Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones which ultimately leaves the skeletal structure brittle and susceptible to fractures. The term ‘osteoporosis’ itself is translated ‘porous bone.’ The National Institutes of Health indicates that as many as 34 million Americans live with osteoporosis, and another 18 million are at risk for developing the disease because of inadequate bone mass. Older women are most commonly diagnosed with osteoporosis, although no one is impervious to it. Statistics indicate that in people above 50-years-old as many as one in four men and one in two women have osteoporosis. The NIH also predicts that unless younger generations begin to take charge of their health today, by the year 2020, at least half of America’s population will be at serious risk for osteoporosis. However, anyone of any age can develop this potentially crippling disorder.
Osteoporosis is a life altering disease, but it is also very preventable. Good nutrition and exercise regimens are two of the best ways to fight the onslaught of bone deterioration. This should be taken seriously far before the typical age that osteoporosis is diagnosed because most bone mass is developed between the ages of 18 and 20 years old.
Who is at Risk for Osteoporosis?
As indicated, any person may be susceptible to osteoporosis. However, there are certain factors, some modifiable and others nonmodifiable, which increase this risk tremendously. Following are some well-documented risk factors:
- Infrequent exercise
- Gender: Women are at a greater risk
- Gender is not a factor after age 75: At this age, both genders are equally susceptible.
- Genetics: Those with a family history of osteoporosis are more likely to develop the disease.
- Unhealthy habits: Smoking, excessive caffeine, and alcohol use
- Insufficient estrogen levels in women
- Decreased testosterone levels in men
- Extensive use of medications such as aromatase inhibitors, corticosteroids, and diuretics, among others
- Exposure to cadmium or lead
- Excessively thin body
- Struggling with eating disorders
- Vitamin D and calcium deficient diet
- High sodium diet
- Delayed menstruation
- Premature menopause
- Race – being of Asian, European, or Hispanic decent
- Excessive soft drink consumption
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Most often, a person who has osteoporosis is not aware that they have the disease until they break a bone. During the fracture’s evaluation, osteoporosis is discovered. There are no palpable symptoms for bone loss, making osteoporosis a ‘silent disease.’ While there are no obvious symptoms related to osteoporosis, those who suffer with it could also experience a collapsed vertebra. Having a vertebra collapse does produce symptoms that indicate a necessary call on a medical professional, such as the development of a hump (kyphosis) on the spine, decreased height, and back discomfort.
As with most medical problems, prevention for osteoporosis is key. Knowing one’s risk factors and eliminating as many of the modifiable type are an integral part of heading bone loss off at the pass. Most bone mass is built within the body during the late teen years, but this process doesn’t stop altogether until sometime during the 30’s. As a result, some medical professionals actually coin osteoporosis as a pediatric disease that produces negative symptoms in old age. This knowledge enables a person to begin combatting osteoporosis early in life.
Make certain that enough calcium is consumed. The appropriate amount varies by age. Women between 51 and 70 years of age, who are not on estrogen, need at least 1,500mg of calcium on a daily basis. Women on an estrogen regimen of the same age, as well as premenopausal women, only need 1,000 mg. Men in the 51 to 70 age bracket and adolescent girls need between 1,200 and 1,500 mg daily. Children need to take in at least 800mg to 1,200mg of calcium per day.
Exercise, specifically which encourages weight bearing, is an excellent prevention technique for osteoporosis. These exercises may include:
- Weight lifting
- A walking regimen
- Aerobic exercise with weight bearing incorporated
- Tai chi
Also, exercise which encourages flexibility and balance are excellent tools to prevent osteoporosis. Not surprisingly, these same workouts help combat osteoporosis once it is developed.
Common Sense Preventions
Once one has determined the modifiable risk factors that are a part of their daily routine, common sense dictates the actions which need to be taken to prevent osteoporosis. For instance, those who frequently drink alcohol can reduce their risks of bone loss by decreasing this intake or eliminating it altogether. The same goes for smoking and caffeine consumption. Although it is best to completely quit smoking tobacco, limiting coffee to approximately 3 cups each day is sufficient.
Dealing with Osteoporosis
Once osteoporosis has been developed, it is important to remember that it is not a death sentence. Rather, simple life changes will need to be made to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Many of the techniques used to prevent osteoporosis can actually help with its complications once diagnosed. For instance, changing one’s diet and exercise regimens can greatly relieve the dangers of osteoporosis. Increasing calcium and vitamin D intake are crucial. Getting adequate magnesium and potassium are also important. While many who have osteoporosis are afraid that exercising increases their chance of injury, the opposite is in fact true. Also, it is wise to implement those common sense modifications as listed above.
Alternative Treatments and Drug Therapy
Any treatment used to help fight the complications of osteoporosis should be thoroughly discussed with a qualified medical professional. There are some alternative and complementary steps that can be taken, such as investing in a quality alkaline water system. Some studies indicate that this type of water may decelerate bone loss. Be careful to avoid, however. Also, the use of some herbs such as black cohosh, which may discourage bone loss, and red clover, which may slow bone deterioration, is not proven to help osteoporosis, but some believe strongly in their healing properties.
Although alternative therapies may bring some relief, there are drug therapies available which decreases bone reabsorption and even that enhances new bone growth. There are also drugs, such as Boniva and Fosamax, which harden bones and decrease fracture risks. Ideally, a person with osteoporosis will work closely with their physician to incorporate both alternative treatments and drug therapies to achieve the maximum quality of life possible.
Osteoporosis is a serious disease of the bones which can lead to fractures and kyphosis. Incredibly, it is also entirely preventable. Good nutrition, adequate exercise, and a generally healthy lifestyle from an early age encourage dense bones. It is never too late to make these healthy changes. Even after the diagnosis of osteoporosis has been given, making positive and healthy changes in lifestyle will help to combat the disease.