A Cornish MP has spoken of her shock at being diagnosed with osteoporosis after falling outside the Houses of Parliament and breaking her hip.
Sarah Newton, who was made deputy chairman of the Conservative Party last month, said she was "shaken beyond belief" at learning she had developed – at 51 – what she had always thought of as an "old woman's disease".
Her surprise was compounded when doctors revealed that the likely culprit was a chronic shortage of vitamin D, caused by a lack of sunlight.
After her accident in May, Mrs Newton spent almost four months in a wheelchair and on crutches. After a brief period of recuperation she managed to continue working and attend key debates in the Commons.
She has decided to speak out for the first time to mark World Osteoporosis Day and to encourage other women to take simple steps to protect their health. Osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, is a hidden condition that many don't realise they have until it is well advanced. Half of all women and one in five men over 50 will at some point suffer a fracture because of poor bone health. Three million have been diagnosed with the disease, which is often the cause of the so-called "dowager's hump" in the elderly.
Mrs Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth, said: "I always thought, as many people do, of osteoporosis as an old woman's disease. I just wouldn't have thought it would affect a busy, fairly healthy, working mum like me."
Mrs Newton was rushing to a meeting outside Parliament when she tripped and fell. Doctors at St Thomas's Hospital found she had broken her hip.
"Thankfully the doctors there were very switched on and realised that something must be badly wrong for a woman of my age to suffer such a catastrophic break, simply by tripping on the pavement," she said.
Soon afterwards she was diagnosed as having osteoporosis and was told her body was chronically short of vitamin D, essential for building healthy bones.
"The irony that, as a very fair skinned woman, I had been slapping Factor 50 sun cream over myself for years to prevent skin cancer but had probably caused my body to develop something equally serious, was horrifying," she said.
"Although I was terribly shocked at the time, I feel that what happened really has been a blessing as I could have gone on for years and years with my bones getting weaker and weaker. At least now I have the chance to do something about it."