Can you imagine breaking a bone just because you sneezed? For people with osteoporosis, who have brittle bones that can easily break, it’s something they worry about. 10 million people in the United States have osteoporosis, and 8 million of the 10 million are women. When we think of our bones, we think of them as strong and solid, but it isn’t exactly the case.
The Consistency of Bones
Bones are actually not as solid as you might think, like concrete or steel. They are actually quite porous, allowing the transfer of nutrients and other minerals like calcium to the bones. This allows our bones to be both strong and light enough for our bodies to carry around.
Our bones are quite similar to other organs throughout our body, and our bodies constantly break it down and build it back up to keep it strong and healthy throughout our lifetime. While we are young, the building process outdoes the breaking down process, so our bone mass increases and we grow and develop throughout our youth. This growth process typically stops by the time we hit 18, and by the time we reach age 30, the trend begins to reverse. Our bodies aren’t able to replenish and rebuild as much of our bone material as we lose, and slowly over time our bones lose mass and begin to deteriorate. This process leads to more porous bones and a higher risk of broken bones or fractures.
Osteoporosis develops quietly over many years, but there are subtle signs to pay attention to. Unfortunately there are a few risks that we cannot control but should be noted.
Gender – As we noted earlier, women are at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men are. This is because women start off with less bone mass to begin with, and following menopause, hormone changes can speed the loss of bone mass. That is not to say that men are not affected by osteoporosis, particularly if they identify with other risk factors soon to be listed.
Ethnicity – Women who are Caucasian or Asian have a higher risk, as their bone mass is on average lower than other ethnicity groups.
Genetics – If you had a close relative that had osteoporosis, your risk is much higher.
History of Fractures – If you have had fractures anywhere in your body in the past, even as a child, then you are at a higher risk of osteoporosis.
Diet – A lack of calcium and vitamin D increases your risk. Bones are made primarily from calcium and other minerals, so it’s important to have enough nutrients for them particularly during the declining stages of your bones.
Physical Activity – Bones are like muscles in that they become stronger with more exercise. It isn’t healthy for them to go through long periods of inactivity. Although all healthy exercises are good for bones, walking and hiking are particularly great.
Alcohol and Tobacco – Excessive drinking of alcohol and use of tobacco throughout one’s life can have an adverse effect on bone health. Individuals who smoke have a more difficult time retaining calcium from the foods they eat.
Medications – Other medications taken for a variety of purposes can lead to a higher risk of osteoporosis, including medications for asthma, arthritis, anti-seizure, thyroid hormones, and some cancer medications. Consult with your physician if you believe you are taking medications that increase your risk of osteoporosis.
Although osteoporosis is a slow developing disease, there are some symptoms that come from it as it begins to develop.
Back Pain – It can be severe if you fractured or had collapsed vertebrate in the past.
Shrinking – Over time, cartilage in your bones will wear away, which will result in a decrease in height. The loss in height can also come from bones, which can be a result of osteoporosis. If noticeable, talk with your physician. Also talk with your physician if you’re beginning to stoop over, when you stand up.
Fractures – If you’re experiencing fractures in your vertebrate, wrists or hips, at any age, it may be because of osteoporosis.