Osteoporosis is a disease in which the density of your bones reduces to the point at which they are weak and thin. They are then liable to be damaged or broken by everyday falls or other accidents. Even routine activities like standing or walking can result in bone fractures. The bones most often damaged tend to be the ribs, hips, wrist bones and spine.
Although osteoporosis can in theory happen to anyone of any age, it is more common in older adults. The highest prevalence of the disease is among women aged 60 years or older.
The good news is that many of the risk factors for this disease are controllable and, indeed, reversible. As a result, there are several things that one can do to decrease osteoporosis risk, if not prevent the disease entirely. We will mention several of these at the end of this text.
There are many risk factors for osteoporosis. The following are all factors that may increase your risk of developing the condition:
Age – as we grow older, our bodies start to break down old bone tissue faster than it can grow new tissue. This causes us to lose bone mass at older ages (the reverse is true at younger ages). The longer we live, the more our net bone density decreases. If we have not “banked” enough bone density at our peak ages, we are liable to experience osteoporosis at older ages;
Menopause – bone density tends to be a function of bodily hormone levels. In particular, it tends to be positively correlated with sex hormones. The female menopause therefore tends to be associated with a fall in hormone levels and thus also in bone density. This increases osteoporosis risk;
Gender – as mentioned above, there is a higher prevalence of osteoporosis among females than males;
Ethnicity – there is also a higher prevalence of osteoporosis among those of Asian or Caucasian descent than among other ethnic groups;
Diet – Consuming a diet with lower proportions of calcium and vitamin D can increase the predisposition to osteoporosis;
Level of physical activity – Sedentary lifestyles appear to weaken bones and therefore increase the risk of developing osteoporosis at some point. Specifically, the risk of osteoporosis increases as the amount of weight bearing exercise (running, walking, etc.) or resistance exercise decreases.
Smoking appears to increase the risk of developing the disease;
Osteoporosis shows a higher prevalence among those with small boned builds or who have low body weight;
Family history. If you have relatives or ancestors who have suffered from osteoporosis appear to be at higher risk of developing the condition themselves;
Certain medications taken to treat other medical conditions (cancer, for example) can reduce our bodies’ ability to absorb calcium. This in turn can lead to higher risk of osteoporosis.
The good news here is that several of these risk factors have to do with lifestyle and are therefore controllable. We will discuss later the steps one can take to reverse these factors and reduce or prevent the incidence of osteoporosis.
In addition to brittle and easily broken bones, those suffering from osteoporosis may notice the following in the early stages:
A weakened grip;
Nail brittleness and weakness.
As the disease progresses, its symptoms can become even more severe. Bone fractures can even result from a sneeze or cough. Victims may also exhibit:
Loss of height;
A hunched or “bent over” posture.
Spinal compression fractures are one of the complications of this disease. As the spinal vertebrae become more brittle, they may start to be crushed by their own weight. This can lead to neck and back pain.
Hip fractures are another injury to which osteoporosis sufferers are especially liable. At advanced ages, this injury can lead to loss of mobility and possibility to permanent disability.
Although healthy bones have small internal spaces, osteoporosis increases the size of these spaces. This causes the bones to lose their density and become more brittle and breakable.
If you have observed the early symptoms listed above, you should talk to your doctor about having a formal diagnosis. The sooner that you can get medical advice to control your osteoporosis risk, the better.
If you suspect you may have osteoporosis, your doctor can first do a review of your medical history. This would include a review of family medical history to determine whether any of your close blood relatives have suffered from the condition.
Your doctor will also likely conduct a physical exam. He or she may want to test your blood and urine for signs that may indicate loss of bone tissue.
Finally, your doctor can request a bone density test. This uses X rays to measure bone density in areas like your wrists, hips or spine. The test is painless and generally lasts between 10 and 30 minutes.
Treatment Of Osteoporosis
There are several approaches your doctor can take to treat an apparent case of osteoporosis. These include medications (both prescription and natural), dietary changes and starting an exercise plan.
Some of the medications commonly prescribed to treat osteoporosis include:
A class of drugs used to pprevent loss of bone mass called bisphosphonates;
Testosterone, i.e. the male sex hormone, which helps to increase bone mass for men;
Estrogen – the female sex hormone- has been shown to have a similar effect for women. However, it also has been found to increase the risk of blood clots, heart disease and some types of cancer;
Evenity – a medication approved by the FDA specifically to treat osteoporosis in post menopausal women .It does however increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
These can include red clover, soy and black cohosh. There are no scientifically recognized studies supporting the use of these supplements. However, there is some anecdotal evidence supporting their use.
Increasing your dietary intake of calcium, vitamin D and protein can help to support optimum bone health. Magnesium, zinc and vitamin can also help.
You can also help to keep osteoporosis at bay by increasing your regime of weight bearing exercise. This would include activities like running or even walking. For even better results, you can try stair climbing, squats and push ups.
Resistance exercise with dumbbells and resistance bands can also help you to maintain bone mass and reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
Balance improving exercises will also help by reducing your risk of falling and incurring bone damage if you do develop osteoporosis.