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Osteoporosis: Sorting Fact From Fiction, Focusing on Prevention

About Osteoporosis PreventionOsteoporosis. Your mother may have told you to drink more milk to prevent it. You may associate it with broken bones and, possibly, the actress Sally Field, who has made public her own diagnosis.

Often called the silent disease because it often progresses without symptoms until a fracture occurs, osteoporosis affects an estimated 75 million people in Europe, the United States and Japan.[1] One in two women and up to one in four men over age 50 will break a bone due to it.[2]

In observance of National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, we would like to help dispel some misconceptions and fortify some facts about this disease. Get to know your risk and learn about how establishing healthy habits can help you build strong bones.

1. Osteoporosis only impacts women – False

As a society, we often categorize osteoporosis as a women’s disease. And, being female does increase your risk of getting osteoporosis—women are five times more likely than men to get the disease, and 80 percent of all osteoporosis patients are women.[3],[4] However, the disease impacts both genders.

Twenty to 25 percent of men will experience a bone fracture due to osteoporosis or reduced bone mass.[5] The disease develops more slowly in men because they typically have larger skeletons, their bone loss starts later in life and progresses more slowly, and they have no period of rapid hormonal change and bone loss.[6] 

2. Osteoporosis is an “old person’s” disease – False

It is true that your risk for osteoporosis increases with age. For women, the risk rises sharply following menopause as bone density decreases.

Of the estimated 200 million women with osteoporosis worldwide, approximately one-tenth are 60 years old, one-fifth are 70 years old, two-fifths are 80 years old, and two-thirds are 90 years old.[7] By age 65 or 70, both men and women lose bone mass at the same rate, and osteoporosis in men has been recognized as an important public health issue as the number of men above age 70 increases with life expectancy.[8]

Yet, bone mass begins to naturally decline sometime around age 30, when maximum bone density and strength are generally reached.[9] It may be relatively rare, but younger adults and children can get osteoporosis. Teens and young women who lose their menstrual periods due to eating disorders, excessive exercise and low body weight are especially at risk for osteoporosis.[10] Secondary juvenile osteoporosis can develop in children as the result of another condition such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, leukemia and hyperthyroidism.[11] Idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis develops most often just before the onset of puberty, and there is no known cause.[12]

3. Having osteopenia increases your risk of Osteoporosis – True

Osteopenia is a condition related to osteoporosis and impacts about half of Americans over age 50.[13] It is a term for those whose bone mineral density falls somewhere in between normal and osteoporosis.

4. Osteoporosis isn’t that serious; it’s just weak bones – False

Serious may be a relative term; however, osteoporosis can have a substantial impact on your life. The disease can result in fractures, broken bones, permanent pain, and stooped or hunched posture.[14] Furthermore, limited mobility can cause feelings of isolation and depression.[15] Long-term nursing home care can be required for many patients, and 20 percent of those who break a hip die within one year from either complications related to the broken bone or the surgery to repair it.[16]

5. There is no cure for osteopenia or osteoporosis – True

Osteopenia cannot be cured; however, healthy habits (e.g., weight-bearing exercises, a calcium- and vitamin-rich diet, reducing salt and caffeine intake, quitting smoking and drinking in moderation) can help reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.[17] Osteopenia can be treated with medication and nutritional supplements.[18]

Osteoporosis is also not curable, but you can act to prevent, slow and even stop its progress.[19] As with Osteopenia, getting enough calcium and vitamin D are important to bone health, and there are medications available to help reduce your risk of broken bones by slowing or stopping bone loss or rebuilding bone.[20] Weight-bearing exercise has also been shown to reduce the risk of fracture—just be sure to discuss it with your healthcare provider first.[21]

Your doctor will evaluate your health and specific case of osteoporosis to help you formulate an appropriate treatment plan.

6. Not drinking enough milk is the main cause of osteoporosis – False

There are many important risk factors for low bone density and osteoporosis—some you can control, and others that you cannot. In addition to low calcium and vitamin D intake, these risk factors also include but are not limited to[22]:

  • Gender: Women get osteoporosis more than men
  • Age: The older you are, the more your risk increases
  • Body size: Small, think women are at greater risk
  • Ethnicity: White and Asian women are at highest risk
  • Family history: If you have family members with osteoporosis or who have had broken bones, you have a greater chance of the same
  • Sex hormones: Low estrogen in women and low testosterone levels in men
  • Medication use: Certain medications can increase your risk of osteoporosis

7. You can prevent osteoporosis – True

You can keep your bones healthy throughout your lifetime and reduce your risk of developing Osteoporosis. Three factors essential to healthy bones include getting adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D and exercise.[23]

If you have concerns about your bone density or risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis, discuss them with your healthcare provider.

 

 


[1] International Osteoporosis Foundation. “Facts and Statistics: Osteoporosis – General.” Accessed May 16, 2016. http://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics

[2] National Osteoporosis Foundation. National Osteoporosis Month.” Accessed May 16, 2016. https://www.nof.org/about-us/building-awareness/national-osteoporosis-month/

[3] WebMD. Osteoporosis Health Center. “Osteoporosis Risk Factors: Fact vs. Fiction.” Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on Jan. 13, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/guide/common-myths-about-osteoporosis-risk-factors

[4] Burg, Scott. “5 Osteoporosis Assumptions: Myth or Fact?” Cleveland Clinic. Oct. 25, 2013. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2013/10/5-osteoporosis-assumptions-myth-or-fact/

[5] Ibid.

[6] National Institutes of Health. Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. “Osteoporosis in Men.” June 2015. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/bone/osteoporosis/men.asp

[7] International Osteoporosis Foundation. “Facts and Statistics: Osteoporosis – General.” Accessed May 16, 2016. http://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics

[8] National Institutes of Health. Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. “Osteoporosis in Men.” June 2015. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/bone/osteoporosis/men.asp

[9] WebMD. “Osteoporosis: Are You at Risk?” Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on April 16, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/guide/osteoporosis-risk-factors

[10] WebMD. “Osteoporosis Health Center: Types of Osteoporosis” Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on Nov. 18, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/guide/types-of-osteoporosis

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Harvard Medical School. “Osteopenia: When You Have Weak Bones, But Not Osteoporosis.” Harvard Health Letter. Oct. 2003. http://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/osteopenia_when_you_have_weak_bones

[14] National Osteoporosis Foundation. “What is Osteoporosis and What Causes It?” Accessed May 16, 2016. https://www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] WebMD. “Osteoporosis Health Center: Osteopenia Treatment.” Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on Oct. 17, 2014. http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/guide/osteopenia-treatments-medications

[18] Ibid.

[19] National Osteoporosis Foundation. “Treatment.” https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/

[20] Ibid.

[21] WebMD. Osteoporosis Health Center. “Osteoporosis Risk Factors: Fact vs. Fiction.” Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on Jan. 13, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/guide/common-myths-about-osteoporosis-risk-factors

[22] National Institutes of Health. Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. “What is Osteoporosis? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public.” Nov. 2014. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/osteoporosis_ff.asp

[23] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Osteoporosis: Prevention.” Dec. 13, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/basics/prevention/con-20019924

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