Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“Sorry, WebMD, Weight-Bearing Exercise Didn’t Help My Bone Density, Jumping Did.”

Bad news from last year’s DXA scan. My readings, which had floated around in osteopenia territory for years, had dropped. My right femur was down 5.2% compared with the previous reading and my spine was now osteoporotic, suggesting an increased risk of fracturing a vertebra.

Two factors, I think, accounted for this startling and unwelcome change. First, I think my dosage of Synthroid, which I need for my hypothyroidism, had been kept too high for too long. My doctor didn’t want to lower the dosage because my TSH was within the normal range, though just barely under hyperthyroid, for several years. It turns out that too much Synthroid can cause bone loss. Secondly, when the media came out with scare stories about how taking too much calcium supplement can contribute to heart disease (and where’s the evidence for that?), I foolishly cut back on the amount I was taking. The body is a proficient scavenger; if you don’t give it what it needs, it uses up what it has, in this case calcium in the bones.
Clearly, this trend needed to be reversed as soon as possible. The standard treatment for osteoporosis is one of the bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax or Boniva but, according to ConsumerReports, these are only modestly effective and can have dangerous side effects. A friend of mine took one of these drugs and experienced osteonecrosis of the jaw, in which the jawbone disintegrates and the teeth fall out. Not for me!

Fortunately I discovered some articles about the research of Dr. Larry Tucker of Brigham Young University and others, which involved jumping to increase bone strength in the hips. (See earlier post, “Maintaining an Imperfect Body: the Mini-Workout") The jumping routine is supposed to work for hips but the researchers say it doesn’t do anything for the spine; I decided it was an ideal opportunity to test the notion that weight-bearing exercise can help bone density. For the six months from 9/15 to 3/16, I did the jumping routine for 20 minutes, twice a day. During the same period, I did weight-bearing exercises for the back at a fairly intense level: 50 pushups, low rows with up to 80 pounds of weight, back extensions holding up to 30 pounds of weight. I also went back to a higher dosage of the calcium supplement.

When I had another DXA in March of 2016, the hip readings had stabilized but the readings for the spine had gone down 4%. If I had waited two years to do another DXA, the usual recommendation, I could have lost 16% from the bone density in my spine! Clearly, the heavy-duty weight exercises either hadn’t done anything or hadn’t done nearly enough for my spine.

What to do? Impact exercises had worked for the hips so perhaps I needed an impact move that would help the spine. In March I came up with a new exercise to target the spine and started using it for 15 minutes, twice a day. The results so far are promising but I’m not going to put it online until I’m sure it works. Stay tuned!