Osteoporosis is a serious condition affecting many adults. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, over 54 million of us have low bone density or osteoporosis. The literal definition of osteoporosis is “porous bone”, or bones that are too soft and delicate. In fact, about one in two women and up to one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. The disease causes an estimated two million broken bones every year. A woman’s risk of breaking a hip due to osteoporosis is equal to her risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined. And a man age 50 or older is more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than he is to get prostate cancer.
There are a variety of factors – both controllable and uncontrollable – that put you at risk for developing osteoporosis. The first thing to understand about our bones is that they are dynamic. Our bones are constantly being built up and degraded as the needs of our body change. We build the most bone as we grow during childhood and adolescence. Most of us reach our “peak bone mass” as late in life as our early 30s. In fact, the health of your mom and her intake of calcium as you grew and developed before birth has a role to play in your bone health as an adult. The bottom line is this: the better you start off in terms of the strength of your bones, the stronger your bones will be as you age. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for osteoporosis so that together you can develop a plan to protect your bones throughout your lifetime.
An Active Approach for Osteoporosis Prevention
Preventing bone loss starts with your diet. Foods high in calcium such at milk, dairy, cheese, and cottage cheese along with your intake of Vitamin D, either from food or from the sun, can help you continue to make and keep your bones strong.
As for exercise, it is recommended that weight-bearing exercise be used to build bone density. Weight bearing exercise is anything that puts a “load” on your bones such as those in your spine, legs and arms. Walking, weight/resistance training, tennis, and running are just some examples of exercises that help to form new bone.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors of Osteoporosis
The following is a list of risk factors for osteoporosis that can’t necessarily be avoided with diet and exercise:
- Being over age 50
- Being female
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Low body weight/being small and thin
- Broken bones or height loss
Controllable Risk Factors of Osteoporosis
- Inadequate intake of calcium and vitamin D
- Not getting enough of the right type of exercise to build bone
- Smoking as this causes the loss of calcium from your body
- Alcohol, soda, and caffeine intake because it causes loss of calcium from your body
- Medications may put you at risk of bone loss, so check with your doctor
Understanding Your Bone Health Status
There are a few methods that can be used to determine the strength of your bones. The most common test (similar to an x-ray) is called a DEXA scan, which takes a quick x-ray picture, typically of your hip and spine and uses standardized methods to determine the density of your bones. A test similar to a CAT scan can also be used but is less widely available.
Once you have completed testing, your doctor should discuss your results with you as well as a course of action to either maintain the healthy bone mass that you have or to help your body build stronger bones. If you are found to have osteoporosis, you may be advised to modify your exercise program and to do everything possible to help prevent falls, as this is the biggest concern for people who have soft bones. A broken hip can be a serious event and should be avoided at all costs. The bottom line is, know your score, and fix what you can to avoid the need to fix a bigger problem later.
And always remember, you are what you choose, so make and keep the best YOU possible!
Here’s to the best of your heath.
Elizabeth Salada MD MPH
Internal Medicine and Wellness