It can be a painful, potentially deadly condition,
but there’s much you can do it prevent it.
Myths and misunderstandings about osteoporosis keep many people from taking steps to prevent bone fractures that can seriously affect their quality of life. Don’t fall for these fractured truths:
“Osteoporosis is not that serious”
Osteoporosis (“porous bone”) occurs when your bones become weak and brittle, breaking easily. It affects one in three women – and according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, one in six women who go to hospital with a hip fracture will not survive. In this way, osteoporosis kills more women than breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined. And those it doesn’t kill, it often cripples. Women are left shrunken, bent and with Dowager’s humps from crushed vertebrae, and are often confined to wheelchairs.
“It’s a women’s disease”
Women have a higher incidence of osteoporosis, but while oestrogen may play a role, it’s not the main cause. One in five men are affected, especially later in life when testosterone levels may tail off, “and it can be just as painful and dangerous for them as for women, robbing them of height and mobility”, says Teréza Hough, CEO of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Studies show that more men than women die of complications following hip fractures. It’s been estimated that one in eight white, coloured and Asian men over 50 suffer fractures (the incidence is lower in black men), and one in five don’t survive beyond a year.
“It’s a natural part of ageing! No need to worry about it until menopause”
At menopause, loss of oestrogen slows activity of cells that build new bone to repair and strengthen your skeleton, but osteoporosis can begin affecting you as early as your 20s.
“Your bones change throughout your life, and you usually reach peak bone mass in your 20s,” says Hough.
From age 30, bone mass gradually declines and bones can become more fragile. But this happens faster if you are thin and small-boned (though heavier people get osteoporosis too), if you have a poor diet, an irregular menstrual cycle, certain diseases or disorders (such as coeliac disease, eating disorders, asthma, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, certain cancers and all forms of immune-modulated arthritis diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis), and if you use steroid drugs. Alcohol abuse and smoking can also affect bone formation and density – studies have shown that smokers have a significantly higher risk of hip fractures than non-smokers.
“No warning signs exist”
“Osteoporosis is a silent disease with no symptoms until you fracture a bone,” says Hough. But there are early signs you can watch for: weak and brittle fingernails, receding gums, a weakening grip, cramps, and muscle and bone aches. If you’re a postmenopausal woman, fracturing a bone, especially by falling from a standing position, is a strong indicator. Ask your doctor about having a bone density scan.
“You can’t predict who is likely to get osteoporosis”
About 30% of osteoporosis is now thought to be genetic – if you have a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle who had a hip fracture, you have a greatly increased risk of this dangerous disease. You are also more likely to develop it if you are underweight, have irregular periods, smoke, have more than two alcoholic drinks several times a week, eat poorly and don’t exercise.
“Once diagnosed, there’s nothing you can do besides take medication”
On the contrary, there are plenty of lifestyle adaptations you can make – “and bone-strengthening drugs, although a last resort, can prevent up to 70% of fractures”, says Hough. The key is to combine good nutrition (including foods essential for bone health) with physical activity that uses the weight-bearing joints. This can prevent further bone loss, lower your risk of fractures and help build new bone.
“The best way to prevent it is to drink milk and take calcium supplements”
“Calcium is important for bone health, but taking high quantities of this alone won’t prevent osteoporosis,” says Hough. Bone health requires a number of nutrients, especially vitamin D (without which your body can’t absorb calcium), vitamin K and magnesium. For vitamin D, you need only 10 minutes of exposure to UV light on a sunny day several times a week and foods such as oily fish, eggs, meat, milk, yoghurt, fortified cereals, beans and broccoli. You can get vitamin K from green leafy vegetables, cruciferous ones (broccoli and cabbage), fish, meat, eggs and cereals. There’s magnesium in whole wheat, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, almonds, black beans and peanuts. It comes down to eating a varied, balanced diet, but no matter how good your diet, once you’re over 65, ask your doctor about taking a calcium supplement that includes vitamin D. Walking or jogging for just 30 minutes a day is vital for boosting bone density, says Hough.
“Too much protein is bad for your bones”
According to a popular theory, too much protein causes “acid overload” and is harmful to bone health. But an expert consensus released this year by the International Osteoporosis Foundation concluded that a protein-rich diet is actually beneficial for adult bone health, “provided calcium intakes are adequate”.
For more on these conditions,
contact the National Osteoporosis Foundation on 0861 102 265
or, contact the Arthritis Foundation on 0861 303 030.
Article by Glynis Horning, on behalf of Clicks
Image, courtesy of Freepik
<a href=’https://www.freepik.com/photos/hand’>Hand photo created by jcomp – www.freepik.com</a>