We have all likely heard that osteoporosis mostly affects the elderly and that it could lead to broken bones. Your bones are in a constant state of renewal — new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you are young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone and your bone mass increases. As we age, bone mass is lost faster than it is created. For this reason, it is best not to wait until you retire before you start worrying about preventing osteoporosis. The crucial years before you reach your senior years help you establish habits that can protect your bones and reduce the risk of developing the disease.
Overall, about 54 million Americans have osteoporosis. Women typically start out with lower bone density than men as it is, and loss of estrogen over time can increase the risk for osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a “silent” condition that doesn’t cause any symptoms. You may not know you have it until you break a bone. Early intervention can prevent or minimize the chances of this happening.
What is Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a degenerative disease in which bones are weakened and thinned to the point that they tend to break more easily. Healthy bones have a structure that is similar to a honeycomb, which has small holes. In people with osteoporosis, the holes and spaces that make up bones are significantly larger. In fact, the word osteoporosis literally means “porous bone.”
As bones lose density and become more porous, it becomes harder for them to maintain their shape and structure. When bones lose density and become more fragile, your risk of fractures increases. Osteoporosis often leads to fractures in your wrists, spine, and hips. An osteoporosis fracture could happen from a fall or even, in more severe cases, during a coughing fit. And since we are living longer, age-related degenerative diseases like osteoporosis are becoming more prevalent.
There typically are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. But once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you might have signs and symptoms that include:
- Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
- Loss of height over time
- A stooped posture
- A bone that breaks much more easily than expected
Osteoporosis is more common in women than men. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of all adults over age 50 already have osteoporosis or are at increased risk of it.
The primary risk factor for osteoporosis is advancing age. But there are a few other things that can further increase your risk. These include:
- Sex: postmenopausal people are at the highest risk
- Body Size: people who have a small frame
- Race: white and Asian women have the greatest risk
- Family History: if a parent has osteoporosis
- Hormones: low levels of estrogen or testosterone
- Diet: deficient in calcium and vitamin D, excessive dieting, or poor protein intake
- Certain Medical Conditions: endocrine and hormonal diseases, conditions that affect the absorption of nutrients, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, anorexia, and HIV
- Certain Medications: long-term medication use, including some antidepressants, cancer medications, proton pump inhibitors, and more
- Lifestyle Factors: like alcohol abuse, low levels of physical activity, and smoking
Taking steps to limit or reduce these risks can help prevent osteoporosis. The following tips can help you maintain bone strength and prevent osteoporosis.
Keep Bones Healthy Through Your Diet
Get the Right Amount of Calcium
Calcium is a mineral that helps build bones and keep them strong. Getting enough calcium is essential to prevent osteoporosis. People lose calcium through their sweat, urine, and skin. The body does not make calcium. This means individuals get the mineral from the foods they eat or supplements. If you do not consume enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones, weakening them in the process.
The recommended daily amount of calcium for adults through either food, supplements, or both includes:
- Females age 50 and younger: 1,000 milligrams (mg)
- Females age 51 and older: 1,200 mg
- Males age 70 and younger: 1,000 mg
- Males age 71 and older: 1,200 mg
Good Sources of calcium
Dietary sources of calcium include:
- low fat dairy
- dark green leafy vegetables
- salmon with bones
- calcium-fortified foods like soymilk, tofu, orange juice, cereal, and bread
A calcium supplement may be a good idea if you cannot consume enough calcium through your regular diet. This can be a particular challenge for people who are lactose intolerant or vegan, as well as people whose bodies don’t absorb nutrients well, like those who have had bariatric surgery.
Pair Calcium with Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and use it to strengthen your bones. The body absorbs vitamin D through food and exposure to sunlight. Only a few foods contain vitamin D, so the body gets 70% to 80% of its required intake from sunlight. Unfortunately, most of us cannot rely solely on the sun to get our daily dosage for many reasons: indoor living, sunscreen, skin tone, seasonal changes, etc.
Your goal should be:
- 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day if you are 70 or younger
- 800 IU if you are 71 or older
The amount of time you spend indoors, where you live, and what season it is can all affect how much vitamin D you absorb.
Dietary sources of vitamin D include:
- milk and plant milks
- orange juice
- fatty fish
- egg yolks
Add More Lean Proteins to Your Diet
Higher protein intake is associated with higher bone density, a slower rate of bone loss, and a reduced risk of hip fracture (as long as you get enough calcium). Older adults with inadequate protein intake are at greater risk of muscle weakness, frailty and falling.
For optimal bone health, try to incorporate a good amount of lean proteins.
These options include:
- lean beef
- low fat dairy
- soy products
- grains, nuts, seeds
Exercise Your Bones
It is important to aim for a well-rounded exercise routine that includes a mix of weight-bearing cardio, strength and resistance training, and flexibility exercises. Even non-weight-bearing exercise is beneficial for your bone health because it can help with muscle strength, coordination, and balance, which can help prevent falls and related fractures.
Exercises that are weight-bearing include:
- Weight training
Exercises that are not weight-bearing include:
- Elliptical machine
- Recumbent bike
- Gentle yoga practices
Maintain a Healthy Weight
People who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of osteoporosis. Your body mass index (BMI), which is a calculation based on your height and weight, is linked to your risk of osteoporosis. Heart disease, diabetes, and stroke are also health complications often associated with carrying excess body weight, but there’s a link between osteoporosis and obesity that shouldn’t be ignored.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by decreases in bone strength and mineral density. It affects more than 200 million people worldwide. While osteoporosis is often seen as a condition that mainly affects the aging population, it is not a natural part of aging, and anyone of any age can be diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Avoid Smoking and Heavy Drinking
Studies have found a direct connection between tobacco use and the loss of bone density. People who smoke also tend to have other risk factors for osteoporosis, including alcohol use, poor diet, and less physical activity. Women who smoke may also experience earlier menopause, which affects bone health. Smoking may also increase your risk of fractures. And it has been shown to negatively affect healing after a fracture.
Excess alcohol may also harm the bones. Plus, heavy alcohol intake may also increase the risk of falls, leading to a fracture. Consider limiting alcohol to 1 drink daily for females and 2 drinks daily for men.
Preventing falls helps reduce the risk of broken bones. Broken bones can lead to decreased physical activity and additional bone loss. Preventing falls takes a multifaceted approach and includes:
- exercises to improve balance
- reducing fall risks in the home by securing rugs, reducing clutter, improving lighting, and adding handrails
- addressing medical issues that affect balance
- getting enough sleep
- using an assisted device, such as a cane or walker, as necessary
Ask Your Doctor
If you are concerned about your bone health or your risk factors for osteoporosis, including a recent bone fracture, consult your doctor. He or she might recommend a bone density test. The results will help your doctor gauge your bone density and determine your rate of bone loss. By evaluating this information and your risk factors, your doctor can assess whether you might be a candidate for medication to help slow bone loss.
To learn more about bone health or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, call us at 800-698-1280.