Eikenberry And Tucker Know The T-Score
By Mike Falcon, Spotlight
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
October 4, 2002 - Married actors Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker played
law partners on "L.A. Law." But now the couple has partnered in a more important
venture -- fighting osteoporosis.
"I had my first bone mineral density test in 1998, and the result was shocking,"
says Eikenberry, 55. "I had a T-score of minus 1.8, which meant that I had an
18% bone loss in comparison to a young, normal, healthy woman."
Tucker was not far behind, to his surprise as well. "Like most men, I didn't
think a whole lot about bone loss," says Tucker, 57. "After all, I felt fine
and nobody can see your bones anyhow, so it wasn't a concern of mine. I just
went in with Jill, but when the doctor said I had a risk factor for osteoporosis
-- I'm a man under 5'7" -- I took the test too and my T-score came out as a
But the news got worse.
Last year Eikenberry went in for another bone mineral density test (BMD) and
her T-score was -2.9. She had moved out of osteopenia -- or relatively moderate
bone density loss -- into true osteoporosis, an all too familiar progression.
Bone is living tissue, with constant "turnover"-- simultaneous tearing down
and building up. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and
caused by excessive tearing down. This leads to increased risk of fractures,
especially of the hip, spine, and wrist.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), 10 million in the USA
have the disease. An additional 34 million are estimated to have low bone mass,
placing them at increased risk for developing osteoporosis.
A serious disease
"It's a serious disease," says Eikenberry, who along with Tucker, are spokespersons
for the "Know Yourself to a 'T'" awareness campaign for the NOF. The campaign
is sponsored by Merck & Co., Inc., which manufacturers one of the medications
used to treat osteoporosis. The campaign includes a public service announcement
produced by Spotlight Health featuring Eikenberry and Tucker.
"About one in two Caucasian women will get an osteoporosis-related fracture
at some time in life," notes Felicia Cosman, a physician and clinical director
of the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). For men, that figure is 25%.
Common osteoporosis-related fractures of the hip and spinal vertebrae are particularly
"They have both a great influence on quality of life and longevity," notes Cosman.
"There's a 15-20% mortality in the following year for those who break their
hips, and 25% of them wind up spending some time in a nursing home as they attempt
to recover. But a lot of women just never get complete recovery."
While osteoporosis-related hip fractures usually result from a fall, spinal
vertebrae breaks may not be noticed initially. But the results will be: A series
of small spinal fractures often results in a permanently stooped posture.
"If osteoporosis goes unchecked it can get to the point where you turn over
in bed and break a rib," says Eikenberry. "Osteoporotic bones can break with
very little prompting - you can get a break when your husband hugs you or you
knock against a piece of furniture."
But loss of bone density mass can often be stopped or even reversed.
"But first you have to find out if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia," says
Tucker. "That means getting a bone mass density test and finding out your T-score."
"It's a simple, quick, non-invasive, and utterly painless procedure," says Robert
K. Rude, a physician and osteoporosis researcher at Orthopaedic Hospital in
Los Angeles. He estimates that nearly 60% of serious fractures and fatalities
could be eliminated if people at risk received BMD testing.
The NOF recommends that all women get a BMD test before age 65. Cosman says
that in postmenopausal women under 65, a careful review of risk factors with
your physician will often prompt earlier testing at menopause. Osteoporosis
risk factors include:
- Fracture after age 50 not caused by major trauma
- Advanced age
- A family history of osteoporosis
- Estrogen deficiency as a result of menopause / abnormal absence of menstrual
- Low lifetime calcium intake
- Use of corticosteroids and anticonvulsants
- Cigarette smoking or excessive alcohol use
- Anorexia nervosa
Defending your life
The gold standard for BMD testing is a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA)
scan that uses ultra-low energy x-rays to measure hip and spine bone density.
The results are given as a T-score, the comparison of the patient's bone mass
with that of a healthy young person of the same gender at peak bone mass. The
lower or "more negative" the score is, the greater the risk of fracture. The
score can also be related as a percentage: -1.5 equates to 15% below normal.
Scores above -1.0 are considered normal. T-scores between -1.0 and -2.5 indicate
osteopenia or bone density that is somewhat low, says Rude. Scores below -2.5
But treatment "should hopefully begin before someone reaches that stage," he
adds. The NOF recommends therapy for women with T-scores below -2.0 and for
women with other risk factors when their score is below -1.5.
For some people with modestly low T-scores, lifestyle changes in diet and exercise
may be helpful in preventing or slowing the disease.
Diets should include plenty of calcium and vitamin D. Both Eikenberry and Tucker
modified their diets to include more leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits. Tucker
currently takes supplemental calcium in pill form.
There are also foods which can negatively impact bone loss. "Excess animal protein
and salt both result in excreting more calcium," notes Cosman. Caffeine reduces
calcium absorption, as can excessive amounts of alcohol.
Weight bearing exercise involves "doing exercise on your feet with the full
weight of your body working against gravity at last three times a week," explains
Cosman. "Weight training, low-impact aerobics, and yoga impact both bone and
muscle, which reduces the risk of falling."
Swimming, cautions Cosman, is not a weight-bearing exercise. While it definitely
helps muscle, it does not affect bone mass accretion.
But even a disciplined diet and an ambitious exercise program doesn't guarantee
bone health. Various types of medications are used to treat bone loss.
- Estrogens -- These are additional "female hormones" that may help
slow or stop degeneration.
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) -- These influence
the way estrogens are used.
- Bisphosphonates -- These can strengthen bone weakened by osteoporosis.
"All these drugs may reduce the amount of bone turnover and prevent bone loss,
and to some extent increase bone mass," says Cosman, "although that's not a
very prominent outcome with all of them."
Eikenberry is currently taking medication, although she doesn't reveal details.
"I don't want to influence someone else's decision. What's really important
is to look closely at your own risk factors, know your T-score, and talk it
over with your doctor. It can literally save your life."
Click here for the National
Osteoporosis Foundation web site. For more information about osteoporosis,
is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns,
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Created: 10/30/2002  - Mike Falcon and Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.