The human body is protected, moved, and supported by a complex network of organs called the bones. They are the rigid organs that form the skeleton, lightweight, yet strong and hard enough to fulfill their many important functions. They also produce white blood cells that make up your immune system, red cells, and store minerals. If it weren’t for your bones, you would be a crumpled mess of organs and skin, like a slug or a blob.
It is important that your bone retains its toughness, especially during your early and mid years. After all, these are the times when you are most active. If your bones are not strong enough, you may encounter a situation where your life could be put in danger. Unfortunately, there are several dangerous diseases that target your bone, and one of them is osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis: The Bone Breaker
Your bone has what is called as bone density or bone mineral density. This refers to the amount of matter per cubic centimeter of the bone. It is a proxy measurement of the strength of your bone—that is, its resistance to fractures and breaking. It is not always true, though; there are some instances where bone density is a poorer indicator of bone strength. The normal bone density is dependent on your age. According to the category by the World Health Organization, At age 50 to 64, normal bone density is 5.3; at an age greater than 64, the normal density is 9.4. Overall, it is 6.6.
Osteoporosis occurs when the bone density is 2 1/2 standard deviations below the mean of a 20 year old woman, although this by no means indicate that osteoporosis is solely a woman’s disease because men are also affected by it. In osteoporosis, bone becomes abnormally porous. It becomes more like a sponge than a brick. As a result, the bone is more prone to breaking or fractures. The bones become so brittle that at the more serious cases, mild stresses like bending over or lifting something or even coughing can cause a fracture. The most common areas of bone fractures due to osteoporosis are the spine, the hips, and the wrists.
Cause of Osteoporosis
In all cases of osteoporosis, there is a significant imbalance between bone resorption and the formation of new bones. Your bones are continuously changing; as old bones break down, new bones are made. This is called bone turnover or remodeling. At any point in time, up to 10% of all bone mass experiences remodeling.
It takes about two to three months before bone remodeling completes a full cycle. Early on in your life, your body makes new bones faster than the old bones get broken. As a result, your bones are always tough and sturdy and your bone mass increases. When you reach your mid-thirties, you will have reached your peak bone mass; after that, you will still undergo bone remodeling but you will lose bones slightly faster than you can grow new ones. In women, this gets compounded as bone loss reduces dramatically as estrogen levels drop, which happens during menopause. In fact, a decrease in estrogen production as menopause hits is the leading cause of osteoporosis in women.
Getting Rid of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis treatment has two goals: one is to prevent bone fractures by lessening bone loss rate, and the other is to increase your bone density and strength. It should be remembered though that none of the available treatments for osteoporosis today are complete cures. In this regard, prevention of osteoporosis is as important as actually treating it.
- Get lots of calcium. Calcium is a very important factor in building strong and healthy bones. The National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference on Osteoporosis recommends the following calcium intake for all people with or without osteoporosis:
• Age 1 – 10: 800 mg/day
• Age 11 – 24: 1200 mg/day
• For men, premenopausal women and postmenopausal women who are taking estrogen: 1000 mg/day
• For postmenopausal women not taking estrogen: 1500 mg/day
• For pregnant women and nursing mothers: 1200 ~ 1500 mg/day
Eat or drink foods rich in calcium to get your recommended calcium requirement, but be warned that total daily intake of calcium should never exceed 2000 mg/day. You can also get calcium supplements. Even though high calcium intake alone is not sufficient in treating osteoporosis, it can help.
- Try prescription medications. There are medications that are approved by the FDA that prevent bone breakdown. These include biphosphonates, selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMS), calcitonin, and teriparatide. Consult your doctor for the right medication for you.
- Get sufficient Vitamin D. Together with calcium, vitamin D is also important for maintaining bone strength and density. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium from the intestines as well as in preventing the depletion of calcium on the bones. Some studies have also shown that vitamin D increases bone density and decreases fractures in older, postmenopausal women.
- Get enough exercise. Studies have shown that aerobics and resistance exercises can help maintain or increase bone density in postmenopausal women. Exercise also helps your balance and increase muscle strength—necessary to help you prevent falls that may lead to fractures. Just make sure you don’t break anything while exercising.
- Stop smoking. A pack of cigarettes a day throughout your whole adult life can lead to a 5% to 10% loss of bone mass. Smoking can also lessen estrogen levels, leading to bone loss.
As you grow older, you will lose strength on your bones, but with exercise and proper nutrition, excessive bone loss wouldn’t be a very grave problem. Have regular check-ups with your doctor and you should be alright.
Click here for more information on how to get rid of osteoporosis.