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Women Need More Vitamin D to Protect Bones

By (BI) Catrina Ahlbach

Women are being urged to protect their bones from osteoporosis by ensuring they get enough vitamin D, in a campaign launched Tuesday by the charity Women's Health Concern.

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. Yet there is increasing evidence that many at-risk women have inadequate levels of vitamin D, even if they are being treated for post-menopausal osteoporosis or have already broken a bone. In one recent UK study, vitamin D inadequacy was present in 97% of hip fracture patients.

"These findings are very worrying," said Karen Winterhalter, executive director of Women's Health Concern. "Bone fractures take a terrible toll - especially after the menopause - and many could be prevented with lifestyle measures and proper treatment." Each year in the UK, over 180,000 women break a bone as a result of osteoporosis. That is equivalent to one fracture every three minutes. From the age of 50 onwards, half of all women will suffer a broken bone. After the menopause, women who have had one fracture are at least twice as likely to suffer another. But as osteoporosis has few symptoms other than fracture, many are not aware that they have the disease.

"Most people already know that calcium is important to protect their bones but fewer are aware of vitamin D's contribution to bone health," says Ms Winterhalter. "We want to make women aware of osteoporosis, let them know about the benefits of vitamin D and encourage them to make sure they are getting enough."

Vitamin D plays a vital role in ensuring that the body can absorb calcium from the intestine. Unlike calcium, vitamin D is not readily available from the diet. To get the required daily amount of vitamin D from diet alone, an adult would need to eat nine eggs or drink 30 litres of milk. Vitamin D is often called "the sunshine vitamin" and exposure to sunlight is the most important source. However, as people grow older, the body's ability to convert sunlight to vitamin D decreases.

"Vitamin D inadequacy does appear to be a risk factor for bone fractures as people get older, and simple steps can be taken to correct this," said Dr Richard Keen, a senior lecturer in medicine and director of the Metabolic Unit at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, London. "Even if post-menopausal women are already being treated for osteoporosis, vitamin D is often overlooked. Patients should ask their GP or the Practice Nurse about the importance of vitamin D to bone health." He also advises all women to take of general health measures that have a positive effect on their bones. These include regular, weight bearing exercise, eating a healthy diet that is high in vitamin D and calcium, avoiding excess alcohol, and avoiding smoking.

As part of the campaign, patient leaflets, nutrition guides and posters will be available to GP surgeries around the country. action4osteoporosis is a Women's Health Concern campaign, sponsored by Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited, a pharmaceutical company with an interest in the treatment of osteoporosis.

More information about osteoporosis and other women's health issues is available from WHC's nurse counsellors by email via Women's Health Concern's website at www.womens-health-concern.org

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