What is osteoporosis?
The literal meaning of osteoporosis is “porous bone.” Beneath the hard outer layer of your bones is softer spongy tissue. Bones are incredibly strong, but for their size and the amount of pressure put on them over a lifetime, they’re surprisingly lightweight. An overly porous structure — think of a kitchen sponge — reduces the strength of the bones and makes them more likely to break in a fall or other accident.
Osteoporosis results from too little calcium, leading to weakened bones. It’s a progressive disease and affects about 1 in 3 women aged 50 years and over.
Bones require a significant amount of calcium to maintain their structural integrity. Osteoporosis results from too little calcium, leading to weakened bones. It’s a progressive disease and affects about 1 in 3 women aged 50 years and over. Men older than 50 typically have a 20 percent chance of developing it.
Signs of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis may be asymptomatic, meaning there aren’t necessarily noticeable symptoms of the disease. You may notice that your back, knees, legs, or ankles hurt more, but many women attribute this to the normal aging process. Often the first sign that a woman has osteoporosis is when a bone breaks. The most common fracture spots for a woman with osteoporosis are the hip, spine, and wrist.
Doctors will diagnosis this by viewing the X-ray of your broken bones. They can see whether the loss of bone mass is more than expected for a woman of your age and health history. At this point, the doctor will construct a care and healing plan for you to reduce the strain on the fracture and slow the bone loss if possible.
There are a few signs of osteoporosis that indicate your condition may be moderate or severe. If you experience any of these symptoms, speak with your doctor about a bone mineral density test to assess the potential severity of your osteoporosis.
Back pain is a major indicator and may be caused by a fractured or partially collapsed vertebra. You may also notice that your height diminishes over time or that you’re developing a stooped posture. Both of these can indicate a loss of bone mass in your spine. The most notable sign of decreased bone density is a broken bone that happens more easily than expected; for instance, from something like coughing too vigorously.
Can osteoporosis be reversed?
Your bones gain mass from infancy through your early 20s. Then, as you age, you begin to lose bone mineral density. This occurs in everyone, although the porousness of your bones and the rate at which the density loss occurs vary from person to person.
Unfortunately, you cannot rebuild loss of bone density. You can help prevent rapidly thinning bones, though.
Can you rebuild bone density? Bone cells break down over time and are replaced by new ones. However, when the rate at which new cells grow is less than the rate at which your old cells break down, you begin to experience loss of density. Small pockets in the interior bone tissue begin to weaken them overall. Because of this, unfortunately you cannot rebuild loss of bone density. You can help prevent rapidly thinning bones, though.
Common causes of osteoporosis
Women are more likely to experience osteoporosis than men. Women’s bones are less dense than men’s, and they deteriorate at a greater rate. The likelihood of developing osteoporosis as a mature woman depends largely on how much bone mass you cultivated as a young woman. There’s also a correlation between ethnicity and the likelihood of osteoporosis. White and Asian women, especially older women who are past menopause, have the highest risk of developing osteoporosis.
The likelihood of developing osteoporosis as a mature woman depends largely on how much bone mass you cultivated as a young woman.
Lifestyle factors that affect osteoporosis include low calcium intake, which reduces the formation of your peak bone density as a child and teen. Leading a sedentary lifestyle also increases your risk, as does tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption (consistently consuming more than two drinks per day).
Women who struggle with eating disorders may not be getting the nutrients that they need for strong bone health. Eating disorders that are characterized by being chronically underweight, such as anorexia nervosa, cause frail bones that increase your osteoporosis risk.
Essentially, osteoporosis is caused by your body failing to produce new bone tissue fast enough to replace the older bone cells as they break down.
If you’ve had gastric surgery, such as a gastric sleeve or RNY bypass, this may also increase your risk for developing osteoporosis, as your ability to absorb calcium is reduced.
Essentially, osteoporosis is caused by your body failing to produce new bone tissue fast enough to replace the older bone cells as they break down. Low peak bone density as a young adult is one of the main causes of osteoporosis as an adult.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
There are several risk factors that are outside your control, unfortunately. As we’ve stated, simply being female is one, as is your ethnic background. Your age is another risk factor, especially once you’ve reached menopause. Your family history can indicate your risk of developing the condition, as well as the size of your frame. Smaller women have less bone mass to work with.
Your family history can indicate your risk of developing the condition, as well as the size of your frame.
The levels of hormones in your body affect your osteoporosis risk, too. If you have an overactive thyroid gland or take too much thyroid hormone medication to treat an underactive thyroid, you can increase your rate of bone loss. Lower levels of sex hormones, mainly estrogen and progesterone, increase bone loss. Breast cancer treatments for women that reduce estrogen levels can also result in osteoporosis. In these cases, it’s important to speak with your doctor as early as possible to discuss how to mitigate the risk of osteoporosis.
Overactive adrenal glands can also increase your osteoporosis risk. Sometimes this is a genetic condition, but it can also be a result of being under chronic and mismanaged stress. Taking steps to reduce your stress levels allows your adrenal glands a chance to relax and decrease the hormones, like the stress-associated cortisol, that are released into your bloodstream.
Some medications used to treat seizures, cancer, and gastric reflux have side effects that include loss of bone density.
The medications that you take may increase your risk factors, especially if you’re on a corticosteroid regimen. Some medications used to treat seizures, cancer, and gastric reflux have side effects that include loss of bone density. It’s important to review potential side effects with your doctor, and if you’re concerned about increasing your risk of osteoporosis, discuss alternative medications or treatments.
Osteoporosis medications and treatment
Complete reversal of osteoporosis isn’t possible, but several medications and treatments can slow the rate of bone loss and improve your bone health. The most common class of osteoporosis drugs is bisphosphonates, which are antiresorptive chemicals designed to reduce bone loss. Essentially, bisphosphonate therapy slows the rate at which bone cells break down and speeds up the regeneration of new cells. This group of medications includes alendronate, risedronate, ibandronate, and zoledronic acid.
You may also find that estrogen treatments can help treat osteoporosis. There may be some side effects from hormone therapy. Current recommendations suggest using the lowest dose of hormones for the shortest period of time. However, if you’re perimenopausal or currently going through menopause, you may find that estrogen therapy relieves many of the symptoms associated with the process.
The most common class of osteoporosis drugs is bisphosphonates, which are antiresorptive chemicals designed to reduce bone loss.
Other, less common types of osteoporosis medication include the family of drugs called denosumab, teriparatide, and abaloparatide. They’re most often prescribed for people who have unique health circumstances such as severe osteoporosis and very low bone density, those who use steroids, those who have had multiple fractures, or those who are relatively young.
Ways to prevent osteoporosis
Increasing your bone density through healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk of osteoporosis. Eating the right foods, especially those rich in calcium and the correct amounts of vitamin D, help create stronger, denser bones. If you have dietary restrictions such as a dairy intolerance that make it hard to get enough calcium, consider an over-the-counter supplement. Both men and women under 50 years old need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. Women over 50 and men over 70 need 1,200 milligrams per day. Use caution when supplementing your diet with calcium, however, as more than 2,000 milligrams per day can lead to kidney stones and heart disease.
Protein is one of the building blocks of bone. However, there’s conflicting evidence about the impact of protein intake on bone density.
Choosing balance exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, can help you prevent falls and help strengthen your bones through supporting your body weight.
Choosing the right exercise can have a great effect on your bone density. Bones react to stress by thickening and becoming denser. Women that do heavy weightlifting will develop thicker and stronger bones. The muscle tissue you build, especially if you maintain it over your lifetime, can also help protect your bones if you fall. Choosing balance exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, can help you prevent falls and help strengthen your bones through supporting your body weight.
Increasing your bone density is one of the best and safest treatments for osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercises, getting plenty of calcium in your diet, and keeping your weight within a healthy range can all help you develop greater peak bone mass when you’re young. If you know you have a health condition that can lead to loss of bone density, or if you’re on medication that increases those odds, talk to your doctor about your risk factors. Finally, if you’re an older woman, use caution when lifting heavy objects, walking on slick surfaces, and going up and down stairs to prevent falls and broken bones.