Osteoporosis and Bone HealthOsteoporosis and Bone Health

Osteoporosis is a disease you get when you lose bone faster than you make it. "Osteo" means bone, and "porosis" means porous (full of holes). The bone loss of osteoporosis makes your bones weak, brittle, and fracture easily.

Osteoporosis is the condition of losing bone faster than we make it. "Osteo" means bone and "porosis" means porous or full of holes that describe the interior appearance of osteoporotic bones. Our bones are living tissue: when we are young, our body makes bone faster than it breaks down, and the ability to make bone allows children to grow until they reach maturity.

Most of us attain our maximum bone mass in our late 20s and gradually begin to lose it as we age. Osteoporosis can affect men and women of all races, although Caucasians and Asians are at the highest risk. The risk of developing osteoporosis increases with age, women are four times more likely to be affected than men, a family history increases our risk, and people with small body frames will have less bone mass to draw upon as they age.

There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of osteoporosis. Still, once our bones have become weakened we may experience back pain, a loss of height, a stooped posture, and bones that break much more easily than expected. Our spine, hip, and wrist are the bones most likely to break, and even mild stressors such as bending over, walking down a step, or coughing can cause a fracture.

Osteoporosis can be caused by an imbalance in hormones such as decreased estrogen levels in post-menopausal women. The risk also increases with low levels of testosterone in men; an overactive thyroid, adrenals, or parathyroid glands; calcium insufficiency; eating disorders; stomach or intestinal surgeries; the long-term use of steroids and other medications; and people with celiac disease, IBD, kidney or liver disease, cancer, multiple myeloma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The lifestyle choices we make can increase our risk of developing osteoporosis, including a sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. It makes sense that good nutrition and regular exercise are essential for keeping our bones strong and healthy throughout our lives.

We need to ingest an adequate amount of calcium to build bone, especially after women become menopausal and men turn 70. Good dietary sources of calcium include low-fat dairy; dark green leafy veggies; canned bony sardines, salmon, and anchovies; soy products; and calcium-fortified cereals and juice. If we are unable to get enough calcium in our diet, we may also need to take calcium as a supplement.

Vitamin D improves our ability to absorb calcium. We can get vitamin D from sunlight although there is concern that exposure to sunlight can also increase the risk of skin cancer. Dietary sources of the vitamin include cod liver oil, trout, and salmon along with many types of fortified milk and cereals. Some people may need supplemental vitamin D as well, usually in the form of a multivitamin.

In an ideal world, we would build exercise habits as children and continue exercising throughout our lives. Weight training can help strengthen muscles and bones in our arms and upper spines. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, running, stair climbing, hiking, jumping, tennis, skiing, and other impact sports build bone in our legs, hips, and lower spine. Balance exercises such as tai chi and qi gong will reduce the risk of falling, especially as we age. A meta-analysis study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that tai chi is beneficial for osteoporosis of the lumbar spine, proximal femur (neck and trochanter), and total hip. The magnitude of the effects was statistically significant, indicating that tai chi is an exercise modality that may be utilized as a strategy for attenuating bone density loss. You can learn tai chi in the comfort of your home from Dr. Mao's tai chi DVD or video download for your devices.

The likelihood of developing osteoporosis depends partly on how much bone we were able to build in our youth because the more bone mass we have acquired by adulthood, the more bone we will have to draw upon as we age. Even so, we are never too old and it is never too late to begin taking steps - no pun intended - to strengthen our bones.

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