What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by the gradual loss of the normal density of bone. This condition causes bones to become porous, which in turn becomes weak and brittle increasing the risk of fractures. It is often referred to as the silent disease because there are rarely symptoms of pain and it manifests itself gradually.
Bones are made up of protein, collagen and calcium which help to keep them strong and healthy. As you get older, bone formation shifts and bone strength is gradually lost. When there are low levels of calcium, phosphorous and other minerals, bones weaken and osteoporosis develops. A mild form of osteoporosis is called osteopenia – when bones are structurally weaker and less dense. Osteoporosis fractures often affect the spine, hip or wrist.
While osteoporosis is more common in women experiencing menopause, men may also develop this condition. Osteoporosis tends to strike after the age of 50 years. With the help of a calcium-enriched diet, a weight bearing exercise routine, medication and natural support, osteoporosis can be treated. However, without the correct treatment, fractures of the spine and hip can occur – which may eventually result in disability and further complications.
Symptoms and signs
The common symptoms and signs of osteoporosis include:
There are seldom any symptoms during the early stages of bone loss. However, when osteoporosis develops symptoms such as:
- Chronic lower back pain as a result of collapsed or fractured vertebra
- Loss of height or curving of the spine
- Fractures of the hips, wrists, vertebrae or other bones
What Causes Osteoporosis?
There are many factors that contribute to bone loss and these include:
- Decreased estrogen production during menopause
- Women are more prone to osteoporosis
- Men with low levels of male hormone testosterone
- Bones weaken in both male and females after the age of 50 years
- Men and women who have small frames and are extremely thin
- Caucasians and South-East Asians are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis
- Family history of osteoporosis and bone fractures
- Excessive intake of alcohol or alcoholism
- Women and men with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia
- Health conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease as well hormonal imbalances that cause hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome. A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and the complete removal of the ovaries may also increase the risk of osteoporosis
- Stress and severe depression
- Medications such as diuretics, blood-thinning medications, corticosteroids, cholesterol, drugs, and Gonadotropin-releasing hormones
- Lack of exercise
- Decreased intake of calcium
- Excessive intake of soda
Doctors usually recommend that women have an osteoporosis screening taken to measure the amount of calcium in the bones. This measurement will determine the bone mineral density (BMD). Women who are not taking estrogen, and have the following risk factors such as taking corticosteroid medication, have a family history of osteoporosis, suffer from type 1 diabetes, kidney or liver disease, have experienced early menopause or are postmenopausal should have the bone density test performed.
Tests such as a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry or DEXA, peripheral dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (P-DEXA), dual photon absorptiometry (DPA) and a quantitative ultrasound are used to measure bone density.
Help for Osteoporosis
In order to protect and strengthen bones and muscles, it is essential have an adequate intake of calcium as well as exercise regularly. A daily calcium dosage of 1,000mg is recommended for everyone over the age of eight years while a higher intake is recommended for teens (1,300mg) and adults over 50 years (1,200mg).
Calcium can be consumed in the form of dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit (apricots or figs), fish such as mackerel, salmon or sardines as well as soy and tofu. Getting sufficient vitamin D is equally important to strengthen muscles and absorb calcium. Include weight bearing activities such as weight lifting, step aerobics, or jogging into your exercise regime to support healthy bones.
Conventional medications prescribed for osteoporosis may include: Bisphosphonates (such as alendronate and risedronate), Calcitonin, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), Teriparatide, or Tamoxifen. A hip protector may also be worn to provide extra protection for the hip bone especially if an elderly person is prone to falling. In cases where osteoporosis is severe and compression fractures have occurred, surgical procedures such as vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty are likely to be performed.
Herbal and Homeopathic remedies used together with a diet high in calcium, healthy lifestyle, and exercise can reduce the symptoms of osteoporosis and offer natural support without side effects during perimenopause and menopause.
Herbs such as Cimicifuga racemosa (Black cohosh) and Pulsatilla vulgaris (Pasque flower) are excellent supportive ingredients for the nervous system and female reproductive system, helping to support the body in a natural and gentle manner. Therapies such as physical therapy, acupuncture, or tai chi may also be useful in improving the symptoms of osteoporosis, while also providing great ways to de-stress.
More Information on Osteoporosis
Tips to help prevent osteoporosis
There are several ways to prevent and reduce osteoporosis and these include:
- Eat a well balanced diet that contains of calcium enriched foods such as dairy products, figs, soy and dark green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale)
- Incorporate strength training or resistance training (walking, running, step aerobics or weight lifting) into your exercise program lifestyle at least three times a week
- Maintain a good posture by bending your knees when lifting, place a rolled towel in the small of your back when you sit or drive, and do not lean over when reading
- Reduce your intake of caffeine and salt as it may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium
- Increase your intake of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D supplements
- Stop smoking as it may increase your risk of developing osteoporosis
- Limit your intake of alcohol
- Avoid excessive dieting and skipping meals as you are losing bone mass and preventing the body from receiving the proper nutrients it needs to build strong bones and teeth
- If you have osteoporosis, wear shoes with low heels or rubber soles to prevent your risk of falling
- Ensure that your living space is fall-proof by keeping rooms, hallways and stairways well lit, clearing away clutter and repairing loose carpeting or floorboards