Osteoporosis causes bones to become brittle. When osteoporosis is severe, minimal accidents, like a fall or even sneezing can cause affected bones to break. Most hip fractures in the elderly are an indirect result of brittle bones. The hump or curvature on the back of many of our senior citizens are due to fractures of the spine from osteoporotic vertebrae.
Certain risk factors are linked to the development of osteoporosis and contribute to an individual's likelihood of developing the disease. Many people with osteoporosis have several risk factors, but others who develop the disease have no known risk factors. There are some you cannot change and others you can.
Risk you cannot change
Gender - Your chances of developing osteoporosis are greater if you are a woman. Women have less bone tissue and lose bone faster than men because of the changes that happen with menopause.
Age - The older you are, the greater your risk of osteoporosis. Your bones become thinner and weaker as you age.
Body size - Small, thin-boned women are at greater risk.
Ethnicity - Caucasian and Asian women are at highest risk. African American and Hispanic women have a lower but significant risk.
Family history - Fracture risk may be due, in part, to heredity. People whose parents have a history of fractures also seem to have reduced bone mass and may be at risk for fractures.
Risk you can change
Sex hormones - Abnormal absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea), low estrogen level (menopause), and low testosterone level in men can bring on osteoporosis.
Anorexia nervosa/bulimia - Characterized by an irrational fear of weight gain, this eating disorders increases your risk for osteoporosis.
Calcium and vitamin D intake - A lifetime diet low in calcium and vitamin D makes you more prone to bone loss.
Medication use - Long-term use of glucocorticoids and some anticonvulsants can lead to loss of bone density and fractures.
Lifestyle - An inactive lifestyle or extended bed rest tends to weaken bones.
Cigarette smoking - Cigarettes are bad for bones as well as the heart and lungs.
Alcohol intake - Excessive consumption increases the risk of bone loss and fractures.
To reach optimal peak bone mass and continue building new bone tissue as you age, there are several factors you should consider:
Calcium: An inadequate supply of calcium over a lifetime contributes to the development of osteoporosis. Many published studies show that low calcium intake appears to be associated with low bone mass, rapid bone loss, and high fracture rates. National nutrition surveys show that many people consume less than half the amount of calcium recommended to build and maintain healthy bones. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream; dark green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, collard greens, bok choy, and spinach; sardines and salmon with bones; tofu; almonds; and foods fortified with calcium, such as orange juice, cereals, and breads. Depending upon how much calcium you get each day from food, you may need to take a calcium supplement. Calcium needs change during one's lifetime. The body's demand for calcium is greater during childhood and adolescence, when the skeleton is growing rapidly, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Postmenopausal women and older men also need to consume more calcium. Also, as you age, your body becomes less efficient at absorbing calcium and other nutrients. Older adults also are more likely to have chronic medical problems and to use medications that may impair calcium absorption. Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and in bone health. It is made in the skin through exposure to sunlight. While many people are able to obtain enough vitamin D naturally, studies show that vitamin D production decreases in the elderly, in people who are housebound, and for people in general during the winter. Depending on your situation, you may need to take vitamin D supplements to ensure a daily intake of between 600 to 1000 IU of vitamin D. Massive doses are not recommended unless prescribed by your doctor.
Exercise: Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Weight-bearing exercise is the best for your bones because it forces you to work against gravity. Examples include walking, hiking, jogging, stair climbing, weight training, tennis, and dancing.
Smoking: Smoking is bad for your bones as well as for your heart and lungs. Women who smoke have lower levels of estrogen compared to nonsmokers, and they often go through menopause earlier. Smokers also may absorb less calcium from their diets.
Alcohol: Regular consumption of 2 to 3 ounces a day of alcohol may be damaging to the skeleton, even in young women and men. Those who drink heavily are more prone to bone loss and fractures, because of both poor nutrition and increased risk of falling.
Medications that cause bone loss: The long-term use of glucocorticoids (medications prescribed for a wide range of diseases, including arthritis, asthma, Crohn's disease, lupus, and other diseases of the lungs, kidneys, and liver) can lead to a loss of bone density and fractures. Bone loss can also result from long-term treatment with certain antiseizure drugs - such as phenytoin (Dilantin1) and barbiturates; gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) drugs used to treat endometriosis; excessive use of aluminum-containing antacids; certain cancer treatments; and excessive thyroid hormone. It is important to discuss the use of these drugs with your physician and not to stop or change your medication dose on your own. Preventive medications: Various medications are available for preventing and treating osteoporosis