Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sticks and Stones...

In yesterday's post, I ranted a bit about all the tests one must endure after age 50.

But I neglected to mention one: a bone density test.

When I hit 50, my family doctor told me to undergo such a test. When I asked why, she said it was to get a baseline picture of how my bones were doing.

That way, as I aged, they would be able to measure if I were losing density.

OK, I thought. At this point in my life, I bet my bones are in great shape, I even predicted smugly.

I've been a big milk and cheese consumer all my life. And I've also done a lot of bone-strengthening exercise like running, too.

Well, surprise, surprise. I took the test. A few weeks later, my doctor called, and asked to see me about the results.

What on earth for, I wondered? Why would she need to see me in person to go over what were presumably ordinary  and average bone density readings for a woman of my age?

Well, you can guess the rest. I had terrible readings.  In fact, I had full-blown osteoporosis.

My doctor was shocked and said so. She's never seen such poor density in a woman my age. I was shocked, too, of course. What the heck was going on? My doctor didn't have a clue, so sent me off to see a specialist.

And you know what? The specialist didn't have a clue, either. She questioned me about my diet and exercise patterns. Other than the fact that I'd been a slim, petite person up to that point in time (which is somewhat of  a predictor for poor bone density), she couldn't figure out why I'd have such advanced osteoporosis.

We discussed milk. She admitted that the research around milk and bone density is controversial: in fact, it's looking more and more clear every day that dairy products aren't the great bone-savers that the dairy industy would have us believe.

She had no idea what to do with me. I was too young to go on drugs that help to halt bone deterioration (nothing cures osteoporosis, but these drugs can at least slow down the process). And I was already taking in enough daily calcium through diet.

She had nothing more in her arsenal of helpful advice, other than to suggest I take a daily Vitamin D supplement, and to come back and see her in one year, to be retested.

I have to tell you, I've been angry about the situation ever since.

I'd gulped more milk in my life, drinking it even when I didn't feel like it, all based on the assumption that what doctors told me was true: drink milk for strong bones.  Now, at this point in my life, doctors are starting to say OOPS! Maybe milk isn't particularly good for your bones. Maybe, even, too much milk can cause cancer: prostate cancer  in men and ovarian cancer in women.

What should I do about my children, I wondered? Studies are now linking consumption of milk in adolescent boys to prostate cancer later in life. And my daughter? She needs even more calcium than a boy, according to doctors. But how is she to get it? Too much dairy is no longer looking like a great idea, and calcium supplements in pill form are not proven to even work.

I have struggled with this dilemma ever since getting the test results. I've stopped drinking milk. I feel betrayed by years of misinformation from doctors and industry about milk. And if I have osteoporosis after a lifetime of milk consumption, stopping now can't do me much more harm, can it? That's my reasoning, anyway.

I've compromised with my kids about milk, telling them to drink it in strict moderation, while trying to eat other calcium-rich food sources as well. Beans and canned salmon are just two great sources for calcium that you never hear about...probably because the dairy industry is yelling so loudly about milk.

In many ways, I wish I hadn't had the test. I was going happily along in blissful ignorance. Now, I know how fragile my bones are, yet there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

And I think about my mother. At not-quite 94, she has never broken a bone in her life. She has never drunk milk, either.

She has fallen twice (that I know of) in the last couple of years. Still, no broken bones.

So what is one to make of it all?


  1. Too frustrating for you.

    I have felt marginally guilty for a long time that I have no interest whatsoever in drinking milk. I will now jettison that guilt once and for all! I do eat cheese and yogurt regularly, and I take a calcium supplement (in spite of the controversy about its effectiveness-- I started taking it according to my doctor's instructions and she has not told me to stop!) I attended a nutrition class as part of the prep for my hip surgery, and as a result have started eating a lot more salmon. It really does seem impossible to know what on should eat these days-- either someone is touting some food as a miracle cure, or someone is warning that it is toxic. I'm a big believer in moderation in all things.

    It also never seems fair when the person who is "doing all the right things" to be healthy ends up being afflicted and the one who is more careless about his/her health gets off scott free!

    1. Well, it is a reminder that life isn't "fair." Many people get a bad deal right from birth, so I have no right to complain. But as you and I know, venting is good for the psyche!