Osteoporosis means “porous bone,” and is condition in which bones become weak and brittle. Throughout our lives, our bodies absorb and replace bone tissue. With osteoporosis, new bone creation doesn’t keep up with old bone removal. A little fall or bump can cause a serious fracture. The most common type of fractures are of the hip, wrist, and spine. Many people have no symptoms until they have a bone fracture.
After the age of 50, bones become weaker and breaks become more common. It is estimated that one in two women and up to one in four men will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis. For women, the incidence is greater than that of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined.
What are some risk factors for Osteoporosis?
Certain medical conditions can affect bone strength directly or from different effects of medications. These include cancer, vitamin D deficiency, overactive thyroid or parathyroid glands, chronic lung disease, endometriosis, and medications such as prednisone.
Other risk factors include these conditions and practices:
- low intakes of calcium, vitamin D, potassium or protein
- cigarette smoking
- overuse of alcohol
- long-term use of certain medications, including for asthma or arthritis, some antiseizure drugs and overuse of aluminum-containing antacids
- low levels of estrogen for women or testosterone for men
It’s never too early to start thinking about maintaining your bone mineral density. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take at home and with your doctor’s help to protect against painful fractures.
Be sure to get enough calcium. Your body doesn’t produce calcium, so you must get it through other sources. Calcium can be found in a variety of foods, including:
- low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt
- greens, such as kale
- calcium-fortified foods
Doctors recommend the following calcium levels:
- 1,000 milligrams daily for women age 50 and younger and for men 70 and younger
- 1,200 milligrams daily for women over age 50 and men over 70
Eat a healthy and varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food. It is important for those with osteoporosis, or to prevent it. Studies show that calcium and vitamin D together can build stronger bones in women after menopause.
Avoid smoking. We all know the health problems caused by tobacco, including heart disease, lung and esophageal cancer, and lung disease. Additionally, several research studies have identified smoking as a risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fracture.
Limit alcohol consumption. Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease that causes bones to be weakened and thinned to the point that they can fracture more easily. Alcohol can play a role in how dense bones are, the speed with which bone cells rebuild, and how your body absorbs important bone-forming nutrients
Limit your caffeine intake.
Get enough potassium. Researchers have found that potassium salts play an important part in improving bone health. The results also showed that these potassium salts reduce bone resorption, the process by which bone is broken down, therefore increasing their strength. These nutrients are plentiful in fruit and vegetables.
Protein is an important nutrient for bone health and in the prevention of osteoporosis. It gives bone its strength and flexibility and is also the big component of the muscles in the body.
Get regular exercise. You don’t have to pay for a gym membership. Start out slow, then work your way up to dancing, yoga, light weight-bearing exercises and bike riding. As a general goal, aim for at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Always speak to your doctor about your physical limits and how much exercise is right for you.
A DEXA (or DXA) bone densitometry measures your bone mineral density (BMD). Your bone density is then compared to the average BMD of an adult of your sex and race at the age of peak bone mass (approximately age 25 to 30). The result is your T score.
- A T score of -1 to +1 is considered normal bone density.
- A T score of -1 to -2.5 indicates osteopenia (low bone density).
- A T score of -2.5 or lower is bone density low enough to be categorized as osteoporosis.
If you have osteopenia or osteoporosis, your doctor will recommend prevention steps to help slow down additional bone loss and reduce fracture risk. Sometimes osteoporosis medication is recommended.