Osteoporosis is a form of bone disease. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately 54 million Americans either have osteoporosis or low bone mass, putting them at risk of developing osteoporosis. This common condition increases the risk of bone fractures and disability. Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, you can prevent disease onset or progression with medication and lifestyle changes. Keep reading to learn more about osteoporosis, its causes, and its treatment options.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis disease occurs when the body makes too little bone or loses too much bone, or both. The bones become weak and brittle and much more prone to fractures, also known as broken bones. Our bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. As we age, our bones rebuild at a slower rate than they break down, increasing our risk of osteoporosis.
In people with osteoporosis, the bones become so weak that simply moving or sneezing can result in a fracture. Experts estimate that up to half of all women and a quarter of all men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
The condition most commonly affects the bones of the hip, spine, and wrist.
Stages of Osteoporosis
There are four stages to osteoporosis. These are:
- Stage One. Around age 30, bones begin to break down at the same rate as the body builds new bone. Prior to this, bone breaks down at a slower rate than it is built. There are no symptoms of stage one osteoporosis.
- Stage Two. After age 35, the body breaks down bone at a faster rate than it builds it.
- Stage Three. From age 45 to 55, bones become thinner and more susceptible to fractures. Most people who have osteoporosis receive a diagnosis at this stage.
- Stage Four. Also known as severe osteoporosis, this stage involves continuing bone fractures. Fractures cause pain, deformity, and disability. Thanks to medical advances, less people are entering this stage of osteoporosis than ever before.
Osteopenia vs Osteoporosis
Osteopenia and osteoporosis are similar conditions. In fact, osteopenia often precedes osteoporosis. Medical professionals consider it a less severe form of bone loss than osteoporosis.
When combined with risk factors, osteopenia should be a cause for significant concern. It increases the risk of osteoporosis and its complications. People with osteopenia and certain risk factors may need medication and other forms of treatment similar to those with full-blown osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is caused by the breakdown of old bone and the insufficient building of new bone to replace the old. While anyone is at risk of osteoporosis, some people are more likely to get it than others. It partly depends on how much bone mass you acquired while young. The higher a person’s peak bone mass, the less likely they are to get osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis caused by natural bone breakdown is called primary osteoporosis. Secondary osteoporosis results from bone loss due to some other factor, such as medication use.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
Factors that increase the risk of osteoporosis include:
- The risk of osteoporosis increases with age.
- Women are at higher risk of this bone disease than men, especially after menopause.
- People of white or Asian descent are more likely to develop osteoporosis than other ethnicities.
- Having a family member with osteoporosis increases risk, especially if a parent suffered a hip fracture in the past.
- Body size. Those with small body frames have less bone mass and so may be at a higher osteoporosis risk. People who are underweight or overweight are also more likely to develop osteoporosis than people of a normal weight.
- Women with low estrogen and men with low testosterone experience increased bone loss. Similarly, too much thyroid hormone accelerates bone loss.
- People who do not eat enough calcium or overall calories have an increased risk. Vitamin D and magnesium also play a role in bone health.
- History of gastrointestinal surgery. Those who have had surgery to make their stomach smaller or to remove some intestine are less able to absorb calcium and other nutrients necessary for healthy, strong bones.
- Medication use. Long-term use of corticosteroid medications (including prednisone and cortisone) stops new bone being built. Other medications—for seizures, cancer, and gastric reflux—are also linked to osteoporosis development.
- Presence of other medical conditions. People with celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and other conditions may be more likely to develop osteoporosis than others.
- People who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, or lead a sedentary lifestyle may experience an accelerated rate of bone loss.
In the early stages, osteoporosis does not cause symptoms, But by stage three, people may notice the following symptoms and signs of osteoporosis:
- Bone fractures that occur easily
- Poor posture
- Back pain (due to a fractured vertebra)
- Loss of height
You should see a doctor if you:
- Are experiencing the symptoms of osteoporosis
- Took corticosteroids for several months
- Went through early menopause
- Have a family history of osteoporosis or hip fractures
A doctor will take a full medical and family history and may perform a physical examination. If your doctor suspects bone disease, they may send you for a bone scan for osteoporosis.
This test involves taking low level X-rays to look for bone mineral density. It is a painless procedure where a scanner passes over your body. If you have low bone mineral density, your doctor may recommend a treatment plan comprising dietary changes, lifestyle modifications, and medications.
People with other complex health issues may also need to see an endocrinologist who specializes in metabolic disorders or a rheumatologist, a specialist in diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles.
Treating osteoporosis involves preventing fractures and further bone loss. Some of the best treatments for osteoporosis include:
Exercises for Osteoporosis
Those who are inactive are at greater risk of bone loss. Strengthening and resistance exercises are best for bone health. Aim to perform muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days per week, along with daily aerobic activity.
Some of the most helpful workouts for the muscles and bones involve:
To enhance your posture and reduce your risk of falling, try tai chi or yoga for osteoporosis.
Quit Smoking and Limit Alcohol Intake
Both tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake affect bone health. Smoking increases your risk of breaking a bone by speeding up the rate of bone loss. Too much alcohol reduces the formation of new bone. People are also more likely to fall after they’ve had a few drinks.
Changing your diet is one of the best osteoporosis natural treatments. Certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are essential for bone health and play a role in bone formation.
Some of the top nutrients and foods for osteoporosis include:
This macronutrient is an essential building block of bone. Older adults tend to eat less protein, as do vegans. Aim to include a source of protein at each meal. Choose from meat, fish, soy, beans, lentils, dairy, eggs, and nuts. Protein shakes and supplements are also an option for people who struggle to meet their daily requirement.
Sources of calcium for osteoporosis include dark green vegetables, dairy products, canned fish with bones, tofu and other soy products, and calcium-fortified cereals.
This vitamin can be found in fish, UV-exposed mushrooms, and fortified cereals, plant-based dairy alternatives, and juices.
You can meet your magnesium needs by consuming plenty of nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains.
Take Minerals and Vitamins for Osteoporosis
As discussed above, there are several essential nutrients for bone health. It’s not always possible to meet these through diet alone, especially if you have health issues that interfere with nutrient absorption.
Mineral and vitamin supplements can help people make up a shortfall in their diet. Choose a multivitamin or opt for single supplements, such as magnesium supplements. Alternatively, choose a combination supplement for bone health such as a calcium and vitamin D supplement.
Always speak with your doctor before beginning a new supplement program.
Prevent Falls in the Home
Avoiding falls is an important step in osteoporosis treatment. Wear flat shoes with nonslip soles around the house and keep electrical cords tidied away. Use bright lighting in all rooms and hallways so you can see where you are going. In your bedroom, take extra precautions.
Bed safety rails make getting in and out of bed safe and easy. ( See Product )
Install a bed safety rail and use a bedside fall mat to prevent injury should you roll out of bed while asleep.
Try a bedside fall mat to offer extra protection in case of unforeseen accidents. ( See Product )
Install a suction grab bar in any shower, for a reliable handle right where you need it. ( See Product )
The bathroom is one of the most dangerous rooms in the home. Stay safe by kitting yours out with suction grab bars by the toilet, bathtub, and sink and using nonslip bath mats by the shower and tub.
Nonslip bath mats will ensure every shower is as safe as you need it to be. ( See Product )
Back braces allow you to stay on top of all your favorite activities while recovering from a back injury. ( See Product )
If you have osteoporosis in certain areas of your body, use supportive braces to prevent fractures while exercising, cleaning, and engaging in other tasks. One of the best options available is a back brace.
Try Osteoporosis Medications
Many people with osteoporosis will need to take medication to reduce the rate of bone loss, especially if they are at risk of breaking a bone within the next decade. Bisphosphonates are the most common type of osteoporosis drug. They can be taken orally or given as a quarterly or yearly injection for osteoporosis.
Women are at increased risk of bone loss after menopause. Starting a course of estrogen therapy shortly after menopause can maintain bone density. However, there are some side effects to estrogen so this treatment may be reserved for women who enter early menopause or those at very high risk of osteoporosis.
In men, testosterone replacement therapy may be helpful for men with low testosterone when given in addition to osteoporosis medication.
There is no cure for this condition, but drug therapy can help reverse osteoporosis to an extent, or at least prevent its progression. People with osteoporosis can lead relatively normal lives once they stick to their treatment program. However, this bone disease is far easier to prevent than treat.
There are also a number of osteoporosis complications to consider. The most serious complications are bone fractures, especially of the spine and hip. Spinal fractures can occur even without an obvious injury. The spinal disks may simply crumble under normal body weight, leading to pain and poor posture.
Hip fractures typically result from a fall or knock, causing disability and increased risk of death within the first twelve months of injury.
To prevent osteoporosis, begin by building bone mass in your youth. If that’s no longer possible, don’t worry—the following tips will help you take care of your bones throughout your lifespan:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and get enough protein, calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium.
- Engage in regular activity, especially weight-bearing exercises to build muscle.
- Maintain a healthy bodyweight for your height, and use a bathroom scale to ensure you don’t lose or gain too many pounds.
A bathroom scale can be your best friend when trying to stay on top of daily fitness. ( See Product )
Finally, go for regular osteoporosis screenings. Doctors recommend this test for all women by age 65, and men by age 70, especially if they are at increased risk of osteoporosis.
Living With Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a serious condition that can lead to disability or even premature death if left untreated. Luckily, most people never progress to the severe stages thanks to medical advances. Work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan so that you can keep your osteoporosis under control and maintain your quality of life.
Be sure to make lifestyle changes as well—including dietary and exercise modifications. Finally, support and protect your bones using living aids such as grab bars, fall mats, and braces. Your bones will thank you for it.