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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Bone Density: A Journey

Maybe you're someone who followed your ob/gyn's suggestion and went straight to your pharmacist to fill a script for one of the existing bone building medications. I know that's what I did--about 15 years ago. My right hip numbers were heading south, and, while falls were not on my radar screen, I had a neighbor who'd had a hip replacement and limped up and down maybe five feet of sidewalk and, as far as I could tell, never got her mojo back.

No body replacements for me!

So, I took my first dose for whatever medication was prescribed (I can't remember the brand) and proceeded to head to a movie. (Again, I have no idea what film we'd hoped to see.) I say hoped because we had to leave in the middle after I got sick with what felt like a bad case of the flu--chills, a fever, a headache that felt like an atom bomb about ready to explode in my brain, and nausea.

I vowed never to take another bone density medication for as long as I lived. If I broke a bone, so be it. Hell, my arm healed right up after breaking it playing football in the alley with friends from elementary school. I was eleven.

Over the years, my numbers on the bone density scale continued in the wrong direction. And after every subsequent bone density test, that same ob/gyn suggested a different medication she was sure I could tolerate. Good luck with that. I refused.

But never say never, right? That's one of life's lessons we older women should have mastered by now. Well, maybe . . .

Three or so years ago, the same physician discussed a bone density medication called Raloxifene. I liked the name. It sounded . . . well, relaxing. It was, she said, used to prevent and treat osteoporosis after menopause by slowing down bone loss and keeping them bones strong and less likely to break. And, by the way, this was the medication she was going to take once she went through menopause.

So, I gave in. And I continued eating a lot of leafy, green veggies, doing weight bearing exercises, and attempting to keep my weight in check. I was on my way to slay osteoporosis.

Raloxifene didn't work. And I was pissed. (You should excuse the expression.) So, I did what I could to prove those bone density tests wrong: I fell over a pot hole in the middle of the street late at night. And, praise the Lord, I didn't break my knee or my hand or anything else. So, all those statisticians could take their research and shove it where the sun don't shine.

I gleefully related the news to my ob/gyn. She was not impressed. And then I went and fell through a door, landed on my butt, and suffered a compression fracture in my spine. Okay, so my doctor could gloat because she'd told me so.

Still, I hesitated. At the urging of my alternative medicine friends, I read a lot, including the following from the National Women's Health Network.

The view that bone density is the one and only risk factor for osteo, and that women with low bone density either have, or will soon develop, osteoporosis, has been widely promoted by marketers of osteo drugs. Because scanning bones to assess their density is easy and relatively inexpensive, it is now a very popular strategy being heavily promoted by osteoporosis drug manufacturers. These manufacturers have bought scanning machines and given them to physicians for free; they’ve paid groups to create guidelines that recommend all women begin bone screening at age 50. They’ve even paid non-profit organizations to publicize toll-free numbers for women to call for the location of a nearby screening machine. Yet, while bone density can be measured, the bone’s strength — and therefore the likelihood of experiencing a bone fracture — cannot be measured. Therefore, the Network recommends that in their 50s reject bone density screening.

Okay, I'm not in my 50s. Damn. But it sure would have been helpful if I'd known all of this when I was. I could have saved myself some money, lots of aggravation, and mucho space in my overstuffed file cabinet.

BTW, I relented and had my first six-month shot of Prolia a few weeks ago. We'll see what happens when I take my next tumble. And because the medication is for men as well as women, I can bet that there will be more studies about its effectiveness and possible side effects. Until women are not seen as little men when it comes to health, we'll just have to hold on tight and watch our every step.


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