What All Women Should Know about Osteoporosis

osteoporosis__1453482115_108.89.137.58If you think you don’t need to worry about Osteoporosis until you are an old woman, think again!  How you care for your bones and entire body when you are younger has a huge impact on your health into your senior years.  All women should know about Osteoporosis, including causes, risk factors and preventative measures to avoid repercussions down the road.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a serious condition that weakens bones by making them porous and more easily susceptible to fractures or breaks.  Bones are made of protein, calcium and collagen.  Much like our cells and muscles, bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding.  This process of renewal occurs steadily throughout youth until around age 35 although bone mass usually reaches its peak sometime in the early 20s.  Bone mass is stored throughout a lifetime.  More stored bone mass means someone is less likely to suffer from Osteoporosis as they age.

Who is at risk for Osteoporosis?

Although Osteoporosis can affect anyone, women are more likely to get it than men, especially white or Asian post-menopausal women.  The onset of Osteoporosis is often linked to a loss of estrogen, which is what occurs to women during menopause, as well as other hormonal imbalances such as thyroid disorders.  Beyond age and gender, Osteoporosis can be genetic and people with smaller body frames have a higher risk.  Additionally, a poor diet, lack of exercise, excessive smoking and alcohol consumption and any medications, surgeries or conditions that block the absorption of nutrients (especially calcium and Vitamin D) or interrupt the natural bone renewal cycle can increase one’s risk of Osteoporosis.

How is Osteoporosis diagnosed?

Because there are usually no early symptoms, Osteoporosis is difficult to diagnose.  Often people don’t realize they have it even if they have suffered a minor fracture.  It’s not until larger breaks or pains occur that the symptoms point to Osteoporosis.  Signs of the condition include a stooped appearance, loss of height, back pain and bones that fracture or break easily.  The hips, wrists, ribs and spine are the most likely bones to be affected by Osteoporosis.

How to prevent Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is not completely preventable since many of the risk factors are beyond our control.  However, there are steps we can take to reduce our personal risk even if we inherently fall into some of the higher risk categories.

First, consuming calcium is essential for strong bones.  Adults under age 50 should have 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily and those over 50 should have an additional 200 milligrams.  Calcium is abundant in dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese, as well as fish like sardines, soy products, greens such as kale, collard greens and bok choy and calcium-fortified cereals.  If you can’t consume enough calcium in your diet, consider a supplement.  Vitamin D is also important because it helps the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D can be acquired through diet, supplements and sunlight.

Exercise is important to maintain strong bones.  Strength-building workouts cause muscles to pull on bones and encourage bone rejuvenation, thereby improving the skeletal system.  Also, exercise increases flexibility, balance, stamina and resilience, which reduces the risk of falling or incurring serious injuries.

Risk of Osteoporosis can be reduced by avoiding some bad habits as well.  First, limit alcohol and colas and do not smoke.  Beware of over-exercising and do your best to get the daily recommended values of key nutrients to maintain a well-balanced system.  Also, employ safety practices to avoid falls that could lead to broken bones.

If you are at high risk of Osteoporosis, ask your doctor about getting a bone density screening.  This is one of the only ways to truly measure bone mass to determine whether or not you have the condition and how severe it may be.  Remember, how you treat your body in your youth will catch up to you in your golden years.  Be good to your bones to help prevent Osteoporosis.

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