What Every Woman Needs to Know about Osteoporosis

It is never too early to think about protecting your bones.  It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 women will suffer osteoporosis after the age of 50 and nearly 40% of all women will be diagnosed with osteopenia. Since this disease is 4 times more prevalent in women and strikes us about 20 years earlier it’s imperative that we take preventative measures today to ward off bone loss as we age.

 

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become fragile and tend to break easily. As we age we become less capable of regenerating new bone to compensate for the old bone that is reabsorbed into the body. By the age of 30 women begin to lose about 1% of their bone mass every year. This number can jump as high as 4% after menopause because when our bodies produce less estrogen we become less resistant to cells called osteoclasts that break down bone.  Osteoporosis and its precursor osteopenia are both symptomless diseases and unfortunately are rarely diagnosed until a fracture has occurred, in their later stages not only can bones break with little or no trauma but loss of height, chronic pain and stooped posture can all occur. Since there is no cure for osteoporosis and early diagnosis is rare its important to know what measure you can take today to keep your bones strong and healthy for a lifetime.

 

Diet

Remember your mother telling you to drink your milk? During adolescence our peak bone mass is obtained so getting sufficient calcium at even a young age is vitally important.  When the body does not get sufficient levels of calcium it is unable to produce bone and bone tissue and those who do not achieve optimal bone mass are far more likely to develop osteoporosis in later years. Milk and spinach are both excellent natural sources of calcium but there are many calcium supplements available that you can take to reach your daily values as well. Doctors recommend 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day. Since the body can only absorb 500mg at a time make sure to take 1 supplement twice a day, one at night and one in the morning. It’s important to note that taking a calcium supplement is only effective when combined with ample amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D enables our bodies to absorb calcium so you need to shoot for 200IU’s a day. Getting 10 minutes of sunshine a few days a week is an easy way to get vitamin D or kill two birds with one stone by drinking fortified milk; you will get your calcium and vitamin D in one glass.

 

Exercise

As we age our muscles tend to grow shorter and weaker leaving the body vulnerable to injury.  Weakened muscles are less capable of producing energy making it more difficult to build bone through exercise. The best way to ward off bone and muscle loss is to develop good exercise habits throughout your entire lifetime.  Weight bearing exercises such as walking or jogging force your body to work against gravity and when your muscles pull on bone it builds bones that are stronger and denser. Other good options include weight lifting, stair-climbing and dancing and to keep muscles long and limber and your core strong try adding yoga and Pilates to your routine.

 

Lifestyle
Aside from diet and exercise there are some lifestyle factors that can contribute to your risk of developing osteoporosis. Risk factors include:

  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Consuming large quantities of alcohol
  • Amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods)
  • Low BMI
  • Smoking

 

If you feel that you are at an increased risk of suffering bone loss it is a good idea to ask your physician to perform a bone density test.  This way your doctor can assess your likelihood of developing osteoporosis and determine what the best course of treatment will be.

 

While there is no cure for Osteoporosis there is much that can be done in the way of treatment and prevention.  If you are proactive about bone health, getting plenty of exercise and monitoring your calcium intake, you’re bones will keep up no matter where life takes you.

 


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