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Bone up on osteoporosis basics

The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that one in every two women age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Often, patients do not realize they may have osteoporosis until they experience a fracture due to a stumble or fall.

Bone basics

Your bones are in a constant state of change, as new bone is created and old bone is broken down. Beginning around age 30, bone loss outpaces bone renewal. Osteoporosis is a gradual loss of bone density and weakening of the structure of the bone in the body.

Tania Ruth Crussiah, M.D., with Meritus Family Medicine, Williamsport, describes a healthy bone as a honeycomb-like structure. Osteoporotic bones look like honeycombs with larger holes. As a result of the weakening architecture inside the bones, people with osteoporosis often break them in the hip, spine and wrist.

Risk factors

The leading cause of osteoporosis in women is a drop of estrogen at menopause. A drop of testosterone is the most common factor for men. Additional risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:

Low body weight or a small frame

Family history of osteoporosis or fractures

Caucasian or Asian ethnicity

Long-term use of steroid therapy (prednisone), anti-seizure medications and Depo-Provera (contraceptive injection)

Medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and parathyroid disease

Smoking

Excessive alcohol consumption

Detection

A dual energy x-ray absorptiometry or DEXA scan measures the density of your spine, hips and wrists and compares the results to a young adult’s peak bone mass. DEXA scans are often prescribed for women ages 65 and older and for men ages 70 and older, unless certain risk factors earlier testing.

Prevention

While a loss in bone density is inevitable, exercise, nutrition and lifestyle changes can slow the progression of osteoporosis. Aerobics, dancing, walking and running help build stronger bones, while resistance training will strengthen bones. Yoga or tai chi improves balance. According to Dr. Crussiah, improved muscle mass gives you strength and protects your bones. For all of us, the older we are, the more we may need to work on our balance and strength.

When it comes to nutrition, Dr. Crussiah says to aim for 500 mg. of calcium and vitamin D three times a day. Cheese, low-fat milk, yogurt, tofu, salmon, tuna fish and sardines are all good sources of vitamin D and calcium. Almonds, spinach, broccoli and soy products are other sources of calcium.

It’s important to quit smoking and scale back alcohol consumption to stay away from many diseases, including the development of osteoporosis. Recommended guidelines suggest women should consume no more than one drink a day and men no more than two drinks a day.

Treatment

A diagnosis of osteoporosis isn’t life threatening. The outlook is often good as long as you stick to a healthy lifestyle and discuss therapy options with your physician.

Prescription medications including Fosomax, Reclast and Boniva slow bone loss; however, these medications are not for people with existing digestive issues. The two most common prescriptions for reducing your risk of developing osteoporosis and to help treat the disease are for exercise and a healthy diet — and both are within your reach!

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