Osteoporosis. Commonly referred to as the “Silent Disease”, or the “Silent Thief”. It strikes without symptoms until bones become so weak that a sudden fall, bump or even strain causes a break in the unity of the bone, otherwise known as a fracture.
But, who is at risk, and what can you do?
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) roughly 10 million Americans have osteoporosis while another 18 million are at risk. The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports osteoporosis is responsible for over 1.5 million fractures every year – a cost spiraling upwards of 15 billion dollars for care.
Osteoporosis is a progressive disease in which bones gradually become weaker and thinner. This eventually leads to a general decrease in height; changes in posture, such as a stooped posture, known as the “dowager’s hump”; and severe pain, especially in the back.
Your bones are living tissue that supports your internal organs, muscle and skin. Throughout your life, your body continually undergoes “remodeling”, a process where old bone is removed and new bone takes its place. During your younger years, your body builds more bone than is removed. Starting as early as your mid-30’s, the bone being removed is more than bone replaced.
Osteoporosis can strike anyone, however, women account for 80% of the cases. It is most common in postmenopausal women secondary to loss of the hormone estrogen. Risk factors include individuals with a family history of the disease; people with thin, small bones; hormone and calcium deficiencies; history of eating disorder; and Caucasian ancestry.
Other risk factors include use of medications, such as cortisone, prednisone and anticonvulsants; limited exposure to sunlight; excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption; smoking; and limited weight bearing exercises.
Once you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, usually by x-rays and bone density testing, medical treatment focuses on regulating calcium and vitamin D levels, regular weight bearing activities, resistance training and medications.
Commonly, drugs known as bisphosphonates are used to prevent bone loss and help rebuild bone. For women, hormone therapy is often recommended due to the loss of estrogen. Since estrogen taken alone increases the risks of developing uterine cancer, it is combined with progesterone.
Osteoporosis is a preventable and treatable disease. Follow these five easy steps to avoid osteoporosis and strengthen your bones.
1. Calcium. Calcium is an important mineral to help keep bones strong. Add calcium to your diet through food such as milk products (cheese, yogurt), orange juice, spinach, almonds, kale, salmon and calcium-fortified cereals. Calcium supplements are also available – the common types are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. According to the National Academy of Sciences, people ranging from 19 -50 years old require 1000 milligrams per day, whereas over 50 require 1200 milligrams per day. However, if you are a high risk or are taking a calcium-depleting medication, you may require more. Consult with your physician.
2. Vitamin D. Vitamin D is another mineral important in keeping bones strong. It also helps to control calcium levels. Many calcium supplements contain vitamin D. Add it to your diet with milk products, egg yolks, certain fish such as salmon and liver. 400 – 800 milligrams per day should be your daily intake, however, always consult with your physician. Another easy way to boost up vitamin D is spending 5-15 minutes in sunlight a few times per week.
3. Avoid excess alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases your risk for bone loss. Men should avoid having more than 2 drinks per day, whereas women – 1 drink per day.
4. Avoid cigarettes. Cigarettes also contribute to increasing your risk to bone loss.
5. Exercise regularly. Regular weight bearing activities helps you maintain bone mass. It also keeps muscles strong, which will reduce your chances of falls and accidents that may cause bone breakage, commonly referred to as a fracture or a broken bone. Weight-bearing exercises include walking, jogging, low impact aerobics and weight training. Balance and coordination exercises are also of great importance to reduce fall risks. Always consult with your physician before beginning any exercise routine.
The most important step is to choose a healthy, active lifestyle. Since osteoporosis is a progressive disease, regular checkups, especially as you age, are vital for early diagnosis and treatment.
Whether you are getting older, are at high risk or have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it is never too late to start a healthy regiment to avoid further problems.