Osteoporosis is not something that happens overnight. It develops gradually, as we age. The word, “osteoporosis” means “porous bone”, and porous bone is weaker bone. Bones are living tissue made up of calcium and protein. Healthy bone is constantly regenerated as small amounts are absorbed into your body and small amounts are replaced. The problem begins when more calcium is being absorbed than replaced, resulting in a loss in bone density. Over time, the bones in your body become progressively weaker and more likely to break.
It is possible to take steps early in life to lessen its severity later in life. Let’s first take a look at when bone loss begins so that we can understand when and how to begin to take steps for early prevention of osteoporosis.
A Look at the Causes
There are several causes of osteoporosis. Some you can change, and as mentioned, some you can’t. Let’s look first at the risk factors you cannot change:
- Gender: More women than men get osteoporosis.
- Age: The older you are, the greater your risk.
- Body Size: Small, thin women have the highest risk.
- Ethnicity: White and Asian women have the highest risk of developing osteoporosis, while black and Latino women have a lower risk.
- Heredity: Osteoporosis tends to run in families. If one of your family members has (or had) it, the chances are that you will as well.
Other risk factors can sometimes be controlled to varying degrees, such as:
- Hormones: Low estrogen during menopause is one cause of osteoporosis in women. In men, lower levels of testosterone increase the risk. Women can try hormone replacement therapy (HRT), although it is not without its risks. Men can take testosterone to lower their risks, too. Excessive cortisol (stress hormone) and thyroid hormone are also contributing factors in both women and men.
- Calcium and Vitamin D Intake: If your diet is low in calcium and vitamin D, your risk of osteoporosis increases.
- Activity: Not getting enough exercise or being confined to bed for a long period of time can contribute to bone loss in both sexes.
- Smoking: Smoking has serious health risks such as cancer and heart disease, but it also ups your risk for osteoporosis.
- Alcohol Use: Overusing alcohol can also lead to broken bones and bone loss.
Fortunately there are things you can do to slow the progression of osteoporosis, even if you have risk factors that you can’t control. Here are some of the steps you can take (preferably before your mid-thirties for maximum benefit):
- Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. You can also take these in pill form as supplements to your diet.
- Get plenty of exercise, especially the weight-bearing kind (walking, running, working with weights, yoga, dancing, etc.).
- Quit smoking!
- Avoid excess alcohol consumption.
How Much Calcium and Vitamin D are Enough?
Most people need 1000 mg. of calcium per day to maintain good bone health, although there are exceptions:
- If you’re between the ages of 9 and 18, the recommended dosage for calcium is 1300 mg. per day.
- If you’re a woman over 50, you need 1200 mg. per day
For vitamin D, most people need 600 IU (International Units) per day. Babies up to the age of 1 should get 400 IU per day, and people over 70 need 800 IU per day.
It’s important to note that you’re never too young to begin taking measures to modify your lifestyle to slow the rate of progression of osteoporosis and to lessen its effects. While you’re in your growth years and into young adulthood, eating a healthy diet that’s rich in calcium and vitamin D, taking supplements, and exercising a minimum of 3 to 4 hours per week, are investments in your future bone health!
If you have questions about your bone health, please contact us today!