Meredith Vieira’s View On Osteoporosis
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
When Meredith Vieira shares her opinions on The View, her audience listens.
Now Vieira hopes women across the country will listen even more closely to her
message about osteoporosis.
“Osteoporosis is the one area of women’s health where we are not proactive
and I’m not sure why,” says Vieira, who is a paid spokesperson for the National
Osteoporosis Foundation's Be Beautiful to the Bone: Know Yourself to
a T awareness campaign. The program is sponsored by Merck & Co., Inc.,
manufacturers of an osteoporosis medication. “We take such great care of our
children and husbands. But we’re just not proactive about our bones – maybe
that’s because there aren’t symptoms or we think of it as an old lady’s disease.”
Osteoporosis is a disease caused by an imbalance in the body’s bone-rebuilding
cycle, resulting in bone loss which can increase a person’s risk of fracture.
In fact, approximately 50% of 50-year-old women will suffer a fracture in their
remaining lifetime. The most common fractures related to osteoporosis are of
the spine and hip.
“My mom, who is 90, has osteoporosis and has had it for many years,” Vieira
says. “When I became menopausal my doctor recommended I get a bone mineral density
(BMD) test. I had never even heard of it to be quite honest. I thought, ‘I’m
in great health, great shape. I have no symptoms. Why do I need this?’ But I
went ahead and did the test anyway.”
Vieira says at first she was “a little nervous” about the BMD test.
“To illustrate how ignorant I was when I had the test done, I asked where I
could change and the nurse told me I didn’t need to take off my clothes,” explains
Vieira, who also hosts Who Wants to be a Millionaire. “They did a test
on my heel, hip and spine, which only took a matter of five minutes. And it
was totally painless. It’s so simple to do.”
Because osteoporosis is a silent disease, the NOF recommends that all women
get a BMD test before age 65. The gold standard for BMD testing is the dual-energy
X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) scan to measure hip and spine bone density.
“DEXA is very easy and very safe,” says Felicia Cosman, the NOF’s clinical
director and an osteoporosis specialist at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw,
New York. “It is extremely minimal in terms of radiation exposure. In fact,
it’s so low you could do it every day.”
From this x-ray doctors learn exactly how much bone mineral your bones contain
can assess your risk for a fracture at some
point in your lifetime. The results are given as a T-score, the comparison of
the patient's bone mass with that of a healthy young person of the same gender
at peak bone mass. The lower or "more negative" the score is, the
greater the risk of fracture.
Scores above -1.0 are considered normal. T-scores between -1.0 and -2.5 reveal
osteopenia (low bone density). Scores below -2.5 indicate osteoporosis.
Vieira found out she has low bone density and is headed toward osteoporosis.
“I don’t have it yet,” Vieira says. “But if I continue to lose bone mass then
I could develop it.”
And Vieira isn’t alone.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the disease and low bone
mass affect an estimated 44 million Americans. Of those, 68% -- or more than
30 million -- are women. Osteoporosis costs the U.S. nearly $17 billion annually
but by 2020 expenditures may exceed $60 billion.
Contributing to this high cost is the fact that without many obvious symptoms,
most people never know they have osteoporosis until they experience a serious
“I had low bone mass and there was some bone deterioration,” Vieira says. “I
was a little freaked out because I didn’t feel any pain. But my doctor told
me that usually there is no pain. So it is important to get tested and find
out if you’re at risk.”
“The truth is that all women and men over the age of 50 are at risk,” says
Cosman. “Everyone once they reach this age needs to engage in a dialogue with
their doctor about specific risk factors for osteoporosis.”
Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- Menopause -- hormonal imbalances can lead to rapid bone loss.
- Low bone mass, as confirmed by a BMD test.
- Family history of osteoporosis.
- Caucasian or Asian ancestry but osteoporosis affects all ethnic backgrounds.
- Thin or small build.
- Smoking or heavy alcohol use.
- Too little exercise or inadequate calcium intake.
- Certain medications, including long-term steroid use.
- Early menopause (before age 45).
Avoiding bad breaks
In terms of the preventive lifestyle measures – Cosman recommends that everyone
has an adequate healthy diet -- supplementing with calcium and vitamin D if
needed. It’s also important to exercising regularly, stop smoking, and to avoid
drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
Vieira is setting her sights on keeping her bones as healthy as possible.
“The good news was there were very simple steps I could take to help rectify
the situation and improve the condition of my bones,” Vieira says. “These included
adding more calcium to my diet. So I’ve added a calcium supplement that I take
every day. And I try to eat as much dark leafy green vegetables as I can – which
I like – being Portuguese I have a taste for kale.”
Vieira also added more weight training several times a week “because it helps
to strengthen the muscles around the bones.”
“And the last step was I went on a medication because my doctor said it was
required for me,” Vieira adds. “But not every woman needs to do this – so it’s
important to make sure you consult your doctor.”
Cosman says there are several types of medications used to treat bone loss,
including estrogens, selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) and bisphosphonates.
There is also a new bone building drug, teriparatide, which is given by injection
and indicated only for people with extremely severe osteoporosis.
The program Vieira follows is designed to arrest the progression and hopefully
reverse some of her bone loss. “And I have every reason to believe that that
will be the case,” she adds.
“If I could urge women to do anything, I would tell them pay attention to the
very foundation of their beauty – their bones -- and to go into their doctor
and be proactive,” Vieira says. “Ask if you’re a candidate for a bone density
test and if you know you are and you’re post-menopausal demand it. Tell them
you really want to know your T-score. Because once you know your score, there
is a lot that can be done.”
For more information about osteoporosis, click here.
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Created: 6/13/2003  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 6/13/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.