What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by a decrease in the density of bone, decreasing its strength and resulting in fragile bones. Osteoporosis literally leads to abnormally porous bone that is compressible, like a sponge. This disorder of the skeleton weakens the bone and results in frequent fractures (breaks) in the bones. Osteopenia is a condition of bone that is slightly less dense than normal bone but not to the degree of bone in osteoporosis.
Normal bone is composed of protein, collagen, and calcium, all of which give bone its strength. Bones that are affected by osteoporosis can break (fracture) with relatively minor injury that normally would not cause a bone to fracture. The fracture can be either in the form of cracking (as in a hip fracture) or collapsing (as in a compression fracture of the vertebrae of the spine). The spine, hips, ribs, and wrists are common areas of bone fractures from osteoporosis although osteoporosis-related fractures can occur in almost any skeletal bone.
Causes of osteoporosis
Most people have their highest bone mass and density when they’re in their early 20s. As you age, you lose old bone at a faster rate than your body can replace it. Because of this, older people are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
Women also have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis because they typically have thinner bones than men. Estrogen helps protect bones. Women who are going through menopause experience a decrease in estrogen levels, which leads to brittle bones.
Other risks factors include:
- certain medications, such as steroids, proton pump inhibitors, and barbiturates
- certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple myeloma
Risk Factors of Osteoporosis
Several key risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:
- Advanced age. Those over 65 years of age are at particular risk.
- Gender. Women are at much greater risk, losing bone more rapidly than men due to menopause. However, men are also at risk and constitute 20% of the patient population with osteoporosis.
- Family and personal history. This includes family history of osteoporosis, history of fracture on the mother’s side of the family, and a personal history of any kind of bone fracture as an adult (after age 45).
- Race. Caucasian and Asian women are at increased risk.
- Body type. At greater risk are small-boned women who weigh less than 127 pounds.
- Menstrual history and menopause. Normal menopause alone increases a woman’s risk of osteoporosis. Early menopause or cessation of menstruation before menopause increases the risk even more.
- (Males) Hypogonadism (small gonads, e.g., testosterone deficiency)
Type I Osteoporosis
(postmenopausal osteoporosis) can be significantly influenced by several preventive measures. Most of these measures are in the hands of the individual and should be started as early in life as possible.
An individual’s peak bone mass is typically achieved by the age of 30. The amount of bone that is obtained at one’s peak, and how much is retained thereafter, is influenced by several factors, including:
- Genetics and osteoporosis
It is important for individuals to know their genetic predisposition to osteoporosis. Genetics plays an important role—it is estimated that about 75% of an individual’s peak bone mass is influenced by genetics. There are genes that code for Vitamin D receptors and for estrogen receptors that both significantly affect peak bone mass. If one is genetically predisposed to osteoporosis, then exercise, diet and regular bone mass testing are even more important.
- Exercise and osteoporosis
Weight bearing exercise(which refers to activity that one performs while on their feet that works the bones and muscles against gravity) and muscle contraction combined have been shown to effectively increase bone density in the spine. It is recommended that an individual perform 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times weekly to increase bone mass.
Exercise helps strengthen your bones. Whatever the form, physical activity helps slow age-related bone loss and can slightly improve bone density in some cases. Exercise can also help improve your posture and balance, lowering your risk of falls. Fewer falls can mean fewer fractures.
Strength training benefits the bones in your arms and upper spine. This can mean free weights, weight machines, or resistance bands. Weight-bearing exercise like walking or jogging, and low-impact aerobics such as elliptical training or biking can also be beneficial. Both can help strengthen the bones in your legs, hips, and lower spine.