What you need to know about osteoporosis
Let’s talk about bone health. You become more susceptible to injury when your bones aren’t healthy. Bone health problems like osteoporosis can make daily activities more challenging. So what do you do to improve your bone health and live the healthiest life you can? We’ll discuss possible causes of osteoporosis, risk factors, symptoms, and osteoporosis management techniques.
What is Osteoporosis?
The breakdown and eventual loss of bone mass can lead to osteoporosis. The condition is characterized by a decrease in bone density (a bone density T score -2.5 or below), and this decrease leads to decreased bone strength and increased fragility. Osteoporosis increases your susceptibility to bone injuries such as fractures and breaks.
Osteopenia is a condition occurring before osteoporosis. If you have osteopenia, your bone mass has a lower density than the normal range (the bone density T score falls between -1 and -2.5), but not to as extreme of a degree as osteoporosis. A T score of -1 or above is considered normal.
So, why does osteoporosis occur? Bone is constantly broken down and rebuilt in your body, and this process naturally changes over time. Bone density typically reaches its peak by 30 years old. You can maintain peak bone mass for several years under the right conditions. However, once you turn 35 years old, you’ll naturally begin to lose some bone density every time bones break down to rebuild. Estrogen plays a role in regulating bone density, so after menopause, bone loss occurs at an accelerated rate. If you’d like to reduce rates of bone loss and maintain bone strength, we suggest discussing possible plans with your primary care provider (or expert that knows your situation).
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
Your bone mass will decrease with age, starting around 35 years old, and (due to the reduced presence of estrogen) bone loss occurs more rapidly after menopause. Factors that increase your chances of getting osteoporosis include:
- Age (chances increase as you get older)
- Gender (more common in females)
- Race (more common if you’re Caucasian or Asian)
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of calcium and vitamin D in your diet
- Personal history of bone fractures as an adult
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- History of rheumatoid arthritis
- Low body weight or a small body frame (since you have a lower bone mass to start with)
- Family history of osteoporosis (especially a parent or sibling)
- Low levels of estrogen
- High levels of thyroid hormones
- Certain health conditions and medications
Signs and Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis can be considered a silent condition. It doesn’t usually have warning signs or symptoms before bone fractures. Diagnosis for osteoporosis is usually by X-ray and confirmed with tests measuring bone density. Fractures caused by osteoporosis can occur in almost any skeletal bone and is most common in the spine, hips, ribs, and wrists.
Pain is the symptom most associated with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can also cause loss of height and stooped posture alongside fragile bones. If you are concerned about osteoporosis because of the risk factors that apply in your life, it may be beneficial to request a bone density test.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
Since there are limited (if any) warning signs of osteoporosis, it’s beneficial to get bone density tested if you’re postmenopausal (no matter what age you are) and have fractures or risk factors for osteoporosis or any woman who’s 65+ years old. Prevention is just as important as treatment. The main goal of any treatment for osteoporosis is bone fracture prevention or, when it’s possible, increasing bone density and strength. Some prevention and treatment methods are:
- Living a healthy lifestyle (paying attention to diet, exercise, sleep, etc.)
- Taking medication to stop bone loss and increase bone strength
- Taking medication to increase bone formation
- Avoiding exercises that can injure already weakened bones
- Increasing intake of calcium and vitamin D
- Home Remedies
Osteoporosis isn’t a completely reversible condition, but it’s possible to slow progress by creating a healthy diet and exercise plan. If you’re 19-50 years old, 1,000 mg/day of calcium is the dietary recommendation. For women 51+ years, daily recommendations go up to 1,200 mg/day. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, and its daily recommendation is 600 IU/day until you turn 71. At this point, increase the amount to 800 IU/day. Red meat and soft drinks contain phosphorus, which can impact rates of bone loss. Calcium absorption can be slowed down by caffeine and alcohol, so reducing your consumption could help. Regular weight-bearing activities such as walking, climbing stairs, and weightlifting can promote bone density and strength. It may be beneficial to chat with your primary care provider about which activities will do more harm than good for your situation. Lifestyle changes aren’t always enough to slow the progress of osteoporosis without prescribed medication.
Have a chat with your primary care provider if you think you have an increased risk of osteoporosis.