As we age, remaining mobile is important to maintaining independence. While bone loss is a normal part of growing older, one in two women and up to one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is often referred to as a “women’s disease” because it disproportionally affects women, especially those who have gone through menopause. The Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation, formally known as the National Osteoporosis Foundation, estimates that in the United States, about 2 million men have osteoporosis compared to 8 million women. And approximately 44 million Americans have low bone density, placing them at increased risk for eventually developing osteoporosis.
What is Osteoporosis?
It is a disease that weakens the bones increasing bone fragility and fractures. For years, the disease can progress, slowly lowering bone density without any symptoms. Often the first indication of osteoporosis is when a bone has already broken. The most common areas for fractures to occur are the hip, wrist and spine. Bone breaks can lead to chronic pain, impaired movement and long-term problems.
Why are women more susceptible to osteoporosis?
Throughout our lifetime, our bones go through countless cycles of breaking down old bone tissue and replacing it with new, stronger ones. In developing children, bone is replaced at a faster rate than it is removed until “peak bone mass,” or the point when bones have reached their maximum strength occurs.
Over time, more bone is lost than is built. For women, there is a dramatic decrease in bone density during and after menopause. The Office on Women’s Health states that some women lose up to 25% of bone mass in the first 10 years after menopause. This is caused by the reduction of estrogen, which is a key regulator of bone metabolism, the cycle of bone growth and resorption.
Women’s small frames and bodies also put them at higher risk. Smaller and lighter bones mean lower bone mass to start with. When bone loss begins, which will naturally occur with age, women with small frames are more likely to be at below-average bone density levels even before menopause.
Other risk factors can include not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, having eating disorders or health conditions like diabetes, taking certain medications and being Asian or white.
What can you do?
Make calcium and vitamin D important in your diet.
Calcium has many benefits to your muscles, nerves, teeth, hormones and of course, your bones. It is not something your body can create naturally, therefore it’s important to get enough of it in the foods you consume and/or from supplements. The majority of the calcium in your body can be found in your bones, and when you do not have enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones, causing them to become brittle and weaken over time.
Vitamin D is also important in preventing osteoporosis. Vitamin D allows your body to absorb and regulate calcium more effectively. Luckily, the sun is one of the best sources of vitamin D. Other sources of vitamin D include foods like salmon, tuna, eggs and cheese as well as supplements. Even though vitamin D seems widely available, a shocking number of Americans are deficient. Be sure to make a conscious effort to safely spend more time in the sun and consume foods high in vitamin D!
Move your body.
Resistance training and weight-bearing workouts can strengthen your bones and muscles while improving your balance, coordination and flexibility. Together these can reduce your chances of fractures or broken bones. Try exercises such as walking, climbing stairs and dancing. You can also utilize free weights and resistance bands. Start small and work your way up to having a consistent workout routine.
There are a variety of ways in which smoking can affect bone health, both directly and indirectly. Studies have linked smoking with bone turnover imbalance and lower bone mass. And nicotine has been known to attach to osteoblasts (cells that build new bone) and kill them.
Limit alcohol consumption.
Excessive drinking can hinder bone development and formation. There have been links between heavy alcohol consumption, slow bone turnover and low bone density. Along with its negative impact on bones, it can increase the risk of falls and injuries.
Consult your doctor.
Osteoporosis will often not show symptoms until the disease has advanced. Ask if you are at high risk for developing osteoporosis and what steps and medications, if necessary, you should take to prevent or manage it. A bone density test, called a DEXA scan, is available to help you and your doctor assess if you show signs of significant bone loss. This test is recommended for older adults, so talk to your doctor if it makes sense for you.
When it comes to health, your actions today can have a big impact on the way you feel tomorrow. To ensure you are healthy, strong and thriving in your older years, take steps to be proactive about your health. Keep in mind aging can look and feel different for everyone. If you suspect something is wrong, don’t hesitate to talk to your trusted primary care provider. You and your care team can work together to form a care plan to address your health concerns and goals. Remember, an early diagnosis can mean a better health outcome.
For more information, visit HealthcareSWFL.org or to make an appointment, call 239.658.3000.