Of course you want to control and treat your asthma symptoms as effectively as you can. But did you know that some asthma medications may compromise your bone health if you take them for an extended length of time? You don’t have to decide between breathing well or keeping your bones strong, though. Just by getting the facts, you can make some educated decisions that will help you to keep your whole body functioning at its very best.

Are You at Risk?

The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 44 million people in the United States suffer from osteoporosis, which is a condition that makes bones weaker and more susceptible to injuries. People who have this disease may find that some of the more delicate bones in their body, including those in their back, wrists, upper arms, pelvis and hips, can become fractured more easily. Women – especially those who have reached menopause -- are at increased risk for this disease. In addition, people who take a long-term course of oral cortisone medications, such as the ones sometimes prescribed for asthma, can also be particularly vulnerable.

Other risk factors include not getting enough exercise, a shortage of calcium and Vitamin D in your diet, a family history of this condition, and smoking and excessive alcohol intake. If you fall into any of these categories, the good news is that there are things you can do to minimize your likelihood of getting this condition.

The Asthma Connection

You may wonder exactly how asthma and osteoporosis are related. The fact is that asthma causes your lungs to become inflamed, so your doctor may feel you need some type of cortisone (also called glucocorticosteroid) medication to prevent and treat the symptoms. Prednisone is an oral form of this medication that is commonly used in asthma patients. But such oral doses can have some side effects that can actually promote the onset of osteoporosis in patients. Here’s why:

  • Some long-term use of oral corticosteroid medicines can prevent calcium and Vitamin D from being absorbed by your body. A shortage of these can make your bones weaker and more susceptible to injury.
  • Corticosteroids in some forms can also reduce the amount of a sex hormone your body produces that also helps to keep your bones and muscles strong.
  • Finally, some asthma patients fear that milk, cheese and other dairy products can trigger asthma symptoms, so they minimize intake of things in this group. In reality, these items usually don’t cause symptoms, and they are actually important for your bone health.

Do Your Body Good

If you want to take steps to protect your bones and keep them healthy and strong, there are some easy things you can do that can make a real difference. First, find out if inhaled corticosteroids may be a good alternative to oral doses to treat your asthma symptoms, since these come with much less risk.
If you must take an oral form of the medication (and even if you don’t), making some of the following lifestyle changes can still help to reduce your risk:

  • Make sure to get enough calcium by eating dairy products such as milk and yogurt. (Ask your doctor how much is recommended for your situation).
  • If you fall short of the guidelines, take a calcium supplement recommended by your doctor. (Not all supplements are created equal.)
  • Consume foods rich in Vitamin D, such as egg yolk, cow’s liver and salt-water fish. (While enough Vitamin D is important, keep in mind that taking too much isn’t recommended, so ask your doctor to help you find the right balance.)
  • Make weight-bearing exercise a regular part of your lifestyle. Activities such as walking, hiking and jogging are good choices.
  • If you are a post-menopausal woman, find out if hormone replacement therapy is a good choice for you to reduce your osteoporosis risk.
  • Learn about the latest medications that are prescribed to prevent and treat osteoporosis when needed.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that there are things you can do to keep your bones healthy and strong for years to come. Always talk to your doctor and get the facts about this condition and follow his or her recommendations for your personal situation. You may also get a simple test to measure your bone density to assess your risk and help make decisions on how best to protect yourself in the most effective way.