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Be Bone Healthy

Osteoporosis is caused by a gradual decrease in bone strength. If not prevented or treated, osteoporosis can grow painlessly worse until bones start to break. Though osteoporosis can occur in both men and women, it usually shows itself in women after menopause. Osteoporosis can cause serious fractures. Most serious are spinal and hip fractures. Osteoporosis is a major public health issue for over 28 million Americans, 80% of whom are women.

Half of women and one quarter of men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. In the United States, around 10 million people already have osteoporosis and over 34 million probably have low bone density, placing them at risk for osteoporosis. Four out of five people affected by osteoporosis are women.

Although osteoporosis is often thought of as an old person's disease, it can affect younger people who have hormonal difficulties, particularly women with anorexia, bleeding, or menstrual abnormalities in their 20s.

Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including 300,000 hip fractures, 700,000 vertebral fractures, and 250,000 wrist fractures. The estimated U.S. cost for osteoporosis is over $17 billion a year.

Fortunately osteoporosis is preventable. Even when not prevented, osteoporosis can be detected and successfully treated.

Building and Losing Bone

Most men and women build up 98% of their bone by age 20. Exercise, diet, and calcium[1] and Vitamin D supplementation are very important for building strong bones. Additional bone is made up until about age 32. After age 32 most people start to lose bone.

Women lose a large amount of bone during and after menopause. Osteoclasts[2] become more active because of the decrease in estrogen that occurs during menopause.

Exercise and supplementation with calcium and vitamin D can reduce this bone loss. Prescription medicines can also help stop bone loss.

Medication Options in the Prevention and Treatment of Osteoporosis

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Risk of Osteoporosis

Known risk factors for osteoporosis:

  • Being female
  • Thin or small frame
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Postmenopausal, including surgical menopause (i.e., hysterectomy including ovariectomy)
  • History of anorexia or bulimia
  • Prolonged amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods)
  • Low calcium diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Excessive caffeine use
  • Detection of osteoporosis

Osteoporosis usually has no symptoms, other than loss of height. The lack of symptoms points out the need for advertising to alert people to the need for osteoporosis awareness and treatment. Osteoporosis is detected either by bone fracture, or by regular bone density measurements. Early detection of osteoporosis is extremely important in the prevention of osteoporotic fractures.

Other important risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Long-term corticosteroid use
  • Being of white or Asian descent
  • Certain diseases such as Hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s Disease, Crohn’s Disease, and Celiac Disease
  • History of stomach surgery (including weight-loss surgery)
  • The use of certain medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), antacids, some anti-depressants, Methotrexate, and anti-seizure medications

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Bone Nutrition

Calcium is the mineral that most comes to mind when considering osteoporosis treatment. Try to get 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day. Other minerals are also important for bone strength. Trace minerals important in the prevention of osteoporosis include zinc and magnesium. Fortified cereals, red meat and poultry, and legumes are good sources of zinc. Most magnesium in our diet comes from milk and dark green leafy vegetables. So eating plenty of vegetables can help build and keep strong bones.

Too much phosphorus may be bad for bones. Avoiding dark colored soft drinks helps people avoid unnecessary phosphorus. In a 1994 study, girls who consumed greater amounts of cola beverages had a higher incidence of fractures than those who consumed low amounts. Fortunately, a high calcium intake was protective against fractures, particularly among girls who had high physical activity.

Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age

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Dietary Recommendations

Obtain as much calcium, magnesium and other trace minerals from your diet as possible by drinking milk and eating dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, nuts, and seeds. Eliminate or reduce the use of colas and other soft drinks in order to decrease phosphorus intake. If you have trouble tolerating (digesting) milk, try lactose reduced milk, lactase tablets or take a supplement with calcium and possibly vitamin D. Talk with your physician to find out if supplements are right for you.

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The Importance of Exercise

Exercise is effective in preventing and treating osteoporosis. In one study, women who added exercise to their medical therapy increased spinal bone density by 4.4%, while women receiving only bone-restoring medicines showed an increase in spinal bone density of just 1.6%.

Exercise for Osteoporosis

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Conclusions and Recommendations

There are a variety of solutions to the problem of osteoporosis. Whatever choices you make should be made in consultation with your family doctor or a specialist. Avoiding osteoporosis may require changes in lifestyle and diet, possibly nutritional supplementation and even drug therapy. It is worth making these changes because osteoporosis is both preventable and treatable.

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