DURBAN: 221012 Leeva Polliah and Dr. Savi Nayiager demonstrating the use of the scan machine. PICTURE: GCINA NDWALANE

Durban - I grew up in awe of my grandmother. She was an independent woman, in many ways ahead of her time.

In pictures she would stand taller than her sari-clad sister and the other women of her generation – widows often thrown together in pictures because they had outlived their husbands and their grown-up children had their own families with whom to pose.

She drove, went to gym and successfully ran her own home business; not common among Indian women of her time.

However, in more recent photographs she’s dwarfed by those same women.

I’ve watched osteoporosis take over and take away much of what gave her pleasure, affecting her work, movement and, ultimately, her outlook on life.

Osteoporosis means porous bones or brittle bones. The density and quality of bone is reduced.

It is common worldwide, mostly among post-menopausal women of Asian and Caucasian descent.

Osteoporosis also affects males after the age of 60.

Risk factors include chronic alcohol intake, smoking, steroids and endocrine causes.

According to a rheumatologist at Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban, Dr Savi Nayiager, the greatest risk posed by brittle bones is that they create susceptibility to fractures, particularly of the wrist, hip and spine.

Globally, one in three women and one in five men are at risk of an osteoporotic fracture. In fact, an osteoporotic fracture is estimated to occur every three seconds.

Nayiager says there are ways in which to prevent and diagnose osteoporosis before it becomes debilitating.

“It’s a treatable condition and with a combination of lifestyle changes and appropriate medical treatment, many fractures can be avoided. This is especially important as people live longer.”

She explains that bones, which are living tissue, provide support for the body, protect the organs, provide an environment for marrow (where blood cells are produced) and act as a storage area for minerals (such as calcium).

Bones are composed of (among other things) bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) as well as bone-reabsorbing cells (osteoclasts).

For people with osteoporosis, bone loss outpaces the growth of new bone.

However, there are drugs which help.

“There is an oral medication that can be taken once a week, while there is also a once-a-year injection, which block the cells that break down the bone. Strontium ranelate sachets daily have a dual mechanism of action. They block bone breakdown and stimulate bone formation.”

If you suspect you have osteoporosis a simple, painless, bone density scan can help make a diagnosis.

Osteoporosis is a painless disease until a fracture occurs. Regular screening is important.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation ( website has useful information.

“The important thing is that people are aware of where they can get help and what is available to them,” says Nayiager. “Often that is the first step.” - The Mercury