Preventing Osteoporosis Starts with Awareness

Osteoporosis is an age-related disease in which your body loses bone mass causing bones to become thin and weak. Preventing osteoporosis is important because the disease increases the risk of bone fractures and breaks, including potentially debilitating vertebral compression fractures.

What are vertebral compression fractures?
Vertebrae are interconnected bones that make up your spinal column, and vertebral compression fractures are the most common osteoporosis-related injury. Also called spinal compression fractures, these small fractures can permanently change the strength and shape of your spine. Vertebral compression fractures typically occur near the waistline, in the front of the vertebrae. If you have back pain that gets worse when you stand or sit for long periods and improves when you lie down, talk to your doctor. The fractures are typically treated with physical therapy and by slowing the progression of the underlying osteoporosis.

Who is at risk of osteoporosis?
Following are the risk factors for osteoporosis: 

  • Age: Maximum bone strength is usually reached around age 30, then begins to decline. Osteoporosis risk increases as you age, particularly after you reach 50.
  • Gender: Because of their lighter and thinner bones, women are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis. Hormonal changes that occur in women beginning in the mid-40s also increase risk. Although osteoporosis is more common in women, men are at risk too.
  • Bone structure: Small-framed women and men with low body weight have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Ethnicity: Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Family history: Since testing for osteoporosis only became available in 1994, your grandparents were probably never diagnosed with the disease. If any of your older relatives suffered hip fractures after minor falls or experienced many broken bones, this may indicate family history.
  • Personal history: If you have a history of broken bones or height loss, you may be at increased risk.

Can osteoporosis be prevented?
By building strong bones while in your 20s and 30s, you can reduce your osteoporosis risk. One important step is to get the recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D. The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends the following:

Adults under age 50:

  • 1,000 mg of calcium per day
  • 400-800 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day

Adults 50 and older:

  • 1,200 mg of calcium per day
  • 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D every day

Food sources of calcium include low-fat milk, plain yogurt, Swiss cheese, cooked broccoli, and fruit juice with calcium. Food sources of vitamin D include vitamin D-fortified milk, egg yolks and fatty fish. You can also boost your vitamin D production by getting fifteen minutes of sun exposure each day. If you cannot get adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet, use supplements to make up the difference.

Regular exercise is another way to build strong bones, and the following exercises are beneficial:

  • High-impact aerobics, hiking, jogging, and stair climbing
  • Low-impact aerobics, elliptical training machines, and fast walking
  • Weightlifting or using elastic exercise bands and weight machines to build strong muscles to support your bones

Other ways to reduce your osteoporosis risk include:

  • Limiting your intake of protein, sodium, caffeine, and alcohol
  • Not smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

How is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?
If you have risk factors for osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend a bone density scan (DXA or DEXA) after you reach age 50. The test measures the quantity of bone at the mid-spine and hip. Your bone scan results will show if you have healthy bones, osteopenia, or osteoporosis. Osteopenia means that your bone density is low, but not low enough to be considered osteoporosis. If your test shows bone loss, you can reverse it by engaging in the healthy activities described above. Your doctor may also recommend a prescription medication such as Fosamax, Boniva, or Zometa. Over time, these drugs can increase bone density and reduce your risk of fractures.

National Osteoporosis Foundation. Calcium and Vitamin D: What You Need to Know. and Accessed May 5, 2014.

National Osteoporosis Foundation. Exercise for Strong Bones. Accessed May 5, 2014.

Updated on: 06/11/14