There’s a race going on inside your body all the time that is the real determining factor in how well your bones age. The winner of the race can make the difference between strong, fracture-resistant bones or a debilitating hip or spine fracture that can rob you of an active life.
To some degree, the outcome is beyond your control. But there’s a lot you can add to your lifestyle, or eliminate, that will help the good guys win.
Many people think this bone condition is something only older women need to worry about. But any age is the right time for both men and women to start stacking the odds in their favor.
Who does osteoporosis affect?
Throughout our life, our bones are constantly being rebuilt. Osteoporosis develops when bone loss outpaces bone creation. Bones get too thin, and there’s high risk of fractures, even from commonplace activities like bending or stretching.
Women’s bones are thinner than men’s, and bone density declines right after menopause as estrogen levels drop. So it’s not surprising that about 80% of Americans with osteoporosis are women.
And bone breaks can be more than life-altering… In fact, women between the ages of 65-69 who break a hip are five times more likely to die within a year’s time, according to published research.
But men would be mistaken to assume they don’t have to pay attention to bone loss. Although men with osteoporosis have about half as many fractures as women, those who break a hip are twice as likely to die within a year.
What are the risk factors?
Risks you can’t control. Thin women with small frames are more prone to osteoporosis. So are people with type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
If you have a family history of osteoporosis, or have suffered a recent fracture or fall, this also increases your risk.
Risks you can control. A diet low in calcium and Vitamin D greatly increases the chances of developing accelerated bone loss later in life. So does a sedentary lifestyle.
Cigarette smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are two behaviors that have a negative impact on the bones. Changes in hormones caused by smoking could alter the function and strength of bone cells.
Medications that increase risk. Chronic use of medications can increase osteoporosis risk. These include prednisone, Zoloft, Prozac and some cancer and anti-seizure drugs.
Dr. Robert Adler, an endocrinologist at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, is particularly concerned about men on androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer.
He says that they should be given standard treatment for osteoporosis as a matter of course, since almost 20 percent of white males and 15 percent of African-Americans on androgen deprivation will suffer an osteoporotic fracture within five years.
How to know if you have osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease” because bone loss progresses without symptoms, until a sudden strain, bump or fall causes a fracture. A person may notice severe back pain, loss of height or spinal deformities like stooped posture.
A bone mineral density test is an X-ray test that uses very small amounts of radiation to determine bone density. It can be used to assess bone health, as well as to see how severe a case of osteoporosis has become.
Treatment for osteoporosis
There are quite a few medication options available. There’s also a choice of how to take them. Some can be given by pill or intravenously.
The medication you and your doctor settle on, as well as the method of delivery, depends largely on how severe your bone loss is, and what the cause is.
Your doctor will consider things like how well you remember to take medications, and how well you tolerate the restrictions that go with these medications. For example, with many medications, you cannot eat, drink, sit or lie down for up to an hour after taking them.
Diet, exercise and supplements are the “big three” when it comes to preventing osteoporosis.
Calcium and Vitamin D are the two minerals you must get enough of. Milk, yogurt and other dairy products provide them in abundance. If you don’t eat dairy foods, don’t worry. There are plenty of calcium-rich vegetables and nuts.
Weight bearing and strength training are both important for healthy bones. Weight bearing forces your body to work against gravity, which prompts new bone formation. Strength training builds bone strength because your muscles are pulling on your bones. It also makes you more flexible and less prone to falls.
If your digestive health is less than ideal, you may not be absorbing all the bone-building nutrients you’re getting in your food. That’s why it’s important to take supplements to balance out this deficit.
Smoking. There’s actually good news here. The damaging effect of smoking on bone health seems to be reversible, so it’s never too late to quit!
Osteopenia: a wakeup call
Osteopenia is when your bones are weaker than normal, but not so weak that they break easily. Think of osteopenia as “pre-osteoporosis”.
If you are diagnosed with osteopenia, consider it a wakeup call to get moving, start eating to build healthy bones, and do all you can to prevent your bones from weakening any further.
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