Osteoporosis, which literally means "porous bone", is a disease in which the density and quality of bone are reduced. As bones become more porous and fragile, the risk of fracture is greatly increased. The loss of bone occurs silently and progressively. Often there are no symptoms until the first fracture occurs.
As you age, you can lose more bone than you form.
Bones are living tissue, and the skeleton grows continually from birth to the end of the teenage years, reaching a maximum strength and size (peak bone mass) in early adulthood, around the mid-20s. Your bones are made up of three major components which make them flexible and strong. Osteoporosis happens when you lose too much bone, make too little bone, or both
After you reach peak bone mass, the balance between bone formation and bone loss might start to change. Inside your body you are constantly losing old bone while you make new bone. You may start to slowly lose more bone than you form. In midlife, bone loss usually speeds up in both men and women. For most women, bone loss increases after menopause, when estrogen levels drop sharply. In the five to seven years after menopause, women can lose 20% or more of their bone density. It’s never too late at any age to take steps to protect your bones.
Are You at Risk?
There are a variety of factors that put you at risk for developing osteoporosis. About 50% of women, and up to 25% of men, over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. The most common fractures associated with osteoporosis occur at the hip, spine and wrist. The likelihood of these fractures occurring, particularly at the hip and spine, increases with age in both women and men. Being female puts you at higher risk of developing osteoporosis and broken bones.
- About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis; about 80% are women.
- About 50% of women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.
- The combined risk for a woman of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers is equal to her risk of breaking her hip.
- Estrogen protects bone health. When it decreases sharply at menopause, the result can be bone loss. This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women reach menopause.
- In the five to seven years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 20% of her bone density. This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women reach menopause.
How Diseases and Conditions can impact bone loss
Some health problems can increase chances of getting osteoporosis; even some medications can have a deleterious effect on your bones. If you have a disease or condition that may cause bone loss, it’s important to speak with your physician and learn what you can do to maintain healthy bones.
Prevention and Staying Healthy
Osteoporosis is not necessarily a part of normal aging. You’re never too young or too old to improve the health of your bones. Whatever your age, the habits you adopt now can affect your bone health for the rest of your life. Here's what you can to protect your bones?
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D and eat a well-balanced diet. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is essential to building strong, dense bones when you're young and to keeping them strong and healthy as you age.
- Engage in regular exercise. Diet and exercise play critical roles in building and maintaining good bone health for people at every life stage – from infancy through adulthood. Eat foods that are good for bone health. If you eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of dairy, fish, fruits and vegetables, you should get enough of the nutrients you need every day, but if you're not getting the recommended amount from food alone, your doctor may recommend multivitamins or supplements.
- Avoid smoking and second-hand smoking. The years from childhood until age 30 are prime time for building bone mass. If you smoke, bone loss is more rapid and includes more complications.
- Limit alcohol use. Tests show that chronic heavy drinking during adolescence and young adult years can compromise bone quality and may increase osteoporosis risk. Research shows that the effects of heavy alcohol use on bone cannot be reversed, even if you stop drinking.
Be your own advocate
Modern medicine is debunking the notion that osteoporosis is an inevitable part of aging. There is a lot of information available on how to prevent, detect, and treat this disease. You are never too young or old to take care of your bones. Good lifestyle habits can help you protect your bones and decrease your chance of getting osteoporosis. So, remember to speak with your doctor about your bone health!