Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body cannot replenish its bone tissue as quickly as it wears away. And it’s common in post-menopausal women.
“I was a very nervous kid, I was anxious all the time when I was younger, but what’s nice is that some of the things I was anxious about don’t bother me at all anymore. Like, uh, I always thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be…I used to sit around and think about what to do about quicksand. I never thought about how to handle real problems in adult life, I was never like, ‘Oh, what’s it gonna be like when relatives ask to borrow money?’ “
-John Mulaney, New In Town
As a child, most of us never worried if we were getting enough calcium in our diets. Like John Mulaney, we were worried about quicksand and anvils falling from the sky. But as we get older, what we worry about changes, and as middle age approaches, osteoporosis and calcium-deficient diets become even greater worries.
The human body uses calcium for a number of tasks: calcium regulates nerve signals, including those used to release hormones such as insulin. Calcium in the bloodstream also regulates how muscles and blood vessels contract and dilate, and it continues to do this for the duration of a person’s life. If the available calcium begins to diminish, the body will pull calcium from the stores in the bone tissue. This deficiency is the beginning to the disease known as osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is directly responsible for 1.5 million fractures every year. Ten million Americans are affected by this affliction today. Women are four times more likely than men to develop this disease, and half of all American women will break a bone due to osteoporosis after the age of 50. After menopause, a woman’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risks of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
Why Does Osteoporosis Affect Women?
Osteoporosis affects post-menopausal women in greater quantities than any other group of people. This bone disease that occurs when the body cannot replenish its bone tissue as quickly as it wears away. The body stores nearly all of its calcium in bones, and pulls calcium from the bone tissue as it needs. As a result of the body slowing down its bone production, the patient may lose too much bone mass or makes too little new bone tissue — or both. As a result, bones become porous as they become increasingly calcium deficient. They quickly become weaker and may break easily — in severe cases, bones can break from a sneeze.
Aging in men and women slow down their endocrine systems, which affect bone production. However, the cessation of estrogen manufacturing in women is significantly more dramatic than the slowdown of men and their hormones. Additionally, women have smaller bones than their male counterparts, which means smaller stores of calcium, all resulting in an increased risk for osteoporosis.
How Can Women Combat Osteoporosis?
There are a number of things a woman can do, or stop doing, to strengthen her bone tissue and stave off osteoporosis. Women over age 50 should take between 1,200 and 2,000 milligrams of calcium daily. One of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis is to ensure a plentiful amount of calcium is available for the body.
It is especially important to supplement your diet with calcium if you happen to be:
- Following a high protein diet
- Following a high sodium diet
- Suffering from Crohn’s disease, IBS or another health condition that limits your body’s ability to absorb calcium
- Under treatment with corticosteroids for an extended period of time
Who is at Risk for Osteoporosis?
Other factors that raise the risk of osteoporosis include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Excessive alcohol and/or caffeine consumption
- Lack of exercise
- A diet low in calcium
- Malabsorption (nutrients are not properly absorbed from the gastrointestinal system) from conditions such as Celiac Sprue
- Chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and chronic hepatitis C, an infection of the liver
- Immobility, such as after a stroke, or from any condition that interferes with walking
- Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. When vitamin D is lacking, the body cannot absorb adequate amounts of calcium to prevent osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency can result from lack of intestinal absorption of the vitamin such as occurs in celiac sprue and primary biliary cirrhosis.
- Certain medications can cause osteoporosis. These include heparin (a blood thinner), anti-seizure medications phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, and long term use of corticosteroids (such as Prednisone).
Calcium supplements can have a positive affect, even if a patient is already suffering from osteoporosis. Also, a balanced diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D assists in staving off the disease — as do medications that stop bone loss and increase bone strength, such as risedronate (Actonel), and calcitonin (Calcimar).
How Do I Know if I Have Osteoporosis?
If you or someone you know has reached menopause, then you should get a bone density test to determine the risk of having this disease. You can contact us to set up a time to determine your risk of osteoporosis. A Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test uses a pair of low dose X-rays to measure density and thickness of the bones in the hip and spine.
You cannot see or feel your bones becoming thinner or weaker. Bone Mineral Density (BMD) testing is used by health care providers to diagnose osteoporosis. The BMD test determines bone density by assessing the quantity of minerals (calcium and phosphorus that your bone contains. A dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) of the hip and spine is a quick, painless, low-dose X-ray that measures the density or thickness of your bones.
BMD testing provides a T-score that compares your bone density to the average bone density of young healthy adults of the same gender. A T-score above -1.0 typically represents normal bone mass. Low bone mass (osteopenia) may be identified when your T-score is between –1.0 and –2.5. A BMD test will result in a diagnosis of osteoporosis when your T-score is –2.5 or below. While there is no cure for osteoporosis, this diagnosis will help patients be more mindful of their risks, and hopefully give them the motivation to do everything they can to stunt the growth of the disease in their bodies.
Osteoporosis: Calcium is Key
You don’t need to worry about what to do about osteoporosis. Make a plan and a habit to increase your calcium intake. Talk to your physician about the possibility of hormone therapy for the prevention of osteoporosis. While it can stave off debilitating hip and spine fractures in post-menopausal women, this approach isn’t without its own risks. Some women on HRT were found to be at higher risk for blood clots, stroke and breast cancer.
Whatever you do, educate yourself so you aren’t nervous about this disease. And stay away from quicksand.Tweet