Why Osteoporosis Presents a Very Real Risk to Older Adults
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes a person’s bones to become brittle and weak. In many instances, a person with osteoporosis has bones that become so brittle that a fall or even what is mild stress can cause a fracture. In addition to falls, the stresses that can result in fractures for a person with osteoporosis include bending over or over coughing. Fractures of breaks associated with osteoporosis most often occur in the:
Bone is composed of living tissue. Bone constantly is being broken down and replaced in the natural course. When osteoporosis occurs, the creation of new bone does not keep up with the loss of the old.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
In most cases, a person is in the early stages of osteoporosis but has no idea that he or she is so afflicted. After osteoporosis progresses, there are symptoms associated with the condition. You need to understand that if you are suffering from osteoporosis, your bones will already be weakened and brittle before you experience the most commonplace symptoms of the condition. These symptoms of osteoporosis (in more advanced stages) include:
- Back pain (caused by a fracture)
- Back pain (caused by collapsed vertebra)
- Loss of height (over time)
- Stooped posture
- Bone fracture that occurs more quickly than expected
Who is Affected by Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis can affect women and men of all races and in different age cohorts. With that said, some groups are at higher risk for osteoporosis. These are:
- White women
- Asian women
- Women past menopause
Deeper Dive into Those Affected by Osteoporosis
Over 53 million people over age 50 in the United States have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or identified as having low bone mass. Low bone mass is the only actual early warning sign that a person may be on a pathway to developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis often is referred to as a silent disease for reasons we have already touched on a moment ago. The grim reality is that, in many cases, a person was unaware he or she had osteoporosis until that individual experienced a bone fracture.
If a person is diagnosed with osteoporosis in advance of a bone break, it is not uncommon for such an individual to leave in relatively constant fear of breaking a bone. For a person with osteoporosis, a bone fracture can prove to be life-altering. For example, about 50 percent of older people who fracture a hip are never fully capable of recovering their independence. In other words, a hip break proves permanently debilitating or even fatal (as the result of associated complications).
As we noted, osteoporosis hits women harder than men. For women, the risk of breaking a hip due to osteoporosis is equal to their risk of other diseases breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancers – combined.
Women are more likely to be diagnosed with osteoporosis because they generally have a smaller bone mass than men. As a consequence, women with small frames are particularly at risk. The same holds true for older women because bone loss occurs rapidly during menopause.
Older men also have a greater chance of developing osteoporosis than younger ones. Race also appears to play a role in the incidence of osteoporosis. Caucasians, Asians, and Latinos are deemed to be more at risk than other racial groups.
There may also be a genetic connection to osteoporosis. People with a family history of osteoporosis are at greater risk of developing the disease. In addition, people taking steroid medication for an extended period of time are at risk of developing rapid and severe bone loss.
Lifestyle can also make a difference in the risk of osteoporosis. People who do not consume enough calcium through food or supplements increase their risk of developing osteoporosis. In addition, inactivity can also increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. This is because bones build up in response to weight-bearing and strength-training exercises.
Other lifestyle factors that put people at higher risk for osteoporosis include:
- Drinking more than one alcoholic drink per day for women or two for men
How to Lower the Risk or Even Prevent Osteoporosis
There are strategies you can follow that have the potential to lower the risk of developing osteoporosis. The bottom line is that good nutrition and exercise are essential in maintaining bone health, which in turn reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Regarding your diet, upping your calcium game is likely a good course to take. If you are like many adults, including older Americans, you may not be getting enough calcium in your diet.
Men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. This daily amount increases to 1,200 milligrams when women turn 50 and men turn 70.
Ideal sources of calcium include:
- Low-fat dairy products
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Canned salmon or sardines with bones
- Soy products, such as tofu
- Calcium-fortified cereals and orange juice
Some people find it challenging to get enough calcium in their diets. If that describes you, consider taking calcium supplements. You need to recognize that too much calcium has been linked to kidney stones. Although unclear, some experts suggest that too much calcium, especially in supplements, can increase the risk of heart disease. Your doctor can guide you to ensure that you get the proper amount of calcium – not too little, not too much.
To reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, your diet also needs to include proper amounts of vitamin D. Vitamin D improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium and improves bone health in other ways. People can get some of their vitamin D from sunlight.
Sunlight alone might not be a good source if you live in a high latitude, if you’re housebound, or if you regularly use sunscreen or avoid the sun because of the risk of skin cancer.
Dietary sources of vitamin D can be helpful. You can obtain reasonable amounts of vitamin D from food selections that include:
- Cod liver oil
- Many types of milk are fortified with vitamin D
Most people need at least 600 international units of vitamin D a day. That recommendation increases to 800 international units a day after age 70.
People without other sources of vitamin D and especially those with limited sun exposure, might also need a supplement. Most multivitamin products contain between 600 and 800 IU of vitamin D. Up to 4,000 IU of vitamin D a day is safe for most people.
Exercise can also be precious to help you build strong bones and slow bone loss that eventually could lead to osteoporosis. Exercise will benefit your bones no matter when you start. Still, you’ll gain the most benefits if you start exercising regularly when you are younger and continue to exercise throughout your life. Combine strength training exercises with weight-bearing and balance exercises. Strength training helps strengthen muscles and bones in your arms and upper spine. Weight-bearing exercises (which include walking, jogging, running, stair climbing, skipping rope, skiing, and impact-producing sports) affect mainly the bones in your legs, hips, and lower spine. Balance exercises such as tai chi can reduce your fall risk, especially as you get older.