Osteoporosis Can Occur at Any Age

Bone is not a dead substance. It is alive and it performs important functions, one of which is the storage of calcium which is used to maintain the strength of the bone itself. Our bones are in a state of constant change. Old bone cells are always being replaced by new bone. From childhood to about the age of 30, new bone mass is built up more rapidly than old bone is reabsorbed (broken down and absorbed by the body). The higher the bone mass built up in youth, the smaller the chance of osteoporosis developing later in life. Gradually, after 30, new bone begins to be replaced more slowly than old bone is reabsorbed. This is a natural process associated with aging, and it affects both men and women.

Osteoporosis affects both men and women but not equally. More women than men suffer from bone loss. Postmenopausal women have an acceleration of this process because their ovaries cease to produce estrogen, a hormone which (among its various effects) protects women against bone loss. Roughly 20% of osteoporosis sufferers are men; about eight million women and two million men are estimated to be affected in the United States alone. It has also been estimated that another 34 million people have low bone density which, left untreated, will lead to osteoporosis. Although advanced age is a risk factor for osteoporosis, you should know that it can occur at any age.

Osteoporosis is a chain reaction:

Reduced bone mass leads to
Porous, fragile bones which lead to
Increased risk of fracture, especially of the hip, spine and wrist

There are no obvious signs or symptoms of osteoporosis – it develops silently and painlessly. The first sign is often a fractured bone or a collapsed vertebra caused by a fall or even a sudden strain.

The best way to prevent osteoporosis is to build strong bones during childhood and adolescence, and then to keep the bones strong throughout adulthood:

Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium, including:
Dairy products
Dark green, leafy vegetables
Salmon, sardines with bones
Foods enriched with extra calcium (orange juice, cereals, etc.)
If you are not exposed to adequate sunlight each day, you should take a vitamin D supplement.
Do a weight bearing exercise (walking, jogging, weight lifting, tennis, dancing, etc.).
Do not smoke, as smokers appear to absorb less calcium from their food.
Drink as little alcohol as possible.

There are several risk factors for development of osteoporosis. Some are genetic and can not be changed, but others can be changed by changes in diet, and exercise habits.

Factors which can not be changed include:

Being a woman – women have smaller bones than men.
Being a postmenopausal woman – women begin to lose bone more rapidly after menopause because of the loss of estrogen.
Being thin or of small stature and therefore having smaller bones.
Becoming older – osteoporosis develops as we age.
Having a family history of osteoporosis combined with a familial tendency to fractures.
Your ethnic background, Caucasian and Asian women are most at risk, Hispanic and African American women have a lower risk.

Factors which can be changed or modified include:

Eating a diet low in calcium and vitamin D
Using certain medications, including corticosteroids and some anti seizure medicines
Not exercising
Having low levels of estrogen (women) or testosterone (men)

Because osteoporosis has no symptoms, the only way to establish its presence is to have a bone mineral density (BMD) test as part of a complete medical examination. There are several forms of this test. Some machines measure the bone density of the hip and spine, some measure the total body. Yet others measure bone density in a finger, wrist or heel. A bone mineral density test is not invasive nor is it painful.

Treatment is available for osteoporosis but there is no cure. If you are found to have osteoporosis, your physician will prescribe a regimen which will include:

A healthy diet with adequate vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D
A weight bearing exercise program to strengthen your bones
Medication to encourage development of new bone tissue
Several medications to treat osteoporosis have been approved, they include:

Both men and women with osteoporosis are very vulnerable to fractures caused by falls. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, fall proofing your home will help to prevent accidents. Be sure that all area rugs are anchored and will not trip anyone. Wear good, supportive shoes with non-slip soles and a cane or walker for extra stability, if necessary. Avoid walking on wet or slippery floors. Purchase a cordless telephone that you can carry, so you will not be tempted to rush to answer the telephone which could cause an accident.

Osteoporosis, left untreated, will only become worse and cause fractures and injuries. Don’t ignore it – it won’t go away.