What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that causes bones to become weak and break easily. Osteoporosis affects mostly older women, but prevention starts when you are younger. No matter your age, you can take steps to build bone mass and prevent bone loss. Broken bones from osteoporosis cause serious health problems and disability in older women.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
Bone loss is the amount of minerals, such as calcium, that your body absorbs (takes) from your bones. Bone loss can happen for several reasons. Some of the most common reasons include:
- You do not get enough calcium from food. Your body uses calcium to build healthy bones and teeth and stores calcium in your bones. Your body also uses calcium to send messages through your nervous system, help your muscles contract, and regulate your heart’s rhythm. But your body does not make calcium. You have to get all the calcium your body needs from the foods you eat and drink (or from supplements). If you don’t get enough calcium each day, your body will take the calcium it needs from your bones.
- You are past menopause. As you get older, your bones don’t make new bone fast enough to keep up with your body’s needs. The calcium taken from your bones causes you to lose bone density. Bone loss also speeds up after menopause and can lead to weak, brittle bones.
Who Is At Risk?
Women are more likely to get osteoporosis because:
- Women usually have smaller, thinner, less dense bones than men.
- Women often live longer than men. Bone loss happens naturally as we age.
- Women also lose more bone mass after menopause with very low levels of the hormone estrogen. Higher estrogen levels before menopause helps protect bone
Osteoporosis is most common in older women, but younger women can get it too, so girls and women of all ages need to take steps to protect their bones. Your risk for osteoporosis is higher if you:
- Are past menopause. After menopause, your ovaries make very little of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen helps protect bone density. Some women lose up to 25 percent of bone mass in the first 10 years after menopause.5
- Have a small, thin body.
- Have a family history of osteoporosis.
- Do not get enough calcium and vitamin D, which work together to build and maintain strong bones.
- Do not get enough physical activity. Women of all ages need to get regular weight-bearing physical activity, such as walking, dancing, or playing tennis, to help build and maintain bone density.
- Have not gotten your menstrual period for three months in a row (called amenorrhea). If you have amenorrhea and you are not pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking a medicine that stops your periods, talk to your doctor or nurse. Not getting your period means your ovaries may have stopped making estrogen.
- Have an eating disorder. Eating disorders, especially anorexia and bulimia, can weaken your bones. Anorexia can also lead to amenorrhea.
- Smoke. Women who smoke have lower bone density and often go through menopause earlier than nonsmokers. Studies also suggest that smoking raises your risk for broken bones, and this risk goes up the longer you smoke and the more cigarettes you smoke.
- Have a health problem that raises your risk of getting osteoporosis. These include diabetes, premature ovarian failure and inflammatory bowel disease and depression.
- Take certain medicines to treat long-term health problems, such as arthritis, asthma, lupus or thyroid.
How Can Osteoporosis Be Diaganosed?
Your doctor may suggest a bone density test for osteoporosis if:
- You are 65 or older
- You are younger than 65 and have risk factors for osteoporosis. Bone density testing is recommended for older women whose risk of breaking a bone is the same or greater than that of a 65 year old white woman with no risk factors other than age. Ask your doctor or nurse whether you need a bone density test before age 65.
How Can I Prevent Osteoporosis?
One of the best ways to prevent weak bones is to work on building strong ones.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D each day.
- Get active. Choose weight-bearing physical activities like running or dancing to build and strengthen your bones.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking raises your risk for broken bones.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation – one drink a day at most. Too much alcohol can harm your bones.
- Talk to your doctor about whether you need medicine.
How Does Calcium Help?
Calcium is found in your bones and teeth, and helps to keep them healthy. Your body also uses calcium to help your blood clot and your muscles contract. If you don’t get enough calcium each day from the foods you eat, your body will take the calcium it needs from your bones, making your bones weak.
How much calcium you need depends on your age:
- 9–18 years: 1,300 mg per day
- 19–50 years: 1,000 mg per day
- 51 and older: 1,200 mg per day
Pregnant or nursing women need the same amount of calcium as other women of the same age. You can get the calcium you need each day from food and/or calcium supplements.
Calcium is found naturally in milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy foods, as well as leafy green vegetables such as ladies finger, broccoli and mustard greens.
How Does Vitamin D Help?
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium from the food you eat. Just eating foods with calcium is not enough. You also need to get enough vitamin D to help your body use the calcium it gets.
Your skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. In general, you need 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight to the hands, arms, and face, two to three times a week to make enough vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from foods such as milk or from vitamin supplements. Although it’s hard to get enough vitamin D through food alone, foods with vitamin D include salmon and egg yolks.
What Exercises Prevent Osteoporosis?
Regular physical activity of any type can help slow bone loss, improve muscle strength, and help your balance. But weight-bearing physical activity is especially important to build bone and help prevent bone loss. Weight-bearing physical activity is any activity in which your body works against gravity.
- Lifting weights
- Tai Chi
What Happens If Osteoporosis Is Not Treated?
Osteoporosis that is not treated can lead to serious bone breaks (fractures), especially in the hip and spine. One in three women is likely to have a fracture caused by osteoporosis in her lifetime. Hip fractures can cause serious pain and disability and require surgery. Spinal fractures can cause you to lose height or get a stooped back. They often cause serious pain and require surgery.
Content Source: Womenshealth.gov