Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by the thinning of the bones and affects the lives of many Americans. The word itself actually means “porous bone.” A person with osteoporosis typically has low bone mass, poor bone quality and fragile bones. Approximately 10 million Americans already have osteoporosis, and 34 million are at high risk due to low bone mass.
Osteoporosis develops largely as a result of increasing age and a decline in the level of sex hormones. Normally, estrogen in men and women as well as testosterone in men helps to maintain bone mass.
Peak bone mass is reached around the age of 30. Production of estrogen rapidly decreases after menopause, placing women at particularly high risk for osteoporosis. Women may lose 20 to 30 percent of their bone mass in the first 10 years following menopause.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include:
• Advanced age
• Gender, 80 percent of the cases are female
• History of fracture after age 40
• History of fracture in a first degree relative, male or female
• Ethnicity, white and Asian women are at greater risk than women of other ethnicities
Modifiable risk factors are:
• Low body weight, under 127 pounds for women
• Low estrogen in women; low testosterone in men
• Low calcium and vitamin D intake over time
• Eating disorders
• Lack of exercise, especially weight bearing in women
• Excessive alcohol consumption
Osteoporosis is a silent enemy of bone health. The early stage of osteoporosis does not usually cause any symptoms, and the disease progresses without any evidence. Pain is often experienced when there is a fracture, especially in the spine. Complications from osteoporotic fractures can present as chronic pain, compressed vertebra, stooped posture and loss of height. Ultimately, it can cause limited activity and severe disability.
If you are at risk for osteoporosis, all is not lost. You can take prevention into your own hands. The tripod of osteoporosis prevention is adequate calcium, adequate vitamin D and regular exercise. It is important to get sufficient amounts of calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus to support bone growth. Eat calcium rich foods, such as low-fat dairy products, dark green, leafy vegetables, broccoli and nuts.
Today calcium enriched foods are easy to find if dairy is not enjoyed. Calcium-fortified orange juice, almond milk and soy milk are just a few examples of calcium enriched foods that can be found in your local commissary.
Vitamin D is also necessary for your body to absorb calcium. If you live in sunny Florida, you may get enough sunlight on your skin to develop the vitamin D your body needs. However, living in Germany’s altitude may require supplementation. Talk with your primary care provider about what supplementation may be useful.
Exercise 30 minutes a day, especially weight-bearing and resistance exercise. This allows for the building of bones and slows bone loss. Aerobic exercise has been research-proven to reduce falls, which are often the result of porous bone.
Tai chi and yoga enhance balance and strength of muscles supporting the bones and results in greater flexibility. See your health care provider before starting any exercise program for prevention of bone loss. You can be referred to a specialist such as a physical therapist if you have already experienced bone loss or are diagnosed with osteoporosis.
The following safety measures to prevent falls are vitally important for bone protection:
• Avoid slippery surfaces
• Install hand rails
• Keep surfaces smooth and uncluttered
• Always have adequate lighting
• Use a cane or walker if needed
• Wear rubber-soled, flat shoes
• Wear eyeglasses if prescribed
• Make sure rugs are secured
For more information, browse the National Osteoporosis Foundation website at http://nof.org or www.betterbones.com.
For local assistance or questions, contact the 86th Medical Group Medical Management Team at 479-2022 or 06371-46-2022.