Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. If not prevented or if left untreated, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These broken bones, also known as fragility fractures, occur typically in the hip, spine, and wrist. The US Surgeon General has identified osteoporosis and fragility fractures as major public health problems.
Osteoporosis has no symptoms. You notice no pain or change as the bone becomes thinner, although the risk of breaking a bone increases as the bone becomes less dense. A bone mineral density (BMD) test is usually done to see whether you have osteoporosis. The most accurate test of BMD is dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), although there are other methods. DEXA is a form of X-ray that can detect as little as 2% of bone loss per year. A standard X-ray is not useful in diagnosing osteoporosis because it is not sensitive enough to detect small amounts of bone loss or minor changes in bone density.
Your bones don’t reach their greatest density until you are about 30 years old, so for children and people younger than 30, anything that helps increase bone density will have long-term benefits. If you’re older than 30, it’s still not too late to make these lifestyle changes. A balanced diet and regular exercise will help slow the loss of bone density, delay osteopenia and osteoporosis, and delay or prevent osteoporosis.
- Maximize calcium intake. Most recommendations are for 1000 milligrams of calcium per day for both men and women.
- Increase Vitamin D intake. Once calcium is ingested, vitamin D is essential to help your body absorb it and utilize it.
- Exercise Regularly. To improve and maintain bone density a combination of regular low impact, weight bearing exercise and resistance exercises works best. Weight bearing exercise includes walking, jogging and even dancing.
- Play Outside. Exposure to sunlight on the skin allows the body to manufacture vitamin D3 from cholesterol. As little as 15 minutes a day of moderate sunlight is enough to provide enough vitamin D to meet the most people’s needs.
- Avoid excessive alcohol. Moderating alcohol intake has a direct effect on bone strength.
- Stop Smoking. Smoking is toxic to your bones. It appears to increase the rate of bone loss when bone density is compared in smokers versus non-smokers.
- Speak to your doctor. Your doctor can evaluate your family history and current lifestyle to identify risk factors for osteoporosis. Current medications or other medications may increase your risk of osteoporosis.
- Medications. Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, currently bisphosphonates (alendronate, ibandronate and risedronate), calcitonin, estrogens, parathyroid hormone and raloxifene are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention and/or treatment of osteoporosis.
- Start young. Since most adults do not reach their peak bone density until age thirty, early habits are the most important. The higher the bone density before it reaches its peak, the better. Children should learn early to eat a diet adequate in calcium, to maintain high levels of activity, and to get enough time outdoors in the sunshine.