Actress Sally Field always thought of herself as a strong woman -- an image
often reflected in her award-winning movie roles. Dazzling us with Academy
Award performances in films like Norma Rae and Places in the Heart, she became
a signature actress for an emerging generation of equally strong women.
Indeed, even from her early days of TV stardom in comedies like
Gidget and The Flying Nun, and later when tickling our funny
bone in films like Steel Magnolia, she never failed to personify the
baby boom generation at its best.
When Betty Bullock was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1997, at the age of
66, it was a shock. She’d always been healthy and active, an avid athlete who
plays tennis, swims, walks her dogs, and dances.
“I was thinking, ‘What did I do wrong?’” says the 76-year-old
great-grandmother, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. “I had assumed I didn’t have
to worry about osteoporosis since I was so healthy and my mother had never had
But recently, something happened that threatened to weaken Field's resolve,
not to mention her hopes for what she calls "a great third act."
The 'Silent' Disease
Just shy of her 60th birthday, Field was diagnosed with osteoporosisosteoporosis -- a serious bone-thinning disorder
that dramatically affects the risk of bone fractures. It is often referred to
as the 'silent disease' because you can have no symptoms until you experience a
"I always knew I fit the risk profile. I was thin, small boned,
Caucasian, and heading towards age 60. But I was amazed at how quickly a woman
could go from being at risk to having full-fledged osteoporosis,"
says the still-petite brunette.
On the outside this vibrant actress remained an active sports enthusiast --
"hiking, biking, and doing extreme yoga on a regular basis,"
she says. But inside, a bone scan showed her hips and spine had started
"My bones appeared to be getting steadily thinner without any signs or
symptoms I could see or feel," Field tells WebMD.
Osteoporosis: How It Happens
According to Steve Goldstein, MD, when we are young the process of bone
building outpaces that of bone loss, which is why our skeleton remains healthy
and strong. Bone mass peaks in early adulthood. As we age, however, he says the
process begins to reverse.
"The older you get the more bone loss speeds up and bone building slows
down," says Goldstein, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU
Medical Center in New York City. So, the older we get, he says, the thinner our
bones will be.
In women, however, the process of loss is accelerated further, thanks to the
dramatic drop in estrogen that occurs at the time of menopausemenopause. What's the link?
"Estrogen is what is known as a 'resorptive.' It actually helps slow
bone loss from occurring," says Goldstein.
Unfortunately, when levels plummet -- as they do during menopause -- bone
loss speeds up, leaving many women at high risk for osteoporosis.
For awhile, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) came to the rescue. In fact,
it worked so well that in addition to recommending it for hot flasheshot
flashes and mood swings, many doctors regularly prescribed estrogen for
its bone-protecting qualities.