Healthy Focus

Keep Your Joints Jumping: Bone Health Basics

Think of your joints as the hinges on your front door. With people coming in and out all day, slamming the door, eventually those hinges start to creak a little each time they’re used, or maybe some of their screws aren’t as tight as they should be.

It’s the same with your joints, the places where cartilage and ligaments help cushion the bones from rubbing against each other when they connect, and your bones, which protect your innards from injury. Your bones are constantly changing, breaking down old bone and building new bone, and, from time to time, they need a little TLC to keep doing their job.

Women at risk

In general, women experience joint and bone problems more often than men. Nearly one-half of women will suffer a broken bone as a result of osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and makes them susceptible to breakage. Only 25 percent of men are likely to have the disease, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Women are also at higher risk of osteoarthritis, which sets in after the breakdown of cartilage in a joint. (Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the joints, and is rarer than osteoarthritis.) Women typically develop osteoarthritis in their hands, knees, ankles or feet, while men experience it in their wrists, hips or spine.

You’re at higher risk for osteoporosis and other joint and bone disease if you:

  • Regularly participate in high-impact activities, such as racquetball, running or hard-court tennis
  • Have already gone through menopause
  • Are overweight or do not exercise

Arthritis prevention

Dr. Mark Cutright

There’s no way to reverse arthritis once it begins, says Dr. Mark Cutright, Orthopedic Surgeon with Innovative Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. But there are plenty of things you can do to ward off and help alleviate arthritis. “Some people believe if they exercise more, they will wear out their joints quicker,” says Dr. Cutright. “But I feel that exercise is beneficial.”

The type of exercise you do is important. Low-impact sports such as swimming, walking and using equipment like a StairMaster may be kinder to your joints over the long haul than high-impact sports.

Stretching before exercising, and stopping if you experience joint pain while exercising, are essential steps. If you do high-impact or weight-bearing exercises, it’s a good idea to give your body a day’s break between work-outs. You want to aim for exercising five days a week, for at least 30 minutes a day, says Dr. Cutright, so it’s better to alternate low-impact sports with some of the higher-impact activities.

Walking on softer surfaces and wearing the proper shoes are also good preventive steps. Alternative medicine expert Dr. Cutright recommends walking sticks because they help distribute weight evenly, protecting your joints, and help you burn more calories while walking (because the upper body gets a workout too).

Dr. Cutright urges his patients to stay away from running. While it hasn’t been shown to cause arthritis, running does contribute to joint wear and tear more than other forms of exercise, he says.

Eating for your bones

Preventive joint and bone health isn’t just about exercise, but diet as well.

“I do not think many Americans get a balanced diet,” says Dr. Cutright. As a result, he recommends a multivitamin to help make up for any deficiencies.  He also urges his patients to avoid drinking soft drinks. Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University suggests that the ingredients in soft drinks may lead to increased incidence of osteoporosis in women, although not in men.

Of all the minerals and vitamins, calcium and vitamin D are the most essential for bone and joint health. Calcium helps build bone mass and prevent loss of bone mass.

While one study from the Washington University School of Medicine suggests that dietary calcium may do a better job of preventing disease than calcium from supplements, Dr. Cutright says either one will work. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that woman ages 19 to 24 get 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily. For women 25 and older, the daily requirement is 800 milligrams.

Some experts recommend a glucosamine supplement in addition to calcium and vitamin D, but the jury is still out on how much the supplement impacts joint health. A study from the University of Utah School of Medicine found that glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate offered some pain relief for patients with severe arthritis, but not for those who had mild pain. “I recommend people try it for three months and then stop and see how they feel,” says Dr. Cutright.

4 ways to boost bone and joint health

  1. Exercise regularly, doing low-impact activities such as walking or swimming.
  2. Eat a balanced diet.
  3. Cut down on soft drinks.
  4. Take calcium and vitamin D supplements.

Self Defense: Protect Yourself Against Gynecologic Cancers

Dr. Paul Locus, OB/GYN

Gynecologic cancers may not attract the level of public attention that breast cancer gets through its widespread pink ribbon campaign. But awareness of these women-only cancers is just as important because early detection and targeted treatments, as well as increased patient initiative, can help produce better outcomes, say physicians.

“I cannot overemphasize the need to be seen by a gynecologic oncologist [for a gynecologic cancer],” says Dr. Paul Locus, OB/GYN. “It’s not enough to be seen by a general gynecologist if you have cancer. In situations like these, patients need to be proactive in their care, which improves their chances of success and survival.”

Know the symptoms

The main types of gynecologic cancer—cervical, endometrial, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar—can produce a variety of symptoms that range from none at all to severe problems.

With cervical, uterine and vaginal cancer, many women notice irregular bleeding, such as bleeding after intercourse or between menstrual cycles, and unusual discharge. Post-menopausal spotting or bleeding or unusual discharge can indicate endometrial cancer. Vulvar cancer, on the other hand, is often not characterized by pelvic pain or pressure, but instead itching or burning of the outer genital organs and sores, warts or rashes.

Ovarian cancer has long been considered a “silent” killer, but research now shows that the disease may produce symptoms, including irregular bleeding, bloating, abdominal pressure or pain, feelings of fullness, increased abdominal girth, back pain, persistent nausea or indigestion, unusual discharge, and changes in bowel or bladder habits such as frequent urination, irritable bowel syndrome or constipation.

“If patients have these symptoms and they persist, they should see their doctor,” says Dr. Locus.

Effective treatments

As with other cancers, treatment for gynecologic cancers typically involves surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Surgery is often the first step because it allows your physician to remove as much of the cancer as possible, determine its stage and then recommend further treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation or both.

Gynecologic cancer treatment is also becoming more and more individualized. “That’s where healthcare is going, and that’s where cancer care is going,” says Dr. Locus. “We’re getting an increasingly specific understanding of the particular [cancer] in question in an individual as it relates to her medical history, genetics and other things. This is why a multidisciplinary approach is so important, because the physicians all have insights that can potentially bring value to that individual case.”

An ounce of prevention

The best strategy for heading off gynecologic cancer, say doctors, is good overall healthcare habits like maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and eating a nutritious diet. In addition, schedule routine pelvic exams and Pap tests to help detect precancerous changes to the cervix. There are no screening tools for other gynecologic cancers, although a pelvic exam can sometimes detect lesions or other unusual changes.

Knowing your family history is also critical. “If a woman has a strong family history of breast, ovarian, uterine or colon cancer, she should bring that to the attention of her primary care or gynecologic physician so she can be appropriately questioned and screened,” says Dr. Locus. “If you are found to be at an elevated risk, there are preventive strategies such as surgery, hormonal management and more frequent screening [that can be used].”

The HPV vaccine and gynecologic cancers

The human papillomavirus, or HPV, causes nearly all cervical cancers and some vaginal and vulvar cancers. In addition, more than half of all sexually active people will contract the virus during their lifetime.

While HPV often has no symptoms and goes away by itself, it can also linger and create abnormal cells, boosting your risk for gynecologic cancers. The HPV vaccine, a series of three shots that protect against the virus, is now recommended for girls starting at age 11 or 12, and for teens and women ages 13 to 26 who did not receive the vaccine at a younger age.

If you’re 30 or older, your doctor may recommend an HPV test along with your Pap test to check for the virus and screen for cervical cancer.

 Autumn Harvest Skillet Dinner

 Try a mild, sweet apple such as a Golden Delicious or Fuji in this robust, colorful entree.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 large sweet apple, cored and diced, unpeeled
1 tablespoon flour
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks (3 thighs)
1 cup sodium-reduced chicken broth
1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into ½-inch chunks
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon hot smoked paprika or 1/2 teaspoon paprika plus 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon crushed dried thyme
¼ teaspoon pepper

Heat oil over medium heat in large, heavy-bottom skillet. Add onion, bell pepper and apple. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally. Spoon vegetables and apple onto a plate and set aside.

Sprinkle flour over chicken and toss gently to coat. Place chicken in skillet and cook 3 to 5 minutes to brown. Pour in broth and scrape up browned bits in bottom of skillet. Stir in reserved vegetables and apple, sweet potato, salt, paprika, thyme and pepper. Stir again.

Partially cover skillet. Cook 25 to 30 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally, or until sweet potato is tender and sauce is slightly thickened.

Makes 4 (1-1/2 cup) servings

Per serving: 306.5 calories / 13 grams total fat / 25 grams protein / 22.5 grams carbohydrates / 81 milligrams cholesterol / 666 milligrams sodium / 3 grams dietary fiber