One of the realities of getting older for some people is osteoporosis. This is a serious condition, a bone disease in fact, and not to be confused with the natural tendency to lose bone density as we age. Osteo refers to bones and porosis to being porous, so porous bones are the appropriately named effects of this condition. There are ways to treat osteoporosis, as well as manage the pain, but the disease is not inevitable. Proper habits can slow and even prevent bone loss as we get older.
What Are the Odds?
While not inevitable, osteoporosis is actually quite common, particularly among women (who have a tendency to lose bone mass at higher rates men). It’s not just a matter of losing bone density, though. When seen under a microscope, healthy bone looks like a honeycomb. Bones suffering from osteoporosis have bigger holes and spaces in the honeycomb pattern, which is why they are brittle.
There are factors that you can control that put you at greater risk of osteoporosis, and there are factors that you cannot control.
- Malnutrition: If you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, you are missing out on vital nutrients for bone health
- Vitamin D deficiency (also caused by not enough sun exposure)
- Calcium deficiency
- Too much protein
- Too much caffeine
- Too much sodium
- Inactive lifestyle: Regular moderate exercise is absolutely essential for maintaining strong bones
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Significant weight loss
- Advancing age: Risk of osteoporosis increases significantly after the age of 50
- Being a woman: Sorry ladies, but you all have a greater tendency to lose bone mass than men do, particularly after menopause, which leads me to…
- Menopause: Hormonal changes in the body affect calcium absorption into bone
- Runs in the family: If you have a family history of osteoporosis, your risk is greater
What are the Signs?
Unfortunately, you cannot feel osteoporosis in the sense of losing bone density or weakening bones. Often the first sign of this particular disease involves broken bones. Hips are particularly susceptible, as are the wrists and spine. Osteoporosis in the spine can also cause a person to lose height. If a person notices that they are shorter than they were before, it could be an indication of osteoporosis.
Pain can also be an indicator, though it can be hard to tell whether or not it is the result of other factors. Even without broken bones, the pain of osteoporosis can limit a person’s mobility which in turn affects their self-sufficiency. One of the most common fears of getting older is losing one’s independence.