For years, the medical community has talked about the link between osteoporosis and fibromyalgia. The theory was mostly tied to the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Because of the widespread musculoskeletal pain, those suffering with the disease usually have lower levels of activity. And like osteoporosis, fibromyalgia affects women more than men.
Before we examine the possible link, let’s look at what osteoporosis is. Osteoporosis is often called a silent disease because many people have no symptoms in the early stages. Many don’t even realize their bones have become weak or brittle until they have a fracture. Once the disease is in its advanced stages, patients may have wrist, hip or vertebrae fractures, back pain, poor posture and they may notice a decrease in their height.
Since women are more likely to be affected than men, one of the main causes of the disease is a part of menopause—estrogen loss. Other diseases like Cushing’s Syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis may lead to osteoporosis. People who don’t get enough calcium are also at risk. For some, osteoporosis is due simply to age or genetics. Your risk factors are increased if you are a smoker or if you take certain drugs like prednisone.
While doctors and scientists have not been able to pinpoint a cause for fibromyalgia, an article in a recent edition of Rheumatology International is claiming a definite link between osteoporosis and fibromyalgia. The article, “Bone Mineral Density Is Decreased in Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” says recent studies that show fibromyalgia patients have decreased bone density at the lumbar spine. This puts them at risk for osteoporosis.
Four studies involving 680 fibromyalgia patients were investigated. Not only was bone density measured at the spine, it was also measured around the top of the femur bone in the legs. The study showed that bone mineral density in the lumbar area of the spine was significantly decreased for fibromyalgia patients when compared to healthy people. The study found no differences in the leg area. The researchers said the study was limited because not all previous studies were included because not all the studies addressed the same bone regions. In addition, researchers encouraged further studies to further evaluate the link between the osteoporosis and fibromyalgia.
Preventing osteoporosis with exercise
So, what should patients with fibromyalgia do to prevent osteoporosis? The advice is the same for healthy people but it is challenging for those suffering with fibromyalgia. Exercise is one of the recommendations. Because of the fatigue and achiness, many fibromyalgia patients struggle just to do everyday tasks. But you don’t have to join a gym or start jogging because even the simplest of exercises can help improve bone mineral density. One simple exercise is climbing stairs. You don’t have to run up and down them—just go up and down one stair. While walking may seem like a chore, even a short 10-minute walk can have benefits.
As you age, you lose muscle mass so strength-building exercises are recommended. Again, you don’t need to build a weight room in your basement. Get a set of one, two or even five pound weights if you can handle them. Search online for a set of exercises that you feel you can do once or twice a week. Also, look for ankle and wrist weights and exercise bands.
The role of Vitamin D and calcium
In several studies, researchers and doctors have surmised that increasing Vitamin D levels can help with fibromyalgia symptoms. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium, a mineral that doctors say is needed for strong bone mass. This perfect as it can help both osteoporosis and fibromyalgia. While you can get both from supplements, you can also make some changes in your diet to make sure you are getting enough. Good sources are:
- Dairy products, including those that are low fat or fat free. If you don’t like dairy or are lactose intolerant, you can use soy milk.
- Some orange juices include calcium.
- Vegetables with dark green leaves, such as kale.
- Salmon is a good source calcium and Vitamin D.
- Liver and egg yolks.
Other ways to prevent osteoporosis
- Decrease or eliminate the number of soft drinks in your diet. Many studies have been done with some suggesting that the ingredients in soft drinks prevent the absorption of calcium while some believe a calcium deficiency is created because people choose them over milk.
- If you are a woman, stop smoking. Research has shown that smoking has an effect on the estrogen in a woman’s body.
- Researchers have also linked moderate to heavy alcohol use to low bone density. Try to limit alcohol to two drinks a day.