Osteoporosis affects more than 25 million Americans--mostly women past menopause--approximately 1.2 million bone fractures each year in the US are related to osteoporosis. The National Osteoporosis Foundation says that one in two women and one in eight men over 50 will have an osteoporosis related fracture in their lifetime. Thirty-three percent of women over 65 will experience a fracture of the spine and as many as 20% of hip fracture patients die within 6 months from conditions caused by lack of activity such as blood clots and pneumonia.
Throughout life bones go through a constant state of loss and regrowth, however as people age the loss accelerates to the point that regrowth cannot keep up and osteoporosis may develop. Osteoporosis causes the bones to become thin and fragile, increasing the chance of breaking with even minor injury.
As women age estrogen levels decrease and the risk of osteoporosis increases. Women who take birth control pills during their reproductive years may reduce their risk of osteoporosis developing later in life, probably because of the estrogen that many oral contraceptives contain. Estrogen replacement therapy helps to protect women against bone loss. Dr. John Lee explains in his book, "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Pre-menopause," that studies show that natural progesterone increases bone density in some women who have already experienced bone loss.
Symptoms of bone loss include back pain or tenderness, a loss of height, and a slight curvature or 'hump' of the upper back.
Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?
- During menopause the level of estrogen produced by the ovaries greatly decreases causing the risk of bone loss to increase significantly.
- Surgical menopause with the removal of the ovaries accelerates the process of bone loss to a rapid level unless estrogen replacement therapy is begun.
- An inadequate intake of calcium throughout life increases the chance of bone loss since calcium is one of the main components in bone.
- White women and Asian women face the greatest risk of osteoporosis.
- An inactive lifestyle puts women at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis.
- Women with a slender build experience more bone loss than other women.
- A history of eating disorders increases the risk of osteoporosis.
- Women whose family history includes osteoporosis have a higher risk of developing this condition.
- Some medications such as diuretics, steroids, and anticonvulsants increase the risk.
- Women who smoke or drink alcohol experience a higher incidence of osteoporosis.
Because it is hard to replace bone that is lost, prevention is key. Beginning a lifelong commitment to proper exercise and healthy nutrition while you are still young will reduce your risk of developing this condition later in life. Remember, you are never too young to think about preventing osteoporosis.
Exercise increases bone mass before menopause and helps to reduce bone loss after menopause. Bone strength increases with regular exercise--to help prevent bone loss weight-bearing exercise such as walking, low-impact aerobics, or tennis work best.
An adequate calcium intake is essential in the prevention of osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seafood. Most women get only about half of the calcium they need everyday so taking a calcium supplement is often advisable. The best form of calcium for preventing bone loss is calcium carbonate. If you choose to use supplements it's important that you understand that the body can only absorb up to 750 mg of calcium at one time, so you will need to divide your dose if the amount of calcium supplement you take exceeds that amount.
Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium--milk that is fortified with Vitamin D is one of the best sources. Sunlight also is an excellent source of Vitamin D--being in the sun for just 15 minutes a day helps the body produce and activate Vitamin D.
How much calcium do you need? Calcium is important throughout a woman's life, although the amount necessary varies with age.
- Children from ages 1-10 require 800 mg of calcium daily.
- Teenagers need 1200 to 1500 mg of calcium per day.
- Women between 25 and 50 need 1000 mg of daily calcium before menopause and 1500 mg after surgical or premature menopause.
- Women over 50 require 1500 mg of calcium if they are not taking estrogen and 1000 mg if taking estrogen.
- Pregnant or nursing women need an additional 400 mg of calcium daily.
Younger women who experience the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may be pleasantly surprised to find their symptoms are reduced by employing these osteoporosis preventing techniques. Studies show that calcium supplementation may reduce or prevent up to 50% of all PMS symptoms, and proper exercise is often effective for reducing PMS symptoms.
If you feel that you are at risk for osteoporosis, talk with your physician. You physician may order a bone density scan which is a simple and painless tool that measures bone density. Women who do not take estrogen after menopause have other options for preventing osteoporosis including drugs such as calcitonin which slows bone loss. Your physician can help determine what is best for you.