According to the National Institutes of Health, about 10 million people in the United States suffer from osteoporosis, and another whopping 34 million are perfect candidates for the disease due to low bone density (or osteopenia). Simply put, osteoporosis is a condition that weakens the bone, making them brittle, frail and more prone to fractures.
The lower the bone density (mass) the easier it becomes for that bone to break. Typically, bone density starts to decrease after age 30 to 35, and the rate at which it decreases depends mainly on genetics and lifestyle. Osteopenia – a slight decrease in bone mass – is usually an indicator of predisposition to osteoporosis. Bone density tests can often identify if there are any problems.
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Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, especially during and after menopause when estrogen levels drop. White and Asian women are at higher risk than Hispanics and African Americans. However, all women across every ethnicity are at risk.
One of the reasons why awareness on osteoporosis is a concern is that it often has no symptoms. We do not realize how weak our bones are until they break. Bones in the hip, wrist and spine are most commonly affected by this condition.
While you can’t control getting older, or other factors like gender and family history – there are plenty of risk factors that you can control – some that have just as much ( if not more) of an impact than genetics.
Some of these risk factors include nutritional habits (obesity and eating disorders rank high in the list of risks), level of activity (sedentary habits put you at higher risk), and mineral deficiency.
Also, remember to work closely with your doctor if you suffer from any illnesses that have a direct effect on bone density such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, IBS, cancer, or diabetes.
Even though age is a risk factor, osteoporosis is not reserved for the elderly. Your habits during your 20s, 30s and 40s influence greatly your chances of losing bone mass. Prevention is key.
Although x-rays can detect osteoporosis, this usually happens when the condition is in an advanced phase. Bone density tests, on the other hand, can record the rate at which a person loses bone density and identify the risk of osteoporosis at an earlier stage.
In order to prevent and decrease the risks of developing osteoporosis, these steps are recommended:
- Keep up with calcium (and vitamin D)
Calcium, a mineral, actively strengthens bones while vitamin D assists in calcium absorption. Consuming calcium without vitamin D does little for your bones. Foods that are rich in calcium include low fat-dairy products, broccoli, kale, tofu, beans, almonds and sesame seeds. For your recommended daily amount of of calcium (by age) check out the chart provided by NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center.
Not sure how to get more vitamin D? Vitamin D is present in tuna, salmon, dairy and eggs, and we produce it naturally when exposed to sunlight. One of the best supplements you can take for vitamin D is cod-liver oil, which is also rich in Omega 3s. As always, before starting any new supplement, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.
A healthy lunch on a sunny patio? Sounds like a fun way to keep osteoporosis at bay! (Just remember to apply sunscreen.)
- Pump up
Think that pumping iron only benefits your muscles? Not true! Since your bones follow a similar breakdown and repair pattern, weight training is just as effective for preserving bone density. Build up those muscles, and fortify those bones!
If you are at risk of having osteoporosis, however, be careful about avoiding exercises that can prompt fractures.
All physical activity can be beneficial including walking, swimming, dancing, Yoga and light resistance stretching.
- Nix those vices
Are you still smoking? Drinking a little more than moderately? A soda fanatic? An overall healthy lifestyle is one that is non-dependent on substances. And those vices affect every aspect of your health – including your bone health.
- Be pro-active
Both men and women over the age of 50 should consider having a bone density test. Remember, even if you do have osteoporosis, there are still ways that you can prevent broken and fractured bones. Your doctor can talk to you about basic medications and how to prevent falling and other high-risk situations.
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