Osteoporosis: Risk Factors, Treatment, Diet, and Exercise
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones deteriorate or become brittle and fragile due to low bone mass and bone tissue loss.
The condition is often referred to as a “silent disease” because you cannot feel your bones getting weaker, and many people don't even know they have the condition until after they break a bone.
Osteoporosis increases the risk of fractures, particularly of the hips, spine, and wrists. In fact, osteoporosis causes an estimated 9 million fractures each year worldwide.
As the most common type of bone disease, osteoporosis affects approximately 10 million Americans, and another 44 million people have low bone density, which puts them at risk for the disease.
While osteoporosis mainly affects women, men can also develop the condition. In fact, 1 in 2 women and up to 1 in 4 four men who are over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
Causes of Osteoporosis
Bone is living, growing tissue that consists mostly of the protein collagen, which provides a soft framework, and the mineral calcium phosphate, which adds strength and hardens the framework.
Bone is not a static part of the body — it's constantly being resorbed (broken down) and formed throughout your life.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), your entire skeleton is replaced about every 10 years.
During your childhood and teenage years, bone formation occurs more quickly than bone resorption, resulting in growth.
Osteoporosis is more likely to develop if you did not reach optimal peak bone mass during your bone-building years.
You reach your maximum bone density and strength around age 30, after which time bone resorption slowly overtakes bone formation.
Osteoporosis develops when there's an abnormal imbalance between bone resorption and formation — that is, resorption occurs too quickly, or formation too slowly.
Anything that causes your body to destroy too much bone can cause your bones to become brittle or fragile.
Women experience the most bone loss during the first few years after menopause, and they continue to lose bone from this point on.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Numerous factors are associated with a higher risk of developing osteoporosis. Some people who develop osteoporosis have several risk factors, but others have none. Some risk factors are inherent and cannot be changed. These factors include:
Risk Factors You Can't Change:
Risks Factors You May Be Able to Change:
What Is Secondary Osteoporosis?
Sometimes osteoporosis is caused by a medical condition or treatment that affects bone mass and causes bone loss. This is called secondary osteoporosis. Some disorders can also cause the bone marrow cavity to expand at the expense of the trabecular bone — the inner layer of bone that has a spongy, honeycomb-like structure. When this happens, the trabecular bone loses some of its strength.
Diseases and disorders that can cause secondary osteoporosis may include:
The following drugs or chemicals can also cause osteoporosis:
Treatment for secondary osteoporosis can be complex and may focus on treating the underlying condition or disease causing it. Other methods may include those used to prevent osteoporosis from developing.
Osteoporosis Symptoms and Complications
In its early stages, osteoporosis generally causes no symptoms. Over time, a person with osteoporosis may notice back pain, loss of height, and a stooped posture.
But in many cases the first symptom a person may have is a broken bone.
Bone fractures are the most serious complication of osteoporosis, and the condition itself is serious, causing death in some cases. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) gives the following perspective on the condition:
These fractures usually result from minor falls or accidents, but spinal fractures may also occur if the vertebrae (spinal bones) weaken to the point of crumbling.
While some vertebral fractures cause no symptoms, others can cause back pain and a hunched posture.
Aside from causing pain and altering your posture, osteoporosis and bone fractures can reduce mobility and affect your emotional state, resulting in depression and anxiety.
Osteoporosis also places financial burdens on individuals and society as a whole. The NOF reports that osteoporosis-related bone breaks cost people, their families, and the U.S. healthcare system $19 billion per year. Moreover, by 2025, it's predicted that osteoporosis will cause 3 million fractures in the United States, resulting in $25.3 billion in costs.
Treatment for Osteoporosis
A variety of medication and lifestyle approaches can help slow the rate of bone loss that occurs in osteoporosis.
Some drugs slow the breakdown of bone, while others promote bone formation.
You should speak to your doctor about the best strategy for you, based on your bone mineral density, estimated fracture risk, lifestyle, and any other medical conditions you may have.
About 85 to 90 percent of adult bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys, so building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can help prevent osteoporosis later in life.
There are some lifestyle choices you can make to help prevent osteoporosis, such as:
Exercising When You Have Osteoporosis
Weight-bearing exercise continues to be important for maintaining bone health after you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, but caution is necessary to prevent compression fractures of the spine and falls, which could lead to fractures anywhere in the body.
The best activities for someone who has osteoporosis are low-impact, moderate-intensity forms of exercise, such as walking, hiking, dancing, step aerobics, or using the elliptical machine, recumbent bicycle, or stair-step machine at the gym.
Strength-training, using weights, exercise bands, or your own body weight, also helps to preserve bone density and build muscle strength.
And balance exercises can help you feel more stable on your feet.
Preventing Fractures by Preventing Falls
If you have osteoporosis, it's important to try to avoid falls, which can lead to broken bones.
When you’re outside, take these precautions to prevent falls:
When you’re inside, do this to prevent falls:
A variety of lifestyle precautions can also help you stay safer: