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Bone strength may not be the sexiest New Year Resolution, but it’s top of my list since the guys at Osteolabs got in touch to ask if I’d like to try their new, early test for osteoporosis.
I’ve always been concerned about bone loss after breaking two bones. Firstly, I shattered my pelvis in several places in a car crash (the day after my wedding. Yup) and then I broke my arm a few years later while horse-riding.
When I say “concerned”, however, I mean concerned in the way you become about alcohol when a pal is doing Dry January. “Next year.”
But then I lost a tooth and the dentist told me I was losing bone in my jaw that can’t be stopped, but can be controlled. Followed, of course, by menopause and the realisation that my body was – shock, horror – ageing.
Bone loss and me
After my pelvis and arm breaks, I was told that they may cause aches and pains when I was older. Menopause showed me that the comfy cushion of time I had in my 30s has lost some of its padding. I was older. My last check-up showed I was starting to lose height. It was time to take action.
But how? Unlike your skin, you can’t see the impact of time on your bones. Yes, you can ask for a bone density X-ray scan, known as a Dexa scan, at your GP’s office, but with the NHS, you’re unlikely to get one unless you already have a problem.
When it comes to menopause, a Dexa scan is given to:
- women who have an early menopause or their ovaries removed and aren’t on HRT
- post-menopausal women who smoke or drink heavily, have a family history of hip fractures or have a body mass index of less than 21.
None of which are me.
So I was sort of muddling along, thinking about my bones but not really sure what to do or even if I really needed to do anything, when Osteolabs invited me to try their bone density test.
What is Osteolabs?
I know this is the first question you’re asking because it was mine, too! Great minds…
While they’re new in Britain, Osteolabs have been around in Germany for a while now, offering early osteoporosis tests without the need for intrusive X-rays.
They’re also a legit medical operation – partners and research partners include the NHS, Great Ormond Street Hospital and the British Army, as well as the International Osteoporosis Foundation. The test has been clinically validated in several studies, too
What I really like, though, is that their top man in the UK, Christopher Brain, has a personal interest: his wife has a family history of osteoporosis so being able to test for future problems is a priority.
How does the Osteolabs test work?
As Jennifer Aniston would say: here comes the science bit.
Osteolabs is a spin-off from an ocean research centre in Kiel. Turns out that coral reefs and human bones have one thing in common – they need calcium. So the clever boffins in Germany realised the tests they were running on calcium levels on coral could be developed for use in people.
Unlike most tests, Osteolabs is an early detection system so it doesn’t wait until any bone loss has been suffered. It can also be used to check how ongoing treatment for osteoporosis is working.
The test itself is quick and easy. You simply pee in a sample bottle first thing in the morning and send it off. That’s it.
The instructions make it even easier by telling you when in your wee stream to take the sample. (My Scottish in-laws will be wondering why I’m talking about little rivers now!!!!) There are no big, long, complicated words or explanations, neither. Even half-asleep and without my reading glasses, I managed to follow it to the letter.
You also have to fill in some medical details, such as any medications you’re on – and that proved very interesting, as you’ll see – as well as whether you’ve started going through the menopause.
What do the results show?
After a few days, you’ll receive a PDF of your Osteolabs test results, featuring a summary and then more in-depth analysis. Like the instruction leaflet for the OsteoTest itself, it is all easy reading, with no complicated medical jargon.
My results certainly made me sit up. My bone health was borderline – but the negative part of borderline and certainly below the level it should be for a woman my age. The calcium level in my body was within normal range, but again it is the lower levels of this range.
There were also remarks about the medication I’m taking. I’m on Oestrogel and the Mirena Coil for my HRT, but I’m also on Sertraline because of my PMDD symptoms when I was on previous forms of progesterone. And it appears that could be hitting my bones…
Why do you need to know about bone strength?
If you don’t have strong bones, you’re at greater risk of breaking them. It’s as simple as that.
It comes down to the density – and I love this image! It’s like watching a bone go from a Wispa bar, all thick and dense and strong, through the lighter, bubbly Aero range and right down to a Crunchie. We all know how easily Crunchies snap and break compared to a Wispa. Well, that’s the same with your bones.
It’s not just the physical aspect, however. Breaking a bone from a fall can have a huge impact on your mental wellbeing, too. I remember freaking out after breaking my arm and feeling very fragile for a long while after.
When you’re older, a fall or a fracture takes on even more significance. Many people become isolated, fearing going out for hurting themselves, and life expectancy drops. In fact, falls are the most common cause of injury-related deaths in people over the age of 75. And yes, the impact is stronger on women.
By taking action early, you can help prevent:
- bone fractures
- back pain
- the “dowager’s hump”
- losing height.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease and is huge problem both for the individual and the UK. Around 500,000 people need hospital treatment per year, while it costs the nation more than £4.4bn.
Bone, like coral, is a living tissue that needs to be fed with the right nutrients and lifestyle to grow and thrive. Osteoporosis develops when something happens to change the structure of the inside of your bone, causing them to become weak and brittle. It’s a silent disease because usually, it isn’t detected until after a break has happened.
All of us lose bone mass as we get older, but women are more affected because of menopause. If you want to find out more, check out my article on osteoporosis and bone loss here.
What has my test taught me?
While I knew I needed to think about my bones, seeing details in black and white (and colourful graphics) really hit home. I was coasting along, thinking I was looking after my body by – well, basically, by knowing that “someday” I needed to start looking after it. In truth, it was more a case of: out of sight, out of mind.
Since getting my results, I’m now more focussed. I’m weaning myself off Sertraline (please don’t ever go cold turkey with anti-depressants) and taking a good calcium and Vitamin D supplement.
I’m exercising properly. I have a personal trainer, the fantastic Sebastian Scordamaglia in Canterbury, and am working on weight-bearing and resistance exercises, which can help strengthen your bones. So that’s weights, resistance bands, balancing, running, walking, cycling… I’m loving it, too, and for the first time I’m viewing exercise as future-proofing myself, of loving my body, rather than something you just have to do.
Unfortunately, Omicron came along not long after my results so the chance to discuss them with a GP has gone out of the window at the moment. But I will.
Until then, Osteolabs has helped me feel more confident that I can take action now. Hopefully, I can not only save my bones, but also save the over-stretched NHS from treating me for osteoporosis or breaks in the future.
The more I research and learn about menopause, the more I’m convinced it’s the time for women to start building their arsenal for future years. Osteolabs’ test should be part of that arsenal.
To find out more, visit Osteolabs. And if you use the code OSTEOSENSE20, you’ll get an impressive £20 off the price of a test until 30 April 2022.
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Has menopause given you trouble with your bones? Let me know in the comments below. And if you need help with understanding menopause, why not arrange a one-to-one phone or Zoom call with me to talk it through. Details here.
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