Osteoporosis and low bone mass, which puts folks at increased risk of this debilitating disease, affects a whopping 54 million people in the United States. Ten million actually have the condition while another 44 million have low bone density which puts them at greater risk.
This means that half of all adults over the age of 50 are at risk of breaking a bone and should be concerned about bone health, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
“We have our blood pressure checked regularly, and our cholesterol levels measured, but too many of us ignore screening for bone health,” says Dr. E. Michael Lewiecki, director of the New Mexico Clinical Research and Osteoporosis Center.
“Elevated blood pressure can lead to a stroke while elevated cholesterol levels may lead to a heart attack. Low bone density can lead to hip fractures which can also be deadly. “
Studies show that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 or older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
“This can seriously affect your independence and lifestyle,” Lewiecki tells Newsmax Health.
May is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month and the National Osteoporosis Foundation, http://www.nof.org, has compiled a list of tips and information on how you can prevent, manage, and even reverse the potentially debilitating disease.
Here’s a primer for action, including five steps you can take to protect yourself:
Know your risk factors: Some factors that put people at increased risk uncontrollable, but others involve lifestyle behaviors that can be modified.
Uncontrollable risk factors include:
- Being over the age of 50
- Being female
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Low body weight or being too thin
- Broken bones or height loss
Controllable risk factors include:
- Not getting enough calcium or vitamin D
- Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
- Getting too much protein, sodium, and caffeine
- Having an inactive lifestyle
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Losing weight
“It’s important to note that osteoporosis and the broken bones it can cause are NOT part of normal aging,” Claire Gill, chief marketing officer of NOF, tells Newsmax Health.
“There is a lot you can do you protect your bones throughout life. Osteoporosis prevention should begin in childhood, but it doesn’t stop there. Whatever your age, the habits you adopt now can affect your bone health for the rest of your life.”
Take action now: Lewiecki says it’s important to act to prevent osteoporosis before you have a problem with bone loss.
“Although there is a genetic predisposition that affects 80 percent of the people who develop osteoporosis, there is a lot you can do with proper diet, exercise, and supplementation that can optimize your genetics,” he says.
“Making sure that you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D, exercising against gravity, and checking bone density regularly are just a few ways to protect and maintain good bone health.”
Get screened: Lewiecki recommends that all women over the age of 65 and men over the age of 70 get screened annually.
“And if you’ve suffered previous bone fractures, screening should begin at age 50,” he says.
There are medications used to treat osteoporosis. One type helps rebuild new bone, while another slows down bone cells to allow more calcium absorption and prevent more loss.
“”It’s kind of a one-two punch,” notes Lewiecki.
Osteoporosis usually has no symptoms until the person fractures a bone, which is why it is nicknamed “the silent disease.”
“We see people who have lost height or are slumped over and take an X-ray of the spine and sure enough there is a fracture,” says Lewiecki. “Two thirds of people with spinal fracture don’t even know they have them. That’s why it is so important to discuss bone health with your doctor.”
Boost your nutrition: Diet can play an important role in managing osteoporosis says Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who is board certified in sports medicine. A 2010 Rotterdam study of 14,926 people 45 or older, who were followed for 20 years, found that a diet based on vegetables, fruits, dairy, and fish was associated with:
- Markedly reduced risk of bone fractures
- Higher bone density as seen on x-rays
- Stronger bones measured by bending strength tests
“Diets that included a lot of sweets, processed meats or alcohol were associated with increased risk for fracture and weaker, more unstable bones,” Mirkin tells Newsmax Health.
Harvard Medical School researchers noted that calcium is an important nutrient for building bone and slowing the pace of bone loss but it’s not a “magic bullet.” It needs its indispensable assistant, vitamin D, to help the body absorb calcium.
Experts recommend taking 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily for adults up to age 50 and 1,200 milligrams for people aged 51 and older when bone loss accelerates.
Fortified foods can help provide the vitamin D your need to absorb calcium efficiently or you can manufacture your own by spending 5 to 30 minutes in the sun daily, making sure arms and legs are exposed.
Get moving: Exercise is also an important component of bone health. But always check with your health care provider to ensure you embark upon a safe program.
“You may want to avoid high impact weight bearing exercises like jogging, running, or jumping rope if you are increased risk of fracture,” notes Gill. “Low-impact weight bearing exercises can also help keep bones strong and are a safe alternative. Elliptical machines and fast walking on a treadmill or outdoors are two examples.”
In addition, she recommends lifting weights or using exercise bands to offer resistance against gravity and build stronger bones.
“Osteoporosis is manageable,” she says. “Although there is no cure, there are steps you can take to prevent, slow down or stop its progress. In some cases, you may even be able to improve bone density and reverse the disorder to some degree.”