Understanding and Preventing Osteoporosis
As we age, the strength of our bones reduces. Too much reduction leads to a disease known as “osteoporosis”, where bones can break very easily. Bone is living tissue, and our bodies replace the tissue as time goes on to keep them strong. However, in our thirties, the body becomes unable to keep up the pace on its own, and by our fifties, the amount of bone we lose is much greater than the amount replaced.
If you were to look at a cross-section of a bone, the inside of each one has a structure similar to a honeycomb, with a web of tissues and empty spaces in between. If you suffer from osteoporosis, the spaces get larger, the web of tissue shrinks, and the outer shell becomes thinner and more brittle. All of these effects serve to make the bones extremely weak and prone to breakage.
Osteoporosis can strike at any age, but it most commonly affects older adults, especially older women. The reason for this is the onset of menopause rapidly increases the rate of bone loss, whereas in men it maintains the same steady rate of decline throughout aging, until around age 70 when the two rates are concurrent again.
You might one day hear your doctor tell you that you have either low bone mass, or osteopenia. These two terms are the same, and mean that you’re in the early stages of bone loss that could easily one day increase to osteoporosis. If your doctor gives you this diagnosis, then the time to take steps to prevent, or even reverse, further bone loss is now.
There are steps you can take at any age to prevent bone loss and help support your bone density. Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D are important, as calcium is used to create more bone tissue, and vitamin D regulates and controls how calcium is used in the body. Some high-calcium foods include milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy foods, leafy greens like collard greens, kale, or broccoli rabe, and beans or lentils. You can also take a calcium supplement or a multivitamin.
Another important thing is to engage in regular movement and weight-bearing exercise. Walking, running, dancing, weight-training, and more will all help. Activity that puts stress on your bones will spur your bone-creating cells into action, encouraging them to increase the strength and amount of tissue inside your bones. If you’re already suffering from osteoporosis or brittle bones, care must be taken when exercising to protect your bones and avoid risking damage. Avoid any movements that involve twisting the spine or bending forward at the waist, such as golf or situps.
If your bone loss is too advanced to be corrected through exercise and diet, however, consulting with your doctor can get you prescribed on a medication specifically meant to treat osteoporosis. Some slow bone loss, and some can even reverse the damage. A very important step to take if your loss is too advanced, is fall-proofing your home, as with osteoporosis, even a minor fall can cause a major bone fracture.