Osteoporosis and How to Avoid It

May is National Osteoporosis Month, so we’re spreading awareness among our community about this debilitating disorder.

First the good news: it’s preventable when caught early enough, and it’s generally treatable. Like with any health issue, education is essential. There’s a wealth of information available, including the excellent website from the National Osteoporosis Foundation (https://www.nof.org/). We’ll share some of the basics here, and we urge you to learn more online and talk to your doctor.

Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” When the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both, Osteoporosis is the consequence. Porous bones are weak bones, and are more prone to breakage from a fall or even from sneezing or minor bumps in advanced cases.

Healthy bone looks like a honeycomb when magnified. The strength of a structure like this depends on the ratio of holes to spaces, and bones with osteoporosis display much larger holes and spaces in the honeycomb than healthy bone. Anyone 50 or older who has broken a bone should seek a bone mineral density (BMD) test.

What causes brittle, fragile bones? The bones are deficient in essential mineral components, typically due to hormonal changes, calcium deficiency or vitamin D deficiency. Menopause, long-term steroid therapy, lymphoma and certain endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism can contribute to thinning bones. Poor exercise habits, alcohol abuse and smoking increase risk, and small slender women are more prone to suffer osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a sneaky disorder. It causes no pain or symptoms, and is often not discovered until a patient suffers a fracture. As the disease advances and fractures and deterioration accelerate, it can become very disabling and painful. It causes about 1.5 million people fractures annually, almost half of which are spinal fractures. Astonishingly, an average of 24% of hip fracture patients aged 50 and over die in the year following their hip fracture.

Our BMD peaks around age 30. Peak density and density retention are influenced by genetics, exercise and diet. In order to protect yourself from osteoporosis, embrace these practices:

  1. Reduce caffeine consumption
  2. Practice yoga, to strengthen bones and improve balance
  3. Consume alcohol with moderation
  4. Consume adequate calcium
  5. Boost vitamin D with sun exposure, diet or supplements
  6. Prevent falls by clearing clutter, installing lights and paying attention
  7. Maintain a healthy weight–being too thin is a risk factor
  8. Have a bone scan to determine BMD
  9. Get educated about your medications: some drugs which impact bone density include steroids, proton pump inhibitors and SSRIs
  10. Follow the Mediterranean diet
  11. Quit smoking
  12. Exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise, strengthens bone density