A Guide to Better Understanding and Well-Being
The fact is, everyone experiences slow loss of bone strength and bone density throughout his or her life, beginning around the age of 25 and progressing as we get older. If left unchecked, this process, known as Osteoporosis, can cause bones to become weak and brittle — so much so that a fall or even mild stresses like bending over or coughing can cause a fracture. At present, an estimated 10 million Americans — 80 percent of them female — already have this disease, and another 34 million have significantly reduced bone mass. To make matters worse, many of those with the problem are unaware that their bone health is in jeopardy. Estimates are that four times as many men and nearly three times as many women have osteoporosis than are reported.
Fortunately, there are many steps we can take, at every age, to maintain optimum bone health.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease that thins and weakens bone tissue, leaving the bones less dense and more prone to fracture. It is important to note that bone is living tissue. To keep bones strong, the body is constantly breaking down old bone and replacing it with new tissue. As you age, more bone is lost than is replaced, making bones thinner and more vulnerable. Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, it is both preventable and highly treatable.
Who is Affected?
One of the widely accepted and most dangerous myths about this common condition is that only women need to be concerned. The truth is that while far more women are affected, osteoporosis affects members of both sexes, and people of all races and backgrounds.
What are the Risk Factors?
Factors for developing osteoporosis include:
- Aging (risk increases after age 50)
- A family history of the disease
- A thin, small-boned frame
- Having had an early menopause
- Low calcium intake
- Physical inactivity
- Prolonged use of certain medicines
- Smoking and/or excessive alcohol use
Reducing the Risk
Building strong bones early in life is the best way to guard against osteoporosis. However, osteoporosis can be slowed or even prevented well into the later years by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. That means:
- Eat foods rich in calcium, the basic building block for bones. These include milk and milk products such as low-fat cheese and yogurt, sardines and other canned fish, beans, peas and dark leafy green vegetables.
- Get enough vitamin D, which improves the body’s ability to use calcium effectively.
- Being out in the sun for 20 minutes each day provides most people with enough vitamin D. Eggs, fatty fish and fortified milk and cereal are also rich in Vitamin D.
- Consult your doctor to determine if you should take calcium supplements. Women should ask about hormone replacement therapy and other pharmaceutical treatment options.
- Participate in regular weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging or bicycling. Again, consult your physician before beginning any type of exercise program.
- Quit smoking and if you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
Are You Losing Bone?
Bone Mineral Density (BMD) measurement is the only way to determine the presence of osteoporosis. A painless, non-invasive scan can measure bone mass, detect osteoporosis, determine rate of bone loss and predict the risk of fracture. Ask your doctor about this test if you are at risk for the disease.
Along with lifestyle and dietary changes, there are several medication options which can slow bone loss, or in some cases, rebuild bone. If you have bone loss, talk to your doctor to determine if any of these treatments are right for you.
Get on the Right Track to Good Bone Health
It is never too early or too late to start a program of good bone health. Even if you are among those already coping with bone disease, you can enjoy a rewarding lifestyle by educating yourself about the disease, learning self-care skills and developing a positive approach to your particular problem. Working actively with your health care providers, a well-rounded plan can help you minimize pain, limit or arrest the progress of many bone diseases, and gain a renewed sense of control over your life… at any age.
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