Bone weary in America: contraceptives, celiac disease & other osteo-hazards

You might want to start paying attention to your bones.

Even if you’re not an over-50 hard-drinking guy, or a post-menopausal former-smoker gal — even  if you are, say, just a light-complexioned skinny person, your bones want you to understand they might not be able to keep you together forever.

My bones sent that message not long ago by summoning a few other medical markers. Anemia and exhaustion got my attention and lo! we discovered celiac disease. Who knew? Celiac sprue is a genetic condition half the country seems to have, now that it’s gotten half the country’s attention — and confirmed diagnoses are relatively easy to make. Because I am an asymptomatic celiac person, in my case it was just the ol’ bones sending a signal that they would like a little calcium, please.

Yesterday’s New York Times reported another new finding:

Almost half of all women who use a popular injected contraceptive lose a significant amount of bone mass within two years, and researchers now say the greatest risk is to smokers, women who don’t consume enough calcium and those who have never gone through a pregnancy.

A study that followed women who used the birth-control method — a shot of depot medroxyprogesterone acetate, better known as DMPA or Depo-Provera, every three months — found that 45 percent of the users experienced bone mineral density losses of 5 percent or more in the hip or lower spine, researchers said. The study appears in the January issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

More than two million American women use DMPA, including about 400,000 teenagers.

Researchers said the bone loss was of “significant concern” because recovering bone mass can take a long time, and the hip is the most common site for fractures in women later in life.

“We can now tell our patients, ‘Don’t smoke, and take your calcium every day’ — those are modifiable risk factors,” said the senior author, Dr. Abbey B. Berenson, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women’s Health at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. “The flip side is that if I have a patient who smokes, I’m going to be more concerned about giving her Depo-Provera.”

Your bones could be aching for attention even if you’re still none of the above. The World Health Organization now has a nifty new bone-health tool called FRAX to help you figure if you’re at risk for fractures. You can visit their site, plug in country and ethnicity for your personal profile. You can also go to KnowMyBones.com (bones people are having a good time with titles and acronyms) and find out more about healthy bones and how to keep them thus.

Dem bones, as long as you help them, gonna walk around.

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