Sunlight can help prevent bone damage in women
Manama, February 15, 2010
Women in Bahrain and its GCC neighbours are suffering potentially-crippling long-term bone damage - by covering up or staying out of the sun.
Half of all post-menopausal women in Bahrain are suffering from thinning of the bones, says an expert.
About 20 per cent, twice the international average, have osteoporosis, a condition in which bones lose density and mass and are extremely fragile and prone to fracture.
'Generally osteoporosis occurs in nine to 10pc of the population, but in the GCC we have found it is almost double that, but we need more studies,' said consultant orthopaedic surgeon and Bahrain Osteoporosis Society president Dr Jamal Saleh.
'We think the main reason for osteoporosis is because of vitamin D deficiency among Bahrainis.
'We think because of the heat, people run away from the sun and many are covered. The lack of sun exposure results in a vitamin D deficiency.'
Dr Saleh explained that calcium can't be absorbed without vitamin D and therefore vitamin D deficiency leads to osteoporosis.
He said although most people in the GCC had a reasonable intake of calcium, regional studies had shown that 85 per cent of the population had experienced some degree of vitamin D deficiency.
In addition to a lack of sun exposure and vitamin D deficiency some genetic elements were also responsible for such a prevalence of thinning bones in the region, he added.
Dr Saleh explained that it was crucial to have a proper intake of vitamin D because it was not only responsible for bone health but also helps support the immune system.
'Many regional and international studies link a lack of vitamin D to chronic diseases such as diabetes and the spread of some cancers,' he said.
'In females with breast cancer we found the disease spread quicker because of immune deficiency.'
To combat vitamin D deficiency in the region doctors are trying to encourage people to expose 40pc of their body, such as arms and legs, to the sun for 15 minutes a day, said Dr Saleh.
'Vitamin D is made of some kind of fat and forms on your skin, so after exposure to the sun you should wait about two hours for it to be absorbed by the skin, if you wash with soap immediately after sunbathing you will wash it off,' he said.
Those who are unable to sunbathe may need to take vitamin D supplements by tablet or injection, said Dr Saleh.
It is also advisable to consume dairy products, follow a healthy diet and exercise daily or at least have a brisk walk three times a week.
People should avoid consuming excessive amounts of caffeine, smoking too much and have no more than three units of alcohol a day, he added.
Dr Saleh was speaking on the sidelines of Bahrain's first International Osteoporosis Foundation Osteoporosis Diagnosis Course with Densitometry Certification, which concluded at the Movenpick Hotel yesterday.
More than 250 consultants, radiology technicians, nurses and nutritionists attended the two-day event, which was organised by the Bahrain Osteoporosis Society, in collaboration with Pan Arab Osteoporosis Society (PAOS), the Ministry of Health and was sponsored by National Bank of Bahrain.
Dr Saleh explained that having the course in Bahrain was an important step in combating osteoporosis because it was an opportunity for radiology technicians to be trained on how to use a Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEX) scan, which was used to measure bone density.
There are six DEX scans in Bahrain and before this course very few had sat the densitometry exam, said Dr Saleh.
'If they don't know how to conduct the scan properly it can give a false reading and if it's not accurate, the way we treat the patient will be wrong,' he added.-TradeArabia News Service