It is recognized that as many as 1 of every 5 American women over 50 have osteoporosis. That sounds like an epidemic! But what exactly is osteoporosis and how do you get it? Osteoporosis is a bone disease whereby the body fails to form new bone, when too much old bone tissue is lost, or a combination of both. About half of all women over age 50 will suffer a broken hip, wrist or vertebra. Osteoporosis is typically the culprit or at least a contributing factor in many of those fractures. We all need calcium and phosphate to form bones when we’re younger. We also need vitamin D to assist our bodies in absorption of this calcium. As we age however, our bodies tend to absorb less calcium due to poor diet, lack of sunlight and lack of exercise. This calcium deficiency slows bone production and weakens bone tissue, resulting in brittle, fragile bones that are subject to fractures. These fractures attributed to osteoporosis are debilitating especially when they occur in the hips. A high percentage of hip fractures result in life-long injuries, limiting the ability of those sufferers to walk again.
One of the difficulties associated with treatment of osteoporosis is the fact that it remains largely asymptomatic until a fracture occurs. Many times, the actual injury causing a bone break seems minor and insignificant since the bones are so severely weakened. As such, the patient suddenly becomes aware of the disease that is at that point, very difficult to treat! It’s far better then, to take steps to defeat osteoporosis before it rears its ugly head!
Let’s talk about factors contributing to the onset of osteoporosis. These include:
- Being bed-ridden. Deterioration of bone tissue can occur in those who are unable to walk, exercise or eat calcium-rich foods
- Chronic rheumatoid arthritis
- Long-term use of corticosteroids, such as prednisone and methylpredisolone, as well as some anti-seizure medicines
- Hyperparathyroidism. A condition associated with the overproduction of parathyroid hormone (PTH) by the parathyroid glands
- Vitamin D deficiency
Caucasian woman are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis, especially as they sometimes suffer from the following risk factors:
- Absence of menstrual periods for an extended time (a condition called amenorrhea)
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Undergoing hormone treatments for breast cancer
- Frail stature or low body weight
- Calcium deficiency
As previously mentioned, there are typically few signs of the onset of osteoporosis until it has developed into thinning, brittle bones. Doctors do have the advantage of conducting bone mineral density testing or bone scans, sometimes referred to as a densitometry or DEXA scan. Likewise, a special type of CT scan called quantitative computed tomography (QCT) can evaluate bone mineral density in the spine. These tests are non-invasive and are helpful in diagnosing osteoporosis. Simple x-rays and MRI’s can show broken and deformed bones, but they cannot identify the ongoing bone thinning associated with this disease.
Now the recipe for preventing osteoporosis:
- Exercise. Regular exercise, including weight-bearing activities such as walking, running, tennis, golf, dancing, etc., are great for preventing osteoporosis, as well as benefitting our overall health. Likewise, resistance exercises such as free weights and machines in your local gym can strengthen muscle and bone.
- Eating Right. A diet high in calcium, vitamin D and proteins will not stop bone loss and bone thinning altogether but these nutrients do provide the necessary materials for forming and maintaining bone tissue. Foods rich in calcium such as dairy products, green leafy vegetables, salmon, yogurt and low-fat milk, can fight osteoporosis and enhance our health overall.
- Take Vitamin and Calcium Supplements. Even when eating right, we won’t necessarily get all the components we need to keep our bodies functioning at the highest level. Those of us working inside all day may not get the sunshine needed for our bodies to manufacture vitamin D, the substance essential in our body’s ability to absorb calcium. Calcium supplements are beneficial but they can’t do their job without vitamin D.
- Quit Those Nasty Habits! Stop smoking and limit your alcohol use! Smoking contributes to so many diseases and conditions that WILL kill you – it’s impossible to list them all! Alcohol can also cause bone tissue to deteriorate and contribute to falls and accidents, resulting in broken bones.
- Be Careful! Those seemingly minor falls, bumps and injuries can weaken bones, cause fractures and make healing that much more difficult as bone loss continues as we age.
You can’t go back in time, no matter how much we’d like for that to happen! Our bodies break down and weaken as we age. Our bones follow suit and we can only do so much to slow these processes. It is essential then that we take positive steps to see that we age gracefully, with as little pain and disease as possible!