Bones give your body structure, protect your organs and work with your muscles to help you move. Bones also produce red and white blood cells.
You might take healthy bones for granted until there’s a problem with them, such as osteoporosis. The disease causes bones to lose mass and deteriorate, making them weak and brittle and putting you at increased risk of fractures, especially in the hip, wrist and spine.
Bone is living tissue that’s constantly being absorbed and replaced. Osteoporosis happens when the creation of new bone doesn’t keep up with the removal of old bone. The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 40 million women and men already have osteoporosis or are at high risk of developing the disease.
Risk factors include:
• Gender–Women develop the disease more often than men. Post-menopausal women have the greatest risk due to hormonal changes that can cause loss of bone mass.
• Age–Bones thin and weaken with age, and the older you are, the greater your risk.
• Ethnicity–Caucasian and Asian women have the highest risk, while African American and Hispanic women have a lower one.
• Calcium and vitamin D intake–If you don’t get adequate calcium and vitamin D, you have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
• Medication use–Some medications, including corticosteroids such as prednisone, and medicines that battle depression and acid reflux, can lead to loss of bone density and fractures.
• Lifestyle–A sedentary lifestyle or extended bed rest may weaken bones.
The good news is that osteoporosis is both preventable and treatable. Your doctor can help you determine if you’re getting the right amount of calcium for your age and gender.
Your doctor also can determine if you need a DEXA bone mineral density test that can identify if you have osteoporosis and, if so, how advanced it is. A bone density test is recommended for women over 65 and men over 70.
Osteoporosis treatment includes a well-balanced diet to nourish bones, exercise to strengthen them and prescription medication such as Fosamax and Boniva to manage more serious cases. If you have concerns about your bone health, talk to your health care provider.