Osteoporosis is the disease of the bones characterized by a decrease in bone mass. The word “osteo” means “of the bone,” while “porosis” is derived from the word “porous,” which means “having holes” where air may pass. The bones of patients with osteoporosis are weaker because the holes are bigger, resulting in brittleness of the bones, and reduced bone density.
This disease, if left untreated, can make patients more prone to getting fractures. Someone with osteoporosis therefore needs to watch their step and be very careful about falls.
For example, a person with healthy bones can likely bounce back from a minor fall relatively unscathed. However, an osteoporotic patient experiencing the same fall has grimmer outcomes and could suffer real injuries such as bone fractures or breaks. It can result in more catastrophic repercussions for them, such as hip replacement surgery. Moreover, osteoporosis is a disease that also decreases the quality of life of the patient. This disease can cause debilitating back pain, neck pain, and other body pains that make it difficult to move or carry out day-to-day functions.
It’s a disease that makes life difficult to the bone, and can affect one’s mental and emotional well-being, especially when their mobility is impacted. It’s tough on your mental health when you have trouble walking or carrying out regular tasks that were once quite easy for you.
Imagine when you can no longer do the things you enjoy without pain or difficulty. This can make you feel depressed and anxious. Sadly, this bone disease affects more than 200 million people.
Furthermore, it is a disease that can be passed down from your parents. You are more predisposed to osteoporosis if it runs in your family, as it’s a genetic condition. However, you’re also more likely to fall victim to osteoporosis if you’re a woman, or if you lack calcium and vitamin D in your diet. These nutrient deficiencies can sometimes lead to bone health conditions such as osteoporosis. Learn more about osteoporosis and ways you can prevent its onset below:
How Does Osteoporosis Begin Deteriorating Your Bones?
Human bones are made of living and growing tissue. If you take a look at a cross-section of healthy bone tissue, you would notice that the outer hard cover of the bone, called the cortical bone, surrounds a spongy softer tissue, called the trabecular bone which acts almost like a shock absorber for your bones. In osteoporosis patients, the holes in the sponge-like trabecular bone grow larger. As a result, this weakens the interior structure of the bone and makes it prone to breaks because it can no longer cushion falls.
Bones are the support frame of your body, providing structure and protection for all your internal organs. Bones are also repositories for calcium and other minerals. Whenever the human body needs calcium, it takes it from your calcium stores in the bones. It breaks down and later rebuilds bone tissue in a process called bone remodeling.
However, after the age of 35, the breakdown of bone starts to speed up and occur faster than bone build-up, resulting in the reduction of bone mass. Women, who are four times more likely to experience osteoporosis than men, lose more bone density after menopause because of estrogen deficiency. While researchers are still trying to figure out the exact cause of the development of osteoporosis in the human body, it can be noted that a lack of calcium consumption, along with Vitamin D which is needed for calcium absorption, can hasten the bone breakdown process.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis symptoms are sometimes difficult to detect. This is often because the body pains experienced can be misinterpreted as regular body pains that you get from time-to-time due to stress, exercise or just being overworked. This is why osteoporosis is often a silent disease, as symptoms are often mistaken for regular body aches.
Furthermore, sometimes symptoms of osteoporosis do not show at all, making it difficult to determine one’s current level of bone health unless some medical tests are taken. By the time you get the diagnosis, it’s often because you’ve suffered a compound fracture from a very simple fall. However, despite that, there are still things that you can look out for to see whether or not you may have osteoporosis. Watch out for these tell-tale signs and symptoms of osteoporosis:
1. Sudden “shrinkage” – you appear to have lost some height.
2. A difference in posture – you may be hunching over or your neck may be jutting forward.
3. Shortness of breath – the compression of discs along the vertebral column can limit the space surrounding the lungs, lessening lung capacity.
4. Bone fractures – hairline fractures may arise without you knowing where you got them from.
5. Lower back pain – usually not related to activity, posture, or other movements
Who is at Risk for Developing Osteoporosis?
Anyone can develop osteoporosis, but the risks of getting it increases with age. However, menopausal women over age 50 run the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis. This is because they undergo immediate and rapid bone loss the first ten years after menopause as menopause slows the production of estrogen, which is the hormone that assists in the slowing down of excessive bone loss.
Osteoporosis also affects men, with the likelihood of acquiring osteoporosis for men over 50 being higher than the likelihood of acquiring prostate cancer.
Noteworthy, your susceptibility to developing osteoporosis also depends on your ethnicity. Studies have shown that Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop this disease.
Additionally, your body composition, bone structure, and build may also put you at risk for developing osteoporosis. Small-framed, petite, and thin women run a higher risk as they have a lot less bone to lose than those with larger frames.
Your genetics may also be a determining factor in whether or not you will develop osteoporosis. If you have family members with this condition, you are more likely to acquire it in the future. In relation to that, any preexisting medical conditions may also put you at risk, like celiac disease, blood diseases, etc.
How to Prevent Osteoporosis and Keep Your Bones Healthier
Though the aforementioned risk factors may look like they are out of your hands, there are, in fact, a multitude of steps you can take to keep your bones and your body healthy. It all starts with modifying your diet and lifestyle:
1. Consume more Calcium and Vitamin D
A calcium and vitamin D deficiency can be easily solved by taking vitamins and by eating calcium and vitamin D-rich foods. Take fortified milk drinks, cereals, yogurt, and bask in the sun for 15 minutes a day, with SPF. You may also speak with your doctor about taking supplements, especially if osteoporosis is hereditary.
2. Lead an Active Lifestyle with Regular Exercise
Having a high muscle mass helps to keep the body strong. The muscle also helps to act as a cushion of protection for your bones. Incorporate exercise into your daily routine, including both cardiovascular exercises and strength training.
3. Limit Your Tobacco and Alcohol Consumption
Smoking has been linked to increasing the risk of fractures. Tobacco exposure causes an imbalance in bone turnover. Consequently, you have lower bone mass, making you vulnerable to bone loss and fractures. Similarly, alcohol has also been linked to an increase in susceptibility to developing osteoporosis.
4. Take a DNA Test
Taking a DNA test such as CircleDNA allows you to learn about which diseases you’re genetically at higher risk of developing, which helps you be more cognizant and take more preventative measures. CircleDNA includes hundreds of health reports based on your unique DNA, and even includes possible nutrient deficiencies that could impact your bone health, mental health or overall health.
5. Consult a Doctor
As you age, it is important to consult your doctor regularly. Don’t just go whenever you feel something is off. Take your annual physical check-up and other preventive screening exams. And, of course, seek immediate help when you feel something is amiss. Remember, body pains like back and neck pains are linked to osteoporosis and other diseases. You may request to have X-rays done on areas that are bothering you. Also consider taking bone density exams to accurately determine your bone health, especially if you are older or this disease runs in your family.
While osteoporosis cannot be cured entirely, certain measures and steps can be taken to ensure a delay in excessive bone loss, and to speed up or aid the bone-building process. In turn, these measures lower the risks of breaks and fractures.
Common treatments for osteoporosis include incorporating an exercise routine composed of weight, resistance, and balance training into the patient’s lifestyle. This is to retrain and strengthen the bones while building muscles that support the bones as well.
On top of that, an increased dosage of vitamins and mineral supplements important for bone health, and medications, may also be advised by your doctor. In some cases, physical therapy may be required, especially in instances where patients are healing from fractures. Hormone therapy may also be introduced through minimally-invasive procedures or oral medication. The key here is working with a healthcare provider to increase your quality of life despite the disease’s onset, and get professional advice on how to beat this disease.