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National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month

Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention

Protect Your Bone Health From Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease afflicting more women than men, causing bone density and strength loss without any symptoms until debilitating bone fracture occurs, oftentimes inducing slow and painful healing processes, decreased permanent mobility, loss of independence and even early death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women aged 50+ years have a quadrupled risk over men within the same age bracket of developing osteoporosis of the femur, neck or lumbar spine. Of the men, 4.2% have osteoporosis, compared to 18.8% of the women having the disease.

Osteoporosis is a disease predominantly affecting older women’s health. According to experts, 1 out of 2 women over age 50+ years will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture within her lifetime. In women aged 50 through 59 years, a concerning 58% have low bone mass; what’s more, this percentage of women with low bone mass will increase as these women age. In women, osteoporosis usually occurs in the 10 to 15 years after menopause.

U.S. health experts indicate osteoporosis causes 1.5 million fractures each year in our country alone.   

May is designated National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. Your local Capital Women’s Care team of women’s health professionals shares important information about osteoporosis, its risk factors and testing recommendations.  Plus, we share valuable tips to help you reduce your osteoporosis risk, including tips for building bone mass and preventing bone loss so you can enjoy optimal bone health. 

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bone density and strength, causing fractures. Known as a silent disease, osteoporosis is usually not diagnosed until bone fracture occurs. Some instances of osteoporosis cause extreme bone fragility and weakness, as bones may fracture during daily activities like lifting, coughing or reaching. Osteoporosis often affects the forearm, wrist, hip, femur, neck or lumbar spine. It affects posture, mobility, and independence, with many succumbing to early death due to osteoporosis-related fractures.

Your body requires both calcium and vitamin D for healthy, strong bones:

  • Calcium is found in your bones and teeth, and it helps build bones and keep them healthy. Your body also uses calcium to help blood clot and muscles contract.

    If you don’t get enough calcium each day from nutrition, your body takes the calcium it needs from your bones, thus making bones weak.

    You can get calcium either through nutrition or calcium supplements.

    Calcium requirements vary depending upon your age. Females aged 9 to 18 years require 1,300 mg daily. Women aged 19 through 50 years require 1,000 mg daily. Women aged 51 years and older should have 1,200 mg per day. Pregnant or nursing women need the same amount of calcium as other women of the same age.

  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium from the food you eat. Just eating foods with calcium isn’t enough. You also need to get enough vitamin D to help your body use the calcium it gets.

    Your skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. In general, 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight to the hands, arms, and face, 2 to 3 times a week provides enough vitamin D. The amount of time depends on how sensitive your skin is to light. It also depends on your use of sunscreen, your skin color, the season, the latitude (how far north or south) where you live and the amount of pollution in the air.

    You can also get vitamin D from foods or from vitamin supplements.

    Vitamin D requirements also vary with age. Vitamin D daily requirements for women up to age 70 is 600 international units (IU.) Women aged 71 years and older require 800 IU daily. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need the same amount of vitamin D (600 IU) as other women of the same age.

There is no cure for osteoporosis, although some treatments may stave off additional bone damage.

Optimizing bone health through specific healthy lifestyle choices, adequate vitamin D and calcium intake and osteoporosis screening as recommended based on your personal and family health history are your best defenses against osteoporosis.

Importance of Bone Mass

Bone is living tissue that’s constantly being broken down and rebuilt throughout your life, although the rate of building and replacing new bone tissue slows with aging.

Building strong bones during childhood and the teen years is important to help prevent osteoporosis later. Peak bone mass (when bones are at their most dense and strength) usually occurs at age 30 years; therefore, it’s important to pay attention to your personal bone health and build it early in life. 

Estrogen within a woman’s body plays a vital role in bone health. A decrease in estrogen causes a decline in new bone formation and an increase in bone resorption (dissolving of a bone’s mineral content.) If your body can’t create new bone as quickly as it’s losing old bone, you may have osteoporosis.

Bone mass decreases by 30% to 40% by 70 years of age, but many women lose up to 10% to 20% of bone mass in the 5 to 6 years surrounding menopause.

Both pregnancy and breastfeeding cause changes in, and place extra demands on, women’s bodies, some of which can affect their bones. The good news is that most women don’t experience bone problems during pregnancy and breastfeeding. If a pregnant woman’s bones are affected, the problem often is corrected easily. Nevertheless, taking care of bone health is especially important during pregnancy and breastfeeding, for the good health of both mother and baby. For more information about pregnancy, breastfeeding and bone health, click this link.

Osteoporosis Risk Factors

There are several known risk factors associated with developing osteoporosis. You face greater osteoporosis risk if you:

  • have family history. Those having a parent who’s had a broken hip are more susceptible to osteoporosis.
  • are past menopause. After menopause, your ovaries make very little of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen helps protect bone density. Some women lose up to 25% of bone mass in the first 10 years after menopause.
  • have a small, thin build. (Weight of less than 127 pounds.)
  • are Mexican American or white. One in four Mexican American women and about 1 in 6 white women over 50 years old have osteoporosis. Asian-American women also have a higher risk for osteoporosis because they are usually small and thin and therefore may have less bone density.
  • don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D work together to build and maintain strong bones.
  • don’t get enough physical activity. Women of all ages need to get regular weight-bearing physical activity, like walking, dancing, or playing tennis to help build up and maintain bone density.
  • haven’t gotten a period for 3 consecutive months (also called amenorrhea.) If you have amenorrhea and you aren’t pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking a medicine that stops your periods, talk to your doctor or nurse. Not getting your period means your ovaries may have stopped making estrogen. Women athletes who overtrain are also susceptible to amenorrhea.
  • have an eating disorder. Eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, can weaken bones. Anorexia can also lead to amenorrhea.
  • have a smoking habit. Women who smoke have lower bone density and often go through menopause earlier than nonsmokers. Studies also suggest smoking raises your risk for broken bones, and this risk goes up the longer smoking occurs and the more cigarettes smoked.
  • are diagnosed with a health issue that raises your risk of osteoporosis. These include diabetes, premature ovarian failure, celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease, and depression.
  • take specific medicines to treat long-term health problems, like arthritis, asthma, lupus or thyroid disease.
  • and/or consume excess alcohol. For women, experts recommend no more than 1 alcoholic drink a day if you choose to drink alcohol. Long-term, heavy drinking can cause many health problems, including bone loss, heart disease and stroke.

Reducing Osteoporosis Risk

There are several things you can do to reduce your personal osteoporosis risk:

  • Enjoy daily exercise and physical activity. Women who do weight-bearing exercise decrease osteoporosis risk by continually strengthening their bones. Some examples include dancing, walking, swimming, bicycling, running, hiking, stair climbing, tai chi, gardening plus weight and strength training (either free weights or weight machines), all of which are good ways to build and strengthen your bones.
  • Eat a nutritious diet rich in calcium and vitamin D to help maintain good bone health. Calcium-rich food sources include low-fat dairy (milk, cheeses, yogurt and ice cream), almonds, canned sardines and salmon with bones, leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, bok choy, broccoli, collards and mustard greens), corn tortillas, fortified breakfast cereals, orange juice, tofu, soy milk, and breads and pastas. While it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone, the following foods are excellent sources: salmon, tuna fish, egg yolks, plus fortified breakfast cereals, orange juice and milk. Avoid excessive intake of both salt and protein as increased quantities of these nutrients causes the body to increase amount of calcium excreted from the body during urination.
  • Avoid smoking, illicit drug use/abuse and excessive alcohol consumption. Make healthy lifestyle choices: if you smoke, quit; avoid illicit and prescription drug misuse/abuse; and limit alcohol intake.
  • Incorporate bone health optimization goals within your personal health plan. Share any changes in your personal and family health history with your practitioner, follow tips to boost bone health through healthy diet and exercise and have your bone density screening as recommended based on your provider’s evaluation of your personal health.

Osteoporosis Testing and Treatment

Screening for osteoporosis is recommended for women who are 65 years old or older and for women who are 50 to 64 years of age with certain risk factors, including having a parent who’s suffered a fractured hip.

You can use the FRAX Risk Assessment tool to determine if you should be screened. It uses several factors to determine how likely you are to have osteoporosis.

Screening for osteoporosis is commonly done using a type of low-level x-rays called dual/energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Screening also can show if you have low bone mass, meaning your bones are weaker than normal, and are more likely to develop osteoporosis. A bone density score of -2.5 or less indicates presence of osteoporosis.

While osteoporosis has no cure, treatments can help strengthen bone and slow its breakdown. This may involve prescription medications, adjustments to diet and exercise routine and healthy lifestyle changes.

Your Capital Women’s Care team of caring women’s health experts is here to answer your questions and address your concerns about your personal bone health and osteoporosis risk and any women’s health issue. Our unparalleled, comprehensive women’s health practitioners prioritize your health, so you achieve and enjoy a quality long life.