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Preventing osteoporosis - take action now

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Because anti-epileptic drugs affect the way calcium is metabolized by the body, women with epilepsy are advised to think about their long-term bone health from the word go. Women in general, who have a one-in-three chance of developing osteoporosis (thinning bones) in later life, are advised not to wait until their fifties but to start taking action in their thirties if the skeleton is still forming. For the woman with epilepsy, though, this could be a concern which starts with drug treatment. Osteoporosis in the UK affects 3 million and causes more than 200,000 fractures a year, around 40 of which a day prove fatal. If you're concerned, you could contact the National Osteoporosis Society for further advice; and a bone density scan is available on the NHS to all at high risk of osteoporosis.

Meanwhile, healthy habits to carry you through into old age include looking after your diet, exercise, and menstrual health, in addition to avoiding dangers.

Diet. Apart from following general healthy eating guidelines, the key nutrient is calcium, which builds and maintains bones. The best sources are dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt - low-fat varieties usually contain as much calcium as full-fat ones. Other good sources are bony fish such as sardines, tofu, watercress, nuts, seeds, carbonated water, baked beans, and dried fruit such as figs. Calcium supplements are also available, but discuss this with your doctor 1st - on the whole, calcium is best absorbed with food, and as part of a varied, balanced diet. You also need vitamin D to help you absorb calcium; around 80 per cent of our intake comes from daylight, but it is also found in full-fat dairy products, fortified cereals, margarine and low-fat spreads, oily fish such as salmon, tuna and fish liver oil, and eggs.

The right exercise. Bones stay strong by being used. Weight-bearing exercise is best, which means anything which loads bones, such as aerobics, dancing, jogging, ball sports, and brisk walking. Studies show a significant difference between those who took little exercise and those who walked seven miles a week - that's half an hour a day outdoor exercise. Don't overdo it, as very intensive training may weaken bones, particularly if you're not eating enough -athletes and dancers are at high risk of osteoporosis.

Periods. Anything which impairs periods needs attention because the sex hormones are the most important factor in osteoporosis, and if you diet to excess you can lose your periods. This can apply to normally 'slim' women in addition to women with anorexia if periods are light or missed. In any case, this can be more difficult for women with epilepsy who are more prone to irregular periods. Make sure you eat a healthy, regular diet, and again consult your doctor for further help.

Avoid dangers. Dangers include common health enemies such as smoking, too much alcohol and too much caffeine from tea, coffee and cola, which can all deplete bone density. Fizzy drinks are high in phosphorous, which can upset the body's calcium balance. Laxatives and bran fibre can increase your loss of calcium and other nutrients. Finally, stress, in addition to triggering seizures, can also be bad for bones as it causes the release of adrenaline into the body, and too much adrenaline has a harmful dissolving effect on bone.

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