by Christine Bude
Osteoporosis is a progressive condition in which bones become brittle and weak. Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones”. Bones can become so brittle that even a mild stress on the bone can cause a fracture. Fractures are painful injuries that can cause disability.
Bones are the important support structure of the body. Many people, especially young people, tend to take their bone health for granted.
In most cases the bones are weakened when the levels of minerals in the bones are low. Important bone minerals include calcium, phosphorus and other minerals. Osteoporosis can also result from endocrine disorders and excessive use of certain drugs, such as corticosteroids.
People with signs of bone loss can take steps to reverse the damage with some lifestyle changes such as taking calcium, Vitamin D and by weight bearing exercise.
Osteoporosis commonly results in fractures, or broken bones. The fractures are often in the spine, hip or wrist. Osteoporosis is considered a woman’s disease, but also affects men.
Bone loss, in early stages, does not usually cause pain or symptoms. As bone loss progresses, symptoms may include back pain, loss of height and fractures of the vertebrae, wrists, hips or other bones.
We tend to think of bone as unchanging, but that is not the case. Bones are a living part of the body that changes constantly. When bones do not have enough minerals, they lose strength and density. In young people, bone is constantly breaking down and making new bone. As the body ages, the process of making new bone is slower. Estrogen production decreases and bone loss increases dramatically.
Risk of developing osteoporosis in later years depends on the amount of bone mass built between the ages of 25 and 35. 35 is the age of peak bone mass. It is like bank account. The higher the peak bone mass, the more bone “in the bank”. With more bone in the bank, a person is less likely to develop osteoporosis.
Therefore, it is important to keep bones healthy. There are habits that a person can adopt that contribute to a lifetime of bone health. Important habits that keep bones healthy include:
- Regular exercise – particularly weight bearing exercise
- Adequate amount of calcium
- Adequate amount of vitamin D, important for the assimilation of calcium
People with osteoporosis have an increased risk of fracture. Bones most vulnerable to fracture are the hips and spine. Hip fractures frequently occur as a result of a fall. Spinal vertebrate can fracture because the bones in the back become so weak that they compress. Compression fractures cause severe pain.
There are a number of risk factors that increase the likelihood for developing osteoporosis. Some risk factors, such as gender, cannot be controlled. Other factors, such as lifestyle habits, can be changed. Following are the risk factors for developing osteoporosis:
- Sex/Gender. Women are about twice as likely to develop osteoporosis as men. The reason is that women start with lower bone mass than men. Women experience a sudden drop in estrogen at menopause that accelerates bone loss.
- Age. Older people have higher risk. Bones weaken with age.
- Race. Races with the highest risk of osteoporosis are of white or Southeast Asian descent. Black and Hispanic races have a lower risk, but still have risk.
- Family history. Osteoporosis runs in families.
- Frame size. People with thin or small frames have a higher risk because they have less bone mass to draw from.
- Tobacco use. While researchers do not clearly understand the reason, they do know that tobacco use contributes to weak bones.
- Estrogen. Risk is increased if a woman has had less lifetime exposure to the hormone estrogen. Women who experience early menopause, or who have their ovaries removed before the age of 45 have increased risk.
- Eating disorders. Anorexia nervous and bulimia create a higher osteoporosis risk.
- Corticosteroid Medications. Medications such as prednisone and cortisone are damaging to the bones.
- Thyroid hormone. Excessive thyroid hormone can cause bone loss.
- Diuretics. Used to prevent fluid buildup on the body, diuretics cause the kidneys to excrete excess calcium.
- Medications. Anti seizure medications, heparin and other medications can cause bone loss.
- Breast Cancer. Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can increase risk of osteoporosis.
- Low calcium intake. Lack of dietary calcium plays a major role in bone loss.
- Medical conditions. Some conditions affect the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Conditions such as Crohns disease, anorexia nervosa and Cushing’s disease increase risk.
- Sedentary lifestyle. Exercise is important for bone health.
- Soda. Although the link between osteoporosis and soda with caffeine is not clear, there appears to be a link. It is possible that the caffeine interferes with calcium absorption and increase mineral loss. People who do drink caffeinated soda should get adequate calcium and vitamin D to counteract the bone loss.
- Chronic alcoholism. Alcoholism is one of the leading risk factors for men. Excess alcohol consumption interferes with bone formation and the body’s ability to absorb important calcium.
- Depression. People with serious depression have increased rate of bone loss.
- Radiation. Radiation for cancer treatment can weaken the bone.
The risk of osteoporosis can be reduced by changing lifestyle habits that are risk factors. Prevention tips include:
- Take calcium and vitamin D. Experts recommend at least 1,200 mg of calcium and 400 IU daily
- Exercise helps to build strong bones
- Eat soy products
- Hormone Therapy is sometimes prescribed. Talk to your doctor
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Limit caffeine
- Maintain good posture
- Prevent falls
- Wear low healed shoes with non-slip soles
- Manage Pain. Don’t ignore pain, talk to your doctor
Osteoporosis is a disease that can increase the risk of fracture and lower the quality of life as a person ages. In the early stages of osteoporosis there will probably not be any symptoms. Once symptoms start, a significant amount of bone loss has probably already taken place. Take advantage of the excellent information available to prevent suffering from osteoporosis and bone loss.
Information in this article is not intended as medical advice. If you have a medical condition, consult your physician.
Mayo Clinic website