Without our bones and joints, we wouldn’t be able to walk, run, lift or carry. This framework supports the entire weight of our bodies and gives us mobility.
The disease occurs when the body fails to form enough new bone, or when too much old bone is reabsorbed or both. Osteoporosis is found mainly in (but not limited to) women. One in two women and one in eight men over age 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture at some time. It was once thought that osteoporosis was an unavoidable part of aging, but it is now known that it is never too late to protect your bones.
A person may break a bone, and then and only then does she discover that she has osteoporosis. If the disease is diagnosed earlier, treatments are available that can increase bone density, and in many cases prevent these fractures.
The largest incidence of osteoporosis is in postmenopausal women, mainly due to a decrease in estrogen, but there are other reasons for bone loss, including menopause due to surgery that removes the ovaries, where estrogen is produced. Additional triggers for both men and women are some diseases and the use of certain medications such as anticonvulsants, some anticoagulants or diuretics, too high a dose of thyroid hormones and long-term use of cortisone and its derivatives.
Other risk factors are being female, Caucasian or Asian, being underweight and of small build. In addition, aging, rare exercise, small or no intake of dairy products, family history, smoking and excessive alcohol or caffeine use put one at higher risk. It is possible that gum disease is linked to osteoporosis, resulting in an increase in gum detachment and risk of tooth loss—another reason to have regular dental check-ups.
Several drugs can help prevent thinning and may increase bone density. Each drug has effects that are beneficial and some that are unfavorable. Your physician will determine which one is right for you.
Other ways to help prevent osteoporosis are to follow a healthy, calcium-rich diet (low-fat dairy products, dark green vegetables), stop smoking, drink only in moderation and pursue weight-bearing exercises like lifting weights, brisk walking, jogging, stair climbing, tennis or low-impact aerobics. Swimming and bicycling provide good exercise but don’t give as much benefit to bone. If you’re over 40 or have any health problems, see your doctor before you start an exercise program. It is important to know that exercise, medication and proper diet combat osteoporosis more effectively together than can any single treatment alone.
A bone mineral density test is one way to help your doctor diagnose osteoporosis or determine whether you need to take steps to protect your bone health. It is a simple test and requires no special preparation, medication or injection. The test consists of an x-ray with very little radiation, in most cases less than a standard chest x-ray.
A Review of Ways to Keep Bones Healthy and Strong
Weight-bearing physical activity and exercises that improve balance and posture can strengthen bones and reduce the chance of a fracture. The more active and fit you are as you age, the less likely you are to fall and break a bone. Like muscles, bones become stronger when they are active. The best exercises for this include brisk walking, dancing or aerobics, and muscle strengthening exercises. But always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your bones and your health in general (it speeds up bone loss).
Moderate Alcohol and Soda Intake
Consuming more than one drink a day for women and two a day for men (over 60, limit to one a day) raises the risk of falls and bone loss. Research has linked carbonated drinks to lower bone density.
Spend some time in the sun or take a supplement. Ask your physician about this. Many are recommending 2000 units daily. Food sources of Vitamin D. Include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, egg yolks, cheese and fortified milk as well as fortified juice and cereal products.
Assess Your Medications
Some medications can weaken your bones: Cortisone drugs such as prednisone over a long time period are a prime example. Also included are a class of drugs used for persistent indigestion called proton pump inhibitors. Examples are Prilosec (omeprazole) and Nexium (esomeprazole). Short term use does usually not cause concern.
Osteoporosis is both preventable and treatable. You can never be too young or too old to improve.