Osteoporosis is a common bone-health issue, especially in the elderly population. Women are more affected by osteoporosis, but it is also an issue in men. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 out of 3 women worldwide will experience an osteoporotic fracture at some point in their life, as will 1 out of 5 men. In the year 2000, there were approximately 9 million osteoporotic fractures worldwide, with the most common sites being at the hip, forearm, and spine. These fractures become important health issues in that they often lead to chronic disabilities in the case of hip and spine fractures, as well as can lead to early death in many cases.
So how does one get osteoporosis? Like most other health conditions, there are genetic components and lifestyle components. As far as lifestyle goes, physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are probably the leading factors for weakened bone health. Smoking and increased alcohol intake can lead to decreased bone density, particularly in heavy smokers and drinkers. Diets high in processed foods and fructose can also have a negative impact on bone health. Prolonged use of corticosteroids, a class of medication designed for anti-inflammation or salt-retention, is the most common cause of secondary osteoporosis, which means that there is a definite known cause of the disease.
Because there are significant lifestyle factors leading to osteoporosis, we have the opportunity to make lifestyle changes to prevent or reverse it. The best way to maintain strong bones is via regular weight-bearing exercise. Exercise is beneficial throughout life, but research shows that it is particularly valuable to improve bone mass via exercise in childhood and adolescence when the bones are still growing and forming. Weight-bearing exercise has a great influence on bone mass, as well as maintaining lean muscle mass. With proper muscle strength, many falls that lead to osteoporotic fractures can potentially be avoided.
While exercise is great for anyone who is able to, some people are physically incapable of significant weight-bearing exercise. This is especially true for the elderly population, who are at the highest risk for osteoporosis. A great way to maintain bone health for these individuals is by getting plenty of non-exercise movements, which can be as simple as choosing to stand rather than sit. Walking or marching in place are other fine examples of non-exercise movements.
Getting proper nutrition is also vital for maintaining healthy bones. Some of the most important vitamins and minerals to get enough of are vitamins D and K2, calcium, and magnesium. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best sources of high quality, absorbable nutrients for bone health. Sunlight is important for vitamin D production, and supplementation with a quality brand of vitamin D can ensure that you are getting enough. It is also important to keep protein levels high enough to maintain lean muscle mass, with some of the best sources of protein being eggs, fish, and poultry. Moderate amounts of alcohol intake is not thought to be particularly harmful to bones, but chronic alcohol abuse has been correlated with poor bone health by having a direct toxic effect on bone-forming cells.
Osteoporosis is one of those conditions that can either be avoided altogether or something that doesn’t have to be a burden for those individuals who have it. Once again, lifestyle elements are major factors in how osteoporosis will affect each individual. Ask how we can help.
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex