, and so on often enough that I get about half of the 1,500 mg of calcium I aim for each day in my food, without relying too heavily on dairy products.
It’s all paying off. It’s been a year since that second scan threw me into action, so I just had my third bone density scan. It shows I stopped the loss, and recovered everything I’d lost in the year between my first and second scans. I’m back down to 17 percent low from average peak density.
My doctor recommends staying on Fosamax indefinitely. But he knows I can’t stand taking all this stuff, even supplements, even though I haven’t had side effects from any of it. My goal is to maintain my bone density through diet and exercise. So our compromise is that after another year, assuming I’ll be pretty close to normal density by then, I’ll stop the Fosamax, keep up with my diet and weight lifting, and increase my running to five days a week. I’ll get another scan after a year of that to make sure I’m still on the right track.