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Osteoporosis: the silent disease

posted Jun 30, 2017, 7:23 AM by Tracy Ducker, MS, RDN
Osteoporosis is known as the silent disease because there are usually no signs or symptoms until you break a bone. We don’t often think of bones as being a living tissue, but they are constantly breaking down and rebuilding. When we are younger (up to about age 20) the rate of rebuilding is greater than the rate of breakdown, but as we age this reverses and the breakdown of bones is greater than the rebuilding of bones. When this breakdown far exceeds the rebuilding, bones become weak and brittle leading to osteoporosis. Certain unchangeable risk factors increase the risk of developing osteoporosis: race, age, sex, family history and body frame size. However, there are also risk factors that you can change. For example, low calcium and vitamin D intake, eating disorders, and gastrointestinal surgery that decreases the size of the stomach can lead to a decrease in the absorption of calcium. There are also certain medications taken long term, specific medical conditions and lifestyle choices that can lead to osteoporosis.

So even if you have some of these risk factors or have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are still many things you can do to help prevent or decrease the progression of the disease.

·         Don’t smoke and avoid alcohol-both increase the breakdown of bone

·         Prevent falls - use handrails, avoid wearing high heeled shoes 

·         Consume adequate protein as it is one of the building blocks of bone

·         Maintain appropriate body weight - underweight increases bone loss and overweight increases risk of falls and broken bones

·         Consume adequate calcium and vitamin D - if you need supplementation check with your doctor or a registered dietitian first to determine the right amount.

·         Exercise - strength training and weight bearing exercises help strengthen not only your muscles but your bones too. Walking, jogging, running, stair climbing, skipping rope and other higher impact activities strengthen the bones in your lower body. Strength training that focuses on the upper body-chest, upper and lower back, and arms will strengthen the bones in those areas. By incorporating balance exercises like tai chi or yoga you can reduce your risk of falling and breaking a bone.

Close to 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or decreased bone density (mass) and 20% of older adults who break a hip will die due to complications. So, be sure to check with your doctor about your possible risk factors and do your part in maintaining bone density by consuming the recommended amount of calcium and following the recommendations above. For more information on osteoporosis click here.