Maximize Your Bone Health: Reduce Your Osteoporosis Risk

Elderly woman being shown test results

Taking care of our bones is a crucial part of our health that is often overlooked by many adults in the U.S. This inattention to bone care and health by many can have severe impact not only on the health of bones, but also on overall health quality, particularly as aging occurs. The greatest negative health consequence of not prioritizing bone health and care is osteoporosis. Today, there are approximately 10 million Americans diagnosed with osteoporosis. Of those diagnosed, about 8 million (or 80%) are women. What’s more, an additional 44 million American people are currently at risk for developing the condition within their lifetime.

What’s more, almost half of all U.S. women over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. In Americans ages 50 years and over, osteoporosis of the femur, neck or lumbar spine is found in 4% of men and 16% of women.

Here are some additional concerning statistics regarding osteoporosis and its effects:

  • An estimated 1.5 million fractures occur each year within the U.S. and are direct results of osteoporosis.
  • A woman's lifetime risk of fracturing a hip equals her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers.
  • Half of all hip fracture patients never regain full function of the affected joint; nearly 25% of Americans age 50 and older who suffer a hip fracture die within 1 year of their injury.

Osteoporosis can be a debilitative and even life-threatening disease that can permanently affect your mobility and impact your independence and overall health, including the quality and longevity of your life.

May is designated as National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. Your local Capital Women’s Care team of health professionals wants to share valuable tips to reduce your osteoporosis risks, preventative practices you can implement within your personal health plan, plus an overview of screenings and tests available so you can achieve and maintain optimal bone health, an important component of retaining quality of life as we age.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones within the skeletal system, increasing the likelihood of bone fractures due to frailty and compromised structure. The condition is quite common in the U.S., where more than 3 million people are diagnosed annually.

Osteoporosis affects more women than men, especially those ages 50 years and older.

Treatments can help manage osteoporosis, a condition which can last several years or be lifelong, but there is no known cure. Lab tests and imaging can help diagnose and manage osteoporosis; however, urgent medical attention is recommended in severe cases.

How Does Osteoporosis Occur?

Osteoporosis occurs when the body continually seeks calcium, the most abundant mineral found within our body, from our bones, which store 99% of the body’s total calcium supply which is used primarily to support bone structure and function. This continual leaking of calcium from bones weakens them and makes them frail, increasing risk and susceptibility to fractures.

Ideally, the body turns to our nutrition as the supply source for necessary calcium required for our body to perform several other functions. Calcium is required for all muscle movements and for nerves to carry messages between the brain and our body’s systems. Additionally, calcium is used to help blood vessels move blood throughout our body and to help release hormones and enzymes. Less than 1% of our body’s total calcium supply is needed to support these functions.

However, when the body doesn’t receive enough calcium through nutrition, it turns to our bone tissue as its reservoir for and source of calcium to maintain constant calcium concentrations within our blood, muscle, and intercellular fluids. Constant calcium depletion from bones weakens them over time, increasing their vulnerability and risk of fractures, osteopenia, and osteoporosis.

Bone itself undergoes continuous remodeling, with constant resorption and deposition of calcium into new bone. The balance between bone resorption and deposition changes as we age. Bone formation exceeds resorption in periods of growth in children and adolescents. In early and middle adulthood both processes are relatively equal. We typically reach peak bone mass at around age 30. Peak bone mass determines when and if bones become negatively affected by calcium loss due to age-related imbalance of resorption and deposition. In aging adults, particularly among postmenopausal women, bone breakdown exceeds formation, resulting in bone loss that increases osteoporosis risk over time.

Osteoporosis Symptoms

Osteoporosis is called a “silent disease” because there are typically no symptoms until a bone is broken or one or more vertebrae fracture. Fractures (or collapses) in the vertebrae can cause it to bend forward.

Symptoms of vertebral fracture include severe back pain with possible curvature, sloping shoulders, loss of height, or spine malformations such as a stooped or hunched posture known as kyphosis.

Osteoporosis in the vertebrae can cause serious problems for women. A fracture in this area can happen during day-to-day activities like climbing stairs, lifting objects, or bending forward when you have osteoporosis.

Bones affected by osteoporosis may become so fragile that fractures occur spontaneously or as the result of

  • minor falls, such as a fall from standing height that would not normally cause a break in a healthy bone.
  • normal stresses like bending, lifting or even coughing.

Osteoporosis Risk Factors

Knowing your osteoporosis risk factors can help you and your practitioner implement strategies within your personal care plan to lessen your risk or impact on your overall health should you be diagnosed.

There are several inherent osteoporosis risk factors, including:

  • Glandular health problems. Osteoporosis more often affects those having issues involving the thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands.
  • Small body frame and bones. Those having small, thin frame and bone structures (Body Mass Index of 19 or less) are more likely to have bones which are less dense and more fragile, and therefore more susceptible to fracture.
  • Family history of osteoporosis or bone fractures. If one of your parents has had a broken bone, especially a broken hip, you may need earlier osteoporosis screening.
  • Sex. Women are more prone to osteoporosis than men, as they have lower peak bone mass and smaller bones than men. However, men are still at risk, especially after age 70.
  • Race. White and Asian women are at highest risk. Black and Mexican American women have a lower risk. White men are at higher risk than Black and Mexican American men.
  • Poor calcium intake or absorption resulting from disease or treatment medication for diagnosed diseases. Celiac disease, seizure disorders, asthma, depression and/or anxiety, eating disorders, HIV/AIDS, digestive disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease and diabetes may affect calcium absorption.

Additionally, some medications can also diminish the body’s abilities to absorb calcium, including cancer chemotherapies used to treat bladder, ovarian, testicular, and esophageal advance-staged cancers; anticoagulants; corticosteroids; and thyroxine, among others.

Discuss your overall health conditions and medications with your practitioner to enlist the best health management plan that includes optimizing your bone health, especially if you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis or have family history of the condition.

It’s important to maximize bone health throughout all the stages of your life. You can minimize your osteoporosis risk by following important bone health recommendations that combine into a powerful plan to achieve and maintain good bone health so you can enjoy a long, healthy life.

Reduce Your Osteoporosis Risk

Fortunately, you can do several things to reduce your osteoporosis risk. You can:

  • Stay physically active. Exercise increases calcium absorption in the body. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines:
    • Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
    • Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week.

Do physical activities you enjoy. Weight-bearing exercise like walking, dancing, kickboxing and running in combination with strength exercises like free weight training are great ways to keep bones healthy. Being active also decreases your susceptibility to falls and subsequent fractures.

  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Excess alcohol consumption interferes with calcium absorption. Women should limit alcohol intake to 1 beverage daily and men should limit alcohol to 2 beverages daily.
  • Eliminate smoking. Quit smoking, avoid starting if you don’t smoke currently and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Take your prescribed medications as directed which can help prevent fractures if you’re diagnosed with osteoporosis.
  • Eat a nutritious diet rich in calcium and vitamin D to help achieve and maintain bone health. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium from the intestine. Beginning in childhood and into old age, a diet low in calcium and vitamin D can increase your risk for osteoporosis and fractures. Excessive dieting or poor protein intake may also increase your risk for bone loss and osteoporosis.

Foods rich in calcium include:

  • low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, and cheese)
  • dark green leafy vegetables, such as Bok choy, collards, and turnip greens.
  • broccoli
  • sardines and salmon with soft bones
  • and calcium-fortified foods, including soy and rice beverages, tofu, fruit juices, cereals, and breads.

You can get vitamin D from:

  • protected exposure to sunlight
  • fatty fish and fish oils (cod liver oil)
  • egg yolks
  • beef liver
  • canned tuna
  • swordfish, mackerel, and salmon
  • vitamin D fortified foods, including milk, orange juice, and cereals.

Following recommended daily requirements of both calcium and vitamin D can increase your overall bone health. You may also incorporate dietary supplements if your diet doesn’t adequately meet your requirements.

Avoid excessive caffeine intake and high-sodium foods, as they both cause the body to expel calcium before valuable absorption takes place. Be sure to include daily requirements of lean protein, which also aids calcium absorption, into your diet.

Osteoporosis Screening

Currently, screening for osteoporosis is recommended for women who are 65 years and older and for women who are between ages 50 to 64 and have certain risk factors, including having a parent who has sustained a hip fracture.

You can use the FRAX Risk Assessment Tool to learn 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 low-level x-rays called dual/energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Screening also can determine low bone mass density which can precede and increase risk of osteoporosis.

DXA uses low levels of x-rays as a scanner passes over your body. The test measures the bone mass density (BMD) of your skeleton and at various sites prone to fracture, like the hip and spine. Bone density measurement by DXA at the hip and spine is generally considered the most reliable way to diagnose osteoporosis and predict fracture risk.

A peripheral DXA measures bone density in the wrist and heel. This type of DXA is portable and may make it easier for screening. However, the results may not help doctors predict your risk for fractures in the future or monitor the effects of your medications on the disease.

Your doctor will compare your BMD test results to the average bone density of young, healthy people and to the average bone density of other people of your age, sex, and race.

If your test results show that you have osteoporosis, or if your bone mass density is below a certain level and you have other risk factors for fractures, your doctor may recommend both lifestyle approaches to promote bone health and medications to lower your chance of breaking a bone.

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend a quantitative ultrasound (QUS) of the heel. This is a test that evaluates bone but doesn’t measure BMD. If the QUS indicates you have bone loss, you will still need a DXA test to diagnose bone loss and osteoporosis.

Your Capital Women’s Care team is here to answer your questions and address your concerns about all aspects of your health, including your osteoporosis risk. Our compassionate healthcare professionals offer you sound, knowledgeable guidance on achieving and maintaining bone health so you can enjoy a long, healthy life.


Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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