The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that more than 25 million Americans are affected by osteoporosis–80 percent women–few of whom have been diagnosed or treated. Osteoporosis is a skeletal disease in which the bones lose mass and density and become more thin and fragile. It is four times more common in women than men, and begins to emerge around the ages of 50 and 60, when loss of estrogen accelerates bone loss. The disease is responsible for 1.5 million fractures per year.
Osteoporosis is a “silent disease.” It often goes undetected until a fracture occurs, usually in the spine, hip or wrist. About half of all Caucasian women over age 50 can expect to have a bone fracture due to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is not an inevitable part of aging; however, the best prevention is building strong bones before the age of 35 with a high-calcium diet and regular weight-bearing exercise.
It’s never too late to start building strong bones. Women who have entered menopause can use hormone replacement therapy to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. In many cases doctors can detect the disease early enough to halt it, even before fractures occur. These fractures are common signs of osteoporosis. Other signs include height loss and unexplained back pain. If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your health care provider about what actions to take.
There are several factors that increase a person’s risk of developing osteoporosis. Some risk factors within your control include a diet low in calcium, smoking, minimal exercise and excessive use of alcohol. Modifying these behaviors is a first step in prevention of the disease.
Since almost half of bone growth takes place in adolescence, it’s especially important for teenagers to consume adequate calcium in foods and dietary supplements. But bone density and strength continue to be built all the way to age 30. Young women who ignored these calcium requirements earlier in life still have some time to build a “bone bank” for use later in life.
Help Prevent Osteoporosis
- Consume 1200 to 1500 milligrams of calcium daily. Much can be obtained from dairy products, broccoli, spinach, and calcium-fortified foods such as juices and cereals, while dietary supplements can supply the rest.
- Exercise! Moderate physical activity increases bone mass and density and is important at all age levels. Vigorous weight-bearing exercise such as walking, dancing, aerobics and weight-training for 30 to 60 minutes a day, three to five times a week, is recommended for optimal results.
- Consider taking hormone replacement therapy after menopause, which has been shown to reduce the risk of fractures by at least 25 percent. Long-term use provides the best protection.
- Have a bone density scan or heel density ultrasound test to determine whether you are at high risk for, or already have, osteoporosis.
- Don’t smoke.
- Limit alcohol intake.
Women who don’t want to take hormone replacement therapy can help prevent and treat osteoporosis with other prescription drugs. Talk with your health care provider about which medications may be best for you.
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