Osteoporosis is a skeletal disease in which bones gradually lose mass, become less dense, and weaken over time. This increases the risk for bone fractures, which can impair mobility or lead to severe consequences such as death. Often osteoporosis develops over many years; because there are usually no symptoms associated with the condition, osteoporosis often goes undetected until a fracture occurs.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), an estimated 10 million Americans currently have osteoporosis and another 34 million have osteopenia (low bone mass). By 2010, the NOF estimates those numbers will increase to 12 million and 40 million, respectively. The NOF also estimates that 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men above the age 50 will experience a fracture related to osteoporosis sometime in their lives.
Normally, bones go through periods in which they grow and are broken down at a constant rate throughout life. During childhood and adolescence, bone mass increases more rapidly than it’s lost, and by age 30, people achieve peak bone mass. After this, bone loss occurs slowly over time, but outpaces the rate at which it is formed.
Although genetics play a key role in peak bone mass, (the total amount of bone formed in a person’s body), several other factors contribute to one’s risk of developing osteoporosis. Most at risk are
• Those who have a thin, small frame
• Those with a family history of osteoporosis
• Women who are postmenopausal, who went through early menopause, or who have amenorrhea
• Women who are White or Asian
• Men with low levels of testosterone
• Those who have osteopenia
Some people who develop osteoporosis have no obvious risk factors, and some develop the condition as a consequence of taking medications for a variety of diseases and conditions.
Some other factors that also increase the risk for osteoporosis include
• Not consuming enough calcium from foods or supplements
• Inactivity (due to bed rest or limited mobility) or otherwise engaging in low levels of physical activity
• Consuming too much alcohol
Diet and Lifestyle Prevention Recommendations
Although there’s no cure, osteoporosis is a disease that is highly preventable in most situations. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk for osteoporosis:
• Maintain a healthy body weight.
• Get adequate calcium and vitamin D from the diet or supplements. Calcium is an essential mineral for building strong bones and attaining a high peak bone mass, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Together, calcium and vitamin D can help retard bone loss and reduce fracture risk even in those who already have osteoporosis.
• Engage in regular physical activity, including weight-bearing and bone- and muscle-strengthening exercise; weight-bearing exercises help your body work against gravity to strengthen bones, and muscle-strengthening exercises can promote agility and strength and reduce your risk for falls.
• Limit or eliminate alcohol from the diet. Even small amounts of alcohol (2-3 ounces)can damage bones, and too many calories from alcohol can displace calories from nutrient-dense foods and beverages and reduce overall nutrition status.
• If you smoke, stop; smoking reduces calcium absorption and can lead to early menopause (during menopause, the hormone estrogen, which helps preserve bones, is reduced substantially).
• Have your bone mineral density tested. A dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) test measures bone density at various sites in the body and predicts future bone fracture risk.
Some at risk for or who develop osteoporosis can need medications to prevent or treat the condition and should discuss the various options with a physician.
Peak bone mass is the maximum bone density and strength developed in individuals by age 30.
Testosterone is a sex hormone (or androgen) produced by the testes that contributes to the development of male sex characteristics, including a deep voice and facial hair. It also strengthens muscles and bones.