Emilie Damour
June 28, 2017 2:40 pm
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Osteoporosis is marked by reduced bone mass and bone strength, leading to an increased risk of fractures. Nearly 25 million Americans have osteoporosis and 80 percent of the patients are women.

A number of different factors are involved in its development, but the disease tends to run in families. Both my mother and my grandmother were diagnosed with osteoporosis after menopause. Over the years, they have sustained several spinal fractures, which have dramatically affected their quality of life.

So I entered adulthood holding a sword over my head, ready to fight the disease.

I knew I was at risk, but when I developed stress fractures in my foot while simply walking, it came to me as a horrid shock. Osteoporosis was not supposed to happen at such a young age.

Osteoporosis made me reevaluate my lifestyle. It’s a daily challenge, but I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

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By the time she was in her 60s, my grandmother was bent nearly horizontal from collapsed vertebrae. She was in constant pain 24/7. My mother also suffers from compression fractures in her back, and has lost several inches in height as her spine deteriorated over the years.

Having a parent with osteoporosis raises your own risk significantly. I knew the genetic component, but I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about it until I was in my 40s.

I am 29 years old, and I have a very busy life. I work 25 hours a week at one company, and I’m a freelance writer the rest of the time. I am a bit of a modern-day nomad. No permanent address, no furniture, no strings. It’s been almost two years since I’ve signed a lease — I’ve lived out of two suitcases for the past 15 months. I jump from place to place, rely on serendipity, and rarely know where I’ll be six months from now.

One afternoon, I was late to a meeting (and I HATE being late for anything). I started to walk a bit faster, when I suddenly felt an excruciating pain in my left foot. I dragged myself to the nearest bench and cried. Taking my shoe off was extremely painful — something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

If you ask people about osteoporosis, they usually think of it in relation to the spine and hips, or the wrists and ribs. But sudden and seemingly inexplicable foot fractures are often an early sign of osteoporosis.

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I had a bone mineral density test, where a special X-ray measures the amount of minerals in your bones. The results came back, and they weren’t good. I can’t say I was surprised — I never really thought I would avoid the family curse.

Although osteoporosis is rare in pre-menopausal women, fractures and low bone mineral density can occur at a very young age — especially if a person has a strong genetic predisposition to the condition. If I had undergone a test a couple of months (or years) before, maybe I would have known earlier. But I don’t regret it. To be honest, it was kind of nice not being aware.

There are risk factors for osteoporosis that you can control. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D helps to build strong bones. On the contrary, an inactive lifestyle can weaken bones, as can smoking (I don’t smoke), drinking alcohol excessively (I hate alcohol), and taking a variety of medications, including corticosteroids and antidepressants.

When I broke my foot, I spent hours on the internet learning about osteoporosis.

I felt an increasing urge to get a more complete understanding of what was happening to my body, and what to expect in the future.

I scanned countless testimonials from people with the disease, and read as much as I could about vitamins and minerals. I’m not a great cook, and I have zero interest in becoming one, but osteoporosis forced me to reevaluate the way I eat. However, a few weeks ago, I realized I was developing an unhealthy obsession with eating the “right” kinds of food — there is a fine line between discipline and orthorexia. In life, everything is a question of balance.

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I’ve never led a sedentary lifestyle. I don’t have a driver’s license (which explains, at least partly, why I live in Europe), and I walk EVERYWHERE. I can walk hours without getting tired. I am that annoying person in the group who begs everyone to keep up. But I am not sporty — I hated physical education in school with a burning passion. The mere idea of hitting the gym made me want to keel over. However, once my foot healed, I signed up for a yoga class at my local fitness center. My decision surprised myself, but it felt right. It was the right thing to do.

There are other risk factors for osteoporosis that you can’t control: your female sex, your body frame, and your family history of the condition. Some people can do everything right and still develop osteoporosis if they have a strong genetic predisposition.

You accept it, and try to remember everyone is dealing with their own struggles.

I guess life is all about adjusting to those bumps in the road.

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