The arthritic diseases revolve around degeneration of bone and cartilage, and can be due to infection, trauma and inflammation, or autoimmune degradation of tissue. The word arthritis means, from the Greek, inflammation of a joint, but is not a specific medical term. Not all arthritic diseases present with inflammation, but most involve chronic pain and loss of movement. Arthritis is a serious disease that affects over 37 million Americans, which means one in seven people, or one in three families.

Osteoporosis, which means “porous bone,” is a bone-thinning disease that has affected over 200 million people worldwide. It has been called the “silent disease” because it comes on with few or no warning signs. It is the major cause of fractures, particularly of the spine, hip, ribs and wrist in older persons. Common symptoms include a loss of height, a hunched back, and back pain. While the condition itself is not fatal, it makes bones more susceptible to fractures and can make moving around increasingly difficult. It is important to note that osteoporosis is NOT merely a loss of calcium from the bone. That condition is called osteomalacia. Osteoporotic bone is losing not only inorganic (calcium mineral) density but organic bone matrix made up primarily of collagen and specific proteins.

Q: I’m 50 and starting the “change of life.” I’m very upset that I can’t make a decision about whether or not to take hormones. If I don’t take hormones maybe my bones will all shatter. But if I do take hormones maybe I’ll get uterine cancer. So maybe I should get a hysterectomy. But I could still get breast cancer. Help!

Old age is a consequence of civilization; it is seen seldom in primitive societies and very rarely seen in wild animals. Although in this century the average lifespan of women and men has increased by 30% since the onset of industrialization and by over 300% since Neolithic times, we don’t exactly know how or why aging occurs. We do know that aging is a function of cells ceasing to divide. Some scientists speculate that any given differentiated cell can only divide a fixed number of times (as opposed to a cancer cell, which is undifferentiated, and theoretically immortal in that it continues, unchecked, to divide). The human body has more than 10 million, million (that’s 13 zeroes) cells, all of which are differentiated into nerve, muscle, adipose, etc., and are thus mortal. Given that we all die at some point, the objective now is to maximize the QUALITY of our lives and avoid controllable causes for pre-mature death.