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Jane Fonda health: ‘I hurt a lot’ – star, 84, on her ‘genetic’ osteoporosis

Jane Fonda says you 'remain energetically' when you die

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Starting her film career in the 1960s, Fonda’s career continues to succeed five decades later, with the last series of Grace and Frankie set to premiere on Netflix in 2022. Partly having kept the star on top form is her multiple replacement surgeries – on both knees and hips – which she had done in order to curb her osteoporosis, a condition which her father and brother both have as well.

Speaking in 2019 about the condition, she said: “The fact that I hurt a lot – my body hurts – is a surprise to me, and it’s not because of all that working out.

“It’s genetic. My father [Henry] had it, my brother [Peter] had it. Your cartilage disappears and then it’s bone on bone, and then ‘ow’. But we live in a time where you can just get a new one.

“I was just starting a new relationship and I had to be able to kneel.”
Despite releasing multiple workout videos over the years, which have collectively sold over 17 million copies, a condition such as osteoporosis commonly develops as a part of ageing, meaning Fonda was unable to escape the condition.

The NHS explains that there can be many factors increasing the risk of osteoporosis, with the most common including the following:

  • Taking high-dose steroid tablets for more than three months
  • Other medical conditions – such as inflammatory conditions, hormone-related conditions, or malabsorption problems
  • A family history of osteoporosis – particularly a hip fracture in a parent
  • Long-term use of certain medicines that can affect bone strength or hormone levels, such as anti-oestrogen tablets that many women take after breast cancer
  • Having or having had an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Having a low body mass index (BMI)
  • Not exercising regularly.

Women are also at more risk of developing the condition in the first few years after menopause, or if they have had their ovaries removed.

The condition makes bones extremely fragile and more likely to break, especially the wrist, hip and spinal bones. However, breaks can also happen in other bones. In some cases, even a cough or sneeze can cause a broken rib or the partial collapse of one of the bones of the spine.

For older individuals, osteoporosis can cause a “characteristic stooped posture”, meaning that individuals tend to bend forward. This typically occurs due to bones in the spine breaking, making it difficult for the body to support their weight.

As bones in the spine do not return to their normal shape after being broken, in addition to a change in posture, individuals may also suffer from height loss and ongoing back pain and muscle spasm.

The combined effects of these symptoms can sometimes mean individuals are unable to continue going about daily tasks in the same way they did before.

Before being diagnosed with osteoporosis, individuals can suffer from bone loss known as osteopenia. This is most likely diagnosed after a bone density scan, as results show individuals have lower one density compared to the average of someone else their age, but it is not low enough to be considered as osteoporosis.

It is important to state that not all cases of osteopenia lead to osteoporosis, and at this stage medical professionals can administer “bone strengthening” medication to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and keep bones healthy.

Before replacement surgery is given, individuals with osteoporosis are advised to take medication to treat their condition. There are a number of different medications used, the most common known as bisphosphonates.

Bisphosphonates slow the rate that bone is broken down in the body. This allows the bone to maintain density and reduce the risk of it breaking. Given as either a tablet or injection, bisphosphonates usually take six to 12 months to work, with individuals needing to take them for at least five years, or longer.

Individuals are also encouraged to take calcium and vitamin D supplements. This is because calcium is the main mineral found in bone, but vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium.

The NHS recommends that healthy adults need 700 milligrams of calcium a day, which most people should be able to get from a varied diet. Good sources of calcium include:

  • Milk, cheese and other dairy foods
  • Green leafy vegetables – such as curly kale, okra but not spinach (spinach does contain high levels of calcium but the body cannot digest it all)
  • Soya drinks with added calcium
  • Bread and anything made with fortified flour
  • Fish where you eat the bones – such as sardines and pilchards.

Adults should also aim to have 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day, something they should be able to get from sunlight on their skin. However, if this is not possible, good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
  • Red meat
  • Liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified foods – such as some fat spreads and breakfast cereals.

As well as diet, exercising regularly can also help to keep bones as strong as possible. Adults over the age of 65 should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week. Or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity.

Replacement surgery on joints like the hips and knees are reserved for individuals who are experiencing pain, swelling and stiffness in the joint and their mobility is dramatically reduced. For some individuals like Fonda, replacement surgery is able to give them a new lease of life.

When commenting on how she felt about ageing, she said: “I didn’t think I’d ever ever live this long – or feel that I’m whole or getting whole. I feel very intentional about realising that it’s up to me how this last part of my life goes.”

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