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Osteoporosis: not a natural part of aging

By The Health News Team | September 20, 2022
Woman stretching in gym.

Osteoporosis, or weakening of the bones, is known as a “silent disease” because it has few early signs and symptoms. Many people with this condition don’t know they have it until they break or fracture a bone in a fall, accident or even something as simple as a sneeze or bumping into furniture.

According to Dr. Corinne Ancona-Young, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Community Medical Group, the risk of an osteoporosis-related fracture is greater than the risks of breast cancer, heart attack and stroke combined.

Women are at higher risk for osteoporosis than men are because they tend to be smaller and have bones that are less dense. Approximately half of women and up to one-quarter of men age 50 and older will break a bone in their lifetime due to this disease.

Osteoporosis is not a natural part of aging
While more than 54 million Americans live with osteoporosis, Ancona-Young stresses that osteoporosis is not a natural part of aging. It is a metabolic imbalance of estrogen, testosterone and an enzyme found in bone metabolism.

Causes of osteoporosis include:

  • Menopause, especially surgically induced menopause in younger women

  • Family history

  • Calcium and vitamin D deficiency

  • Lack of physical exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise

  • A history of eating disorders

  • Tobacco use

There are other health problems and medical procedures associated with an increased likelihood of osteoporosis, including:

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Gastrointestinal procedures

  • Cancer

  • Neurological disorders

  • Diabetes

  • Poor nutrition

  • Significant weight loss

Complications of osteoporosis
Serious complications of osteoporosis occur when an older adult experiences a fracture or bone break. A fracture of the hip, wrist or spine will often be the first sign of osteoporosis. The most common first fracture is a compression fracture in the spine, particularly the mid-spine or thoracic spine The disease affects the vertebrae, changing the structure of the bone and leading to a stooped or hunched posture.

Because this disease can limit mobility, it can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. A bone break or fracture can also trigger anxiety in adults who worry about a future fall.

How to prevent osteoporosis
When we are young, we build strong bones with exercise and adequate daily calcium intake. Exercise continues to be important in later years to maintain bone strength and support general good health. Regular exercise builds muscle, but it also strengthens bones and helps maintain bone density. Thirty minutes of weight-bearing or resistance exercise 2 to 3 days a week can help older adults maintain healthy bone density.

Calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins C, D and K can also help prevent osteoporosis. These vitamins and minerals are found naturally in many foods and dairy products, as well as in some fortified products such as orange juice, almond milk and oat milk. Calcium is also found in fish, dark green leafy vegetables (especially broccoli and kale), tomatoes, peppers and some fruits.

For those who prefer to take a calcium supplement, Ancona-Young advises that they do not want to take more than 600 milligrams at one time, and recommends choosing a supplement that includes calcium citrate.

Diagnosing and treating osteoporosis
The best way to assess risk of osteoporosis is to have a bone density test. Ancona-Young stresses that diagnosis and management is a life-saving service. Her evaluation includes a review of the bone density test as well as additional lab tests that evaluate calcium metabolism, bone strength and function. She also reviews the patient’s family history of osteoporosis and other illnesses that are associated with the disease.

In addition to age-related bone loss, research shows that pregnancy and lactation can lead to a temporary decrease in bone density, especially in women who do not consume calcium in their diet on a daily basis — 1,200 to 1,400 milligrams a day. Healthy food is a great preventive measure and can be a first line of defense against osteoporosis.

Treating osteoporosis means stopping the bone loss and rebuilding bone to prevent breaks. One of the main ways to do this is through exercise. Sharp Grossmont Hospital offers Osteo-Circuit™, an exercise-based treatment program designed for men and women with low bone density or osteoporosis.

In most cases, osteoporosis is preventable, treatable and even reversible. Talk with your doctor about whether a bone density test is right for you or a loved one.

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