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July 2015

Exploring the Link: Asthma and Osteoporosis

You might remember this children’s song: The back bone is connected to the neck bone. The neck bone is connected to the head bone. The head bone is connected to … your lungs? It may sound strange. But a recent study suggests a link between bone health and asthma.

Doctor talking with male patient

Measuring bone loss

A group of researchers set out to explore the possible connection between asthma and osteoporosis—a disease in which a person’s bones become weak and brittle. Their study included more than 7,000 adults. During a physical exam, these adults had their respiratory health and bone mineral density (BMD) measured. A BMD test helps determine bone loss.

The researchers found that people with asthma or impaired breathing were much more likely to have lower levels of BMD. Bone loss was most notable in the lower part of the spine, or lumbar area. This link remained even in adults who had never used a corticosteroid for their asthma symptoms. Such drugs may lower a person’s BMD if used for a long time.

So what might be behind this connection? Vitamin D may be the answer. The nutrient helps the body absorb calcium, which in turn builds bone. Without enough of the vitamin, bones can weaken. Past research shows that those with asthma seem prone to a vitamin D deficiency. They may even suffer worse asthma symptoms because of it.

Preventing osteoporosis

If you have asthma, you may already know about the risks of taking a corticosteroid. These drugs hinder the body’s ability to form new bone. Inhaled versions are generally safer than a pill. But you should still take the lowest effective dose possible. Higher doses can lead to osteoporosis. Work with your health care provider to figure out the best choice for you.

You can also prevent bone loss and osteoporosis by doing the following:

  • Take calcium or vitamin D supplements, if needed. Talk with your health care provider about the right dose for you.

  • Eat more foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. You can find calcium in low-fat dairy foods and dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin D is in fatty fish like tuna and salmon. Many foods are also fortified with Vitamin D, such as breakfast cereal, milk, orange juice, and yogurt.

  • Fit in some exercise. The best activities for your bones? Weight-bearing ones, such as dancing, walking, and running. If physical activity triggers your asthma, talk with your health care provider about strategies that may allow you to exercise.

  • Don’t smoke or drink. Smoking can deplete bone. Alcohol can lead to poor nutrition. It can also raise your risk of falling.

  • Talk with your health care provider about having your BMD tested regularly. He or she may recommend one if you are older than age 65 or if you take a corticosteroid.

 

Learn more about osteoporosis with this quiz.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/29/2015
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