Many people think osteoporosis is a disease that’s exclusive to elderly women, but the truth is it can actually affect both women and men and can begin at any age. However, it is more common with women over the age of 50. Women are more prone to osteoporosis because women have less bone mass and smaller frames than men. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, there are an estimated 10 million Americans with this disease and another 34 million who are at risk for developing osteoporosis. Of the estimated 10 million Americans, about 8 million, or 80%, are women.
Osteoporosis, which literally means “porous bones,” is the weakening or thinning of our bones which causes them to become brittle. Bones can become so brittle that a cough or sneeze could cause a fracture and a spine can crumble without a fall. Osteoporosis causes pain, lost height and hunching. The most common fractures are of the spine and hip, and those fractures can be very serious. In fact, a lot of post-hip surgeries can lead to permanent disability and even death for the elderly. Complications can arise post-surgery, and for someone who is elderly, it can be too much for their already weakened bodies.
Some of the risk factors for developing osteoporosis are gender, family history, age, race, and people with small/thin frame size. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and hormone levels are also factors. Osteoporosis can also be caused by a hyperthyroidism, overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands. A diet low in calcium, lack of exercise, eating disorders can also be other factors. Also, people with lactose intolerance should be aware, because they are usually not getting their daily dose of calcium through their diet.
One of the reasons that osteoporosis affects women more than men is because of their lack of estrogen. Estrogen is needed to keep our bones strong and it begins to drop significantly before, during and after menopause. If you are experiencing changes in your menstrual cycle, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Many women in their 40s start becoming premenopausal. Around this time is when it’s best to start checking your estrogen levels regularly. It would also be a good time to get a bone density test to see if you are at risk for osteoporosis.
As far as treating osteoporosis, there are prescription medications on the market. Hopefully the right medication can help reverse some of the bone loss associated with the illness. You must decide with your doctor which one is the right one for you. The important thing to know is that even though you cannot control certain factors such as your age, family history, race – you can control how you live your life.
If you want to help prevent osteoporosis, avoid smoking and drink in moderation. According to the Mayo Clinic, just "one drink a day may decrease your bone formation and reduce your body's ability to absorb calcium." Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. It is recommended that women under 50 take 1000 mg of calcium a day, while women over 50 take 1200 mg a day. Getting enough vitamin D is also very important because it’s a crucial vitamin in calcium absorption. The recommended dose of vitamin D is 600 to 800 IU a day. If your levels are low, check with your doctor to find out what dose works best for you.
You need to start prevention early in your life, not wait until it's too late and your bones are already brittle. If you have a family history of osteoporosis, you should get a bone density test at an earlier age. Osteoporosis is a "silent" disease. Most people do not know they have it until it's too late to do much about it. In some cases, some of the bone loss can be reversed but very rarely can you restore your bones back to the way they should be.
You have a choice with how you live your life. Take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet that is rich in calcium. Don't smoke, only drink in moderation, exercise and get lots of rest. Be sure to check your hormone levels with your doctor. Take care of you so that you can live a long, strong and healthy life.