Osteoporosis is a common but serious bone condition that results in deterioration of bone tissue.
As the bone tissue weakens, it becomes more susceptible to fractures. More than 20% of postmenopausal women in the U.S. have osteoporosis, and the National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that overall, 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass, making them more likely to have a break.
Most breaks occur in the wrist, hip and spine, and because these bones are already fragile, it may be challenging for them to heal quickly or correctly. In addition to breaks, osteoporosis can cause permanent pain and affect the ability to stand or sit straight.
Causes of osteoporosis
Unlike noticing the signs of a cold or flu, it’s difficult to identify the signs of weakening bones. For many people, a broken bone is the first indication of osteoporosis. You may notice you’re not as tall as you used to be, or that your spine is curving. If that happens, talk to your doctor right away.
Some people are genetically disposed to have a low peak bone mass, but diets low in calcium, protein and vitamin D, lack of activity, chronic steroid treatment for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or asthma, cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol use and low body weight increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Coping with osteoporosis
Physical activity can help with osteoporosis. Being active helps strengthen the bones, leading to bone growth. Weight training, yoga, tai chi, jogging and using the elliptical machine are great options to maintain bone health with age.
Just as certain diets can increase the risk of osteoporosis, certain foods also can support bone health.
- Calcium is required to grow bones, and the recommended daily intake for adults over 50 is 1,000 – 1,200 mg per day.
- Vitamin D also is necessary for bone growth and can be absorbed from the sun and through supplements, with a daily intake of 400 IU (international units).
- A protein-rich diet that includes calcium is also an important factor in bone maintenance.
- Your doctor may also recommend bisphosphonate medications that help prevent bone loss.
You don’t have to wait until you have a fracture to strengthen your bones. Even young children can strengthen their bones by eating a nutritious diet containing calcium and vitamin D, avoiding protein malnutrition and being physically active regularly. The International Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that increasing peak bone mass in children by 10% reduces the risk of a bone fracture as an adult by 50%.
Adults who want to avoid osteoporosis should continue to follow the same nutrition and activity guidelines as recommended for children—with diets rich in calcium and vitamin D and regular weight-bearing activity. Additionally, adults should avoid under-nutrition, particularly from severe weight loss diets or eating disorders. They should also avoid smoking (first- or second-hand) and heavy drinking.
While osteoporosis is common and serious, with preventive measures, it is not inevitable. In the same vein, with early recognition and partnering with your doctor, osteoporosis can still be treated and its effects minimized so you can continue with your active life.