Beautiful bones, our structure, our frame. But those beautiful bones may be at risk of breaking if you are one of us who flew during the years when cigarette smoke was a near constant factor in aircraft cabins.
Osteoporosis (porous bones) leads to an increase risk of bone fractures. Beyond smoke exposure, individuals with a small frame (exacerbated by those horrid weight checks) may have an added risk of osteoporotic bone fractures.
Both lifestyle and medical options can help to maintain bone mass and indeed to rebuild those very necessary bones. For current and former flight attendants, here are tips that may help in keeping your bones strong.
- Talk to your health care provider about bone health. Make sure to discuss your occupational exposure to cigarette smoke and low body weight.
- Get a dexa-scan at least every two years.
- Vitamin D, actually a hormone, plays a crucial role in protecting and rebuilding bone. The Endocrine Society’s spokesperson, Dr. Michael Holick reported new guidelines for Vitamin D intake including that, a “tolerable upper limit of Vitamin D intake for everyone over 8 years of age is 4000 I.U.” Check your Vitamin D levels annually, best in winter. The Endocrine Society recommends that a healthy individual should maintain a level between 30 and 60 ng/mL. www.medscape.com article
- Mineral intake is crucial in staving off bone fractures. Calcium, magnesium and zinc are ALL required for healthy bones (1). Vitamin K may also play a key role. Supplements with balanced levels of these and other key vitamins and minerals are available at most stores that sell vitamins. http://www.jacn.org/content/19/6/715.long#sec-12
- The ratio of fatty acids in your diets seems to matter. Relative to Omega -6 fatty acids, an increased intake of Omega 3 fatty acids (the good fats found in cold water-fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring) is associated with bone protection. Both Omega-3 & -6 can be found in other foods including in some cheeses like feta, especially from grass fed goats! http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm
- Weight bearing and resistance exercise are crucial in maintaining or regaining bone mass. Proficiency and practice of Tai Chi or QiGong reduce stress and are reportedly protective against bone loss. Exercise in general, and Tai Chi and QiGong in particular, are associated with increased strength and balance and are protective against falls.
- Be moderate in consumption of caffeine, salt and alcoholic beverages. High consumption is associated with weaker bones.
- Stay attentive to the state of your bones. Bone fractures are not just a matter of pain and inconvenience. They can be debilitating.
Osteoporosis is not inevitable. Take care of those beautiful bones!
By Mardi Crane-Godreau, Ph.D.
Mardi Crane-Godreau was a Pan Am Flight Attendant from 1967 to 1985. She is now a faculty member at Dartmouth Medical School.