We all think we know what causes osteoporosis. Why, it’s old age of course! Well, not so fast. There are several other factors we tend to forget in the hustle and hurry of life – factors that often we are carrying around with us for years, undetected and with little in the way of warning. Suddenly having the unexpected trauma of boney issues thrust upon you is something like finding a letter in your pocket that should have been posted years ago, only now it’s crumpled, the address worn off, and it’s too late.
So know your risk factors well in advance of old age. They are not difficult to know, to remember, or to truly care about – so you should never present ignorance as a reason to complain about the unwelcome diagnosis of osteoporosis.
Factors affecting women
Millions of women worldwide suffer osteoporosis – particularly women after menopause. Age and women and osteoporosis seems to be unfortunately, a natural equation for many people – but the fact remains that as many as one in three women could experience a bone fracture due to osteoporosis in her lifetime. There are several reasons that lie behind this, and knowing these can help women to take preventative measures much earlier in life.
Menopause and low estrogen: Estrogen protects women from bone loss. But after menopause the levels of estrogen drop, leaving women’s bones less protected and vulnerable to losing density. This can also happen with early surgical removal of both ovaries, or chemotherapy.
Smaller bones: In addition, women typically have smaller and lighter bones than men. As a result, women tend to develop osteoporosis far more often than men.
Amenorrhea: Loss of the menstrual period in young women also causes low estrogen and osteoporosis. Amenorrhea can occur in women who undergo extremely vigorous training, and in women with very low body fat (example: anorexia nervosa).
Factors affecting both men and women
However, as men are now living longer, osteoporosis can affect both men and women on similar levels. Bones naturally become thinner with age. After age 30, the rate at which your bone tissue dissolves and is absorbed by the body slowly increases, while the rate of bone building decreases. So overall you lose a small amount of bone each year after age 30.
In women, bone loss is more rapid and usually begins after monthly menstrual periods stop, (usually between the ages of 45 and 55). A man’s bone thinning typically starts to develop gradually when production of the hormone testosterone slows down, at about 45 to 50 years of age. Osteoporosis usually does not have a noticeable effect on people until they are 60 or older.
- Family history:If your mother, father, a sibling or grandparent has been diagnosed with osteoporosis or has experienced broken bones from a minor injury, you are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Bone structure and body weight are often inherited issues. Petit, small frames are more susceptible to the development of osteoporosis.
- Caucasian or Asian: People of these races tend to have thin and small body frames which can more easily develop bone thinning and osteoporosis.
- Lack of calcium: A key bone building and bone maintenance mineral, calcium must be kept up all your life, either through diet or supplements.
- Lack of Vitamin D:Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. When vitamin D is lacking, the body cannot absorb adequate amounts of calcium to prevent osteoporosis.
- Poor nutrition: A diet from a young age that is poor in the goodness of dairy and green vegetables, can result in weakened bone, which may more easily succumb to osteoporosis in later life.
- Building bone when young: In early life, it is important to ensure the bones get the chance to strengthen as they should. Whether a person develops osteoporosis in later life may depend on the thickness of the bones in early life, as well as health, diet, and physical activity later in life.
- Getting little or no exercise: Weight-bearing exercises – such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing, or lifting weights – keep bones strong and healthy by working the muscles and bones against gravity. Exercise may improve your balance and decrease your risk of falling.
- Medications:Some medications can cause osteoporosis. These may include Heparin, a blood thinner, anti-seizure medications such as Dilantin and Phenobarbital, and long-term use of corticosteroids such as Prednisone.
- Smoking: People who smoke lose bone density faster than non-smokers.
- Alcohol: Heavy drinking can lead to falling and the consequence of broken bones, and alcohol is known to decrease bone formation. Heavy alcohol use is more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women.
- Chronic diseases: Rheumatoid arthritisand chronic hepatitis C, an infection of the liver; Hyperthyroidism and Hyperparathyroidism; immobility, such as after a stroke or from any condition that interferes with walking regularly.
Examine your family history; keep a checklist of weight and exercise; be sensible about diet. Know the risk factors – and love your bones!