Is osteoporosis preventable? Risk factors and prevention tips

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Osteoporosis is a chronic disease that weakens your bones and makes them more vulnerable to breaking.

Some factors that increase your risk of osteoporosis, such as your age and family history, cannot be controlled. But there are several things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis.

For example, people who sit often and are not physically active are at increased risk of osteoporosis. Staying active, adopting a simple exercise routine, or increasing your activity level can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

Keep reading to learn more about how you can maintain bone health and help prevent osteoporosis.

Including physical activity can help prevent heart disease. Keeping your brain active can help prevent cognitive decline. Protecting your bones is just as important.

In many ways, osteoporosis is a silent, invisible disease. But it’s the leading cause of bone fractures in postmenopausal women and older men. The most common fracture sites include the hip, wrist, and spinal vertebrae.

Fractures are most often caused by falls. But in people with osteoporosis, bones can become so weak that even minor stumbles can lead to broken bones.

Osteoporosis can also cause bones to break from coughing, bending, lifting, or other forms of minor pressure. Bones can even break spontaneously, without a known cause.

Fractures in old age can have a greater impact on your mental and physical health than when you were younger. For example, hip fractures can severely limit mobility and prevent you from living independently.

Studies showed that hip fractures in older people reduce life expectancy and people often never regain their pre-fracture level of mobility and independence.

Other fractures can be just as disabling.

Some of the major risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Genetic: Osteoporosis seems to affect some groups more than others. For example, the condition occurs more often in non-Hispanic white women and Asian women, but it occurs less often in African American and Hispanic women. You may also be at higher risk if you have a family history of osteoporosis.
  • Genre: Women suffer from osteoporosis at higher rates than men. But men can still develop osteoporosis.
  • Age: The hormones estrogen and testosterone play an important role in bone strength by preventing your bones from breaking down. As you age, your hormone production naturally decreases. This can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Nutrition: A nutrient-poor diet and long-term heavy alcohol consumption can increase your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Activity level: Low levels of physical activity and exercise can increase your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of osteoporosis, including rheumatoid arthritis, Cushing’s syndrome, hyperthyroidism, and hyperparathyroidism.
  • Certain medications: Taking glucocorticoid medications like dexamethasone and prednisone can reduce bone density. It can happen 3 to 6 months after starting to take the medications regularly. Other medications that can affect your bone health include antiepileptic drugs, certain cancer treatments, proton pump inhibitors (acid reducers), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Anyone can develop osteoporosis, even in the absence of risk factors. But you can also experience all of these risk factors and not develop osteoporosis.

As you age, your bones continue to get stronger until they reach peak bone mass, which usually happens in your 30s. After that, they begin to weaken.

When you’re younger, exercise can help strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis. But as you age, exercise becomes less effective at preventing bone loss.

Seniors should focus on exercise that helps maintain overall health, strengthen muscles, and improve balance.

Improving strength and balance helps prevent falls that can cause fractures.

Exercise recommendations

The World Health Organization recommends adults ages 18 to 64 do at least one of the following actions each week:

  • 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity
  • 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity

This should be combined with resistance training for all major muscle groups at least 2 days per week.

These recommendations are the same for adults 65 and older.

Focusing on a nutritious diet is another way to improve your bone health and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

First, focus on how much calcium and vitamin D you’re getting each day. These two nutrients are most closely associated with bone health.

Calcium

Calcium is important for building strong bones. If you don’t get enough of it in your diet, your body can break down bone to release more calcium, which can increase your risk of osteoporosis.

Your calcium needs vary slightly throughout your life. If you’re between the ages of 19 and 50, you need about 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. If you are a woman between the ages of 51 and 70, you need about 1200 mg of calcium per day.

Foods that contain calcium include:

  • low-fat dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • salmon with bones
  • sardines
  • dark leafy greens like collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, and bok choy
  • fortified foods, such as bread, cereal, orange juice, and soy milk (with at least 100 mg of calcium per serving)

To put into perspective how much calcium you need per day, consider a glass of 1% milk with 299mg Calcium. If you drink a glass of milk with a bowl of cereal, you have already consumed a third of your daily calcium needs at breakfast.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for helping your body absorb calcium. You will usually need around 600mg if you are between 1 and 70 years old. If you are over 70, you should take 800 mg per day.

Some foods that contain vitamin D include:

  • canned tuna
  • egg yolks
  • herring
  • liver
  • mushrooms
  • Salmon
  • sardines

Foods fortified with vitamin D include breads, cereals, and milk varieties.

Other nutritional advice

Here are some other dietary tips to help prevent osteoporosis:

  • Drink alcohol in moderation only. Moderate drinking is considered no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  • Make sure you are consuming enough calories daily. Being underweight is a risk factor for osteoporosis.
  • Eat a diet rich in whole, colorful foods. This should include fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.

As a general rule, healthy eating habits are also good for your bones. If you’re having trouble meeting your daily calcium or vitamin D needs, talk to a doctor about supplementation.

Talk to a doctor about your risks and the age at which you should be screened.

If you have a history of bone fractures and you 50 years or oldera doctor will likely recommend screening for osteoporosis.

Women 65 and older should generally be screened for osteoporosis. Men over 70 should also be screened.

Screening for osteoporosis is painless. Doctors examine bone density using a type of X-ray imaging known as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). This is usually a CT scan of the hip to determine if you have had significant bone loss compared to people your age and those with healthy bone structure.

Are children at risk for osteoporosis?

Children can get juvenile osteoporosis because the disease is usually due to another underlying condition, such as:

  • juvenile arthritis
  • osteogenesis imperfecta
  • diabetic sugar

If your child has multiple bone fractures, ask their pediatrician if you should be concerned about their risk of osteoporosis.

Preventive methods at any age can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

If you are experiencing this condition, preventative methods may be part of your treatment strategy with medications to reduce bone loss.

Talk to a doctor about when you might need osteoporosis screening and ways to reduce your individual risk.

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