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Have you checked your 'bone account' lately?

HEALTH CHECK: Like your bank account, it's important that you are making 'deposits' and 'withdrawals' when it comes to your bones

WHAT CAN you say about your bones? They are working for you every day, but I suspect most of you have not stopped to see if they are in good shape. Bones are organs with special cells which are constantly replacing and re-building their structure. Like your bank account, it's dynamic in that you are making 'deposits' and 'withdrawals' on a constant basis.

One thing you know, off the bat, about bone is that it is hard stuff! It is made up of special high-strength fibres called collagen set up in different designs and covered over with crystals of calcium salts, giving it superb strength. I think our bones deserve the gold medal of all organs. They are long-lasting, strong and flexible and at the same time have the ability to remodel themselves. Speaking of gold medals, the thigh bone of an adult athlete is so strong, that it can bear a vertical load of nearly 2,000lb! Now that's the stuff that legends are built of!

During your childhood and teen years, more bone is laid down than withdrawn, so your bones grow in size and density. By age 20, you have made 90 per cent of your bone mass, and by 30, they have reached maximum strength and density. And now in your 50s and beyond what's the story? Well, as you get older, existing bone in your 'bone account' is broken down at a faster rate than new bone is formed. Does that sound like what is also happening with the funds in your bank account? However, after 50, both men and women lose bone mass, but women lose a greater per cent as oestrogen levels decline. So, in these later years, we have an increased risk of breaking a bone.

Imagine a banker or bailiff turning up at your house or workplace looking for money or to reclaim your possessions when you thought all was well! Well, if your 'bone account' is in bad shape, you could well be in line for an unexpected painful visit of a different kind. Worldwide, every three seconds someone has a fracture from 'thin bones' or osteoporosis. The experience worldwide is that one in three women over 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, as will one in five men.

The recommendation from the US is that all women, beginning at age 65, get tested for osteoporosis, and also those younger, depending on risk factors. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends screening men aged 70 and over, as well as those aged 50 to 69 with risk factors.

So the reality is that you may have it but cannot 'feel it in your bones'. I invite you to take the one-minute risk awareness test at Then have a chat with your doctor and start getting a picture of what your 'bone account' looks like. You really won't like any surprise visits of this kind!

Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston; email:

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