One of HRT's big selling points its supposed ability to prevent osteoporosis, and so reduce the likelihood of fractures has been seriously undermined by recent American research. This study (see main story) concludes that HRT fails to give any real protection against brittle bones at the time when women are most likely to experience fractures that is, a decade or more after menopause. The study also highlights the fact that falling estrogen levels are only part of the cause of decreasing bone mass.
There is a wealth of evidence to support the other measures you can take to protect yourself and your bones besides the use of a potentially cancer causing drug.Calcium and vitamin D supplements. Researchers in France (N Eng J Med, 4 December 1992) looked at more than 3000 healthy women with an average age of 84. Half were given 1-2g elemental calcium, plus 800 IU of vitamin D; the rest, a placebo. After 18 months, those taking the supplement had 43 per cent fewer hip fractures than the other group. The femoral (thigh) bone density of those in the treatment group rose by 2-6 per cent and fell by 4-7 per cent in the placebo group. An earlier study (BMJ, 7 November 1992), reported that women taking calcium alone reduced the risk of hip fracture by a quarter.
Regular, weight bearing exercise has consistently been shown to stave off bone loss. The BMJ (5 December 1992) estimates that regular exercise reduces the risk of hip fracture by 50 per cent.
Stopping smoking. Cigarette smoking accelerates the destruction of estrogen and so hastens the onset of both the menopause and osteoporosis. According to the BMJ (as above), stopping smoking reduces the risk of hip fracture by 25 per cent.
Cutting down on your intake of protein. Homeopath Miranda Castro says that, as calcium is needed to metabolize protein, a high protein diet means calcium is constantly leeched from the bones. "Osteoporosis is not known in Africa. It is much more common in the West, where protein intake is excessive," she writes in Here's Health magazine (March 1991).
Magnesium and zinc supplements. In her upcoming book Sexual Chemistry (Cedar Books) to be published in January 1994, Dr Ellen Grant cites a study of 19 women taking HRT and magnesium. After eight to nine months, the bone mineral density in the women taking the supplements had increased by 11 per cent. There was no increase in the women taking HRT alone. Bone minerals were still improving after two years of taking supplements. Dr Grant also claims that chronic deficiencies in zinc which is essential for normal bone formation and a co-factor for vitamin D is also a main cause of osteoporosis.