Osteoporosis Prevention and Risk Factors

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Throughout life, bones go through a constant state of loss and regrowth, however as we age the loss accelerates to the point that regrowth cannot keep up and osteoporosis may develop. Osteoporosis causes the bones to become thin and fragile, increasing the chance of breaking with an even minor injury.

Preventing Osteoporosis

Because it is hard to replace bone that is lost, prevention is key. Beginning a lifelong commitment to exercise and healthy nutrition while you are still young reduces your risk of developing this condition later in life. Remember, you are never too young to think about preventing osteoporosis.

Exercise increases bone mass before menopause and helps to reduce bone loss after menopause. Bone strength increases with regular exercise that includes weight-bearing exercise such as jumping work best.

An adequate calcium intake is essential in the prevention of osteoporosis. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seafood. Most women get only about half of the calcium they need every day so taking a calcium supplement is often advisable. The best form of calcium for preventing bone loss is calcium carbonate. If you choose to use calcium supplements, it's important that you understand that the body can only absorb up to 500 mg of calcium at one time, so you will need to divide your dose if the amount of calcium supplement you take exceeds that amount.

Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb calcium. Milk that is fortified with vitamin D is one of the best sources. Sunlight also is an excellent source of vitamin D. In fact, being in the sun for just 15 minutes a day helps the body produce and activate vitamin D.

Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?

As women age estrogen levels decrease and the risk of osteoporosis increases. Women who take birth control pills during their reproductive years may reduce their risk of osteoporosis developing later in life, probably because of the estrogen that many oral contraceptives contain. Estrogen replacement therapy helps to protect women against bone loss. 

These things are great for making sure that you don't develop osteoporosis, but there are many things that put you at risk for the bone degenerating disease:

  • Menopause, because the level of estrogen produced by the ovaries decreases significantly leading to an increased risk of bone loss.
  • Surgical menopause, because the removal of the ovaries accelerates the process of bone loss to a rapid level unless estrogen replacement therapy is begun.
  • An inadequate intake of calcium throughout life increases the chance of bone loss since calcium is one of the main components in bone.
  • White women and Asian women face the greatest risk of osteoporosis.
  • An inactive lifestyle puts women at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis because impact exercises like jumping build bones.
  • Women with a slender build experience more bone loss than other women.
  • A history of eating disorders increases the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Women whose family history includes osteoporosis have a higher risk of developing bone loss.
  • Some medications such as diuretics, steroids, and anticonvulsants increase the risk.
  • Women who smoke or drink alcohol experience a higher incidence of osteoporosis.

Symptoms of bone loss include back pain or tenderness, a loss of height, and a slight curvature or 'hump' of the upper back.

If you feel that you are at risk for osteoporosis, talk with your physician. Your physician may order a bone density scan which is a simple and painless tool that measures bone density. You may also be prescribed medication. Women who do not take estrogen after menopause have other options for preventing osteoporosis including drugs such as calcitonin which slows bone loss. Your physician can help you determine what treatment is best for you.

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Article Sources

  • Osteoporosis. ACOG Education Pamphlet AP048.