The Ins and Outs of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis increases the risk of bone fractures and slows the healing of broken bones. It is more common in women, but men can also develop it. The main risk factor for osteoporosis is aging.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is characterized by weakening of the bones. Bone loss is a natural part of aging. Your bones are less strong and dense than when you were younger.

Causes Of Osteoporosis

There are risk factors that cannot be changed or corrected, such as the hormonal deficiencies that occur with aging. Lower testosterone levels can contribute to osteoporosis in men. Lower estrogen levels often cause loss of bone density in women. Women’s estrogen levels decline after menopause, but can occur sooner if the ovaries have been surgically removed.

There are also genetic causes of osteoporosis. Those with a family history of osteoporosis have a risk 25% to 80% higher to develop it than a person without the same family history.

There are many drugs that increase the risk of low bone density. Anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, barbiturates, glucocorticosteroids and proton pump inhibitors are just a few examples.

There are other easier to control risk factors. For example, people who have more than two alcoholic beverages per day have a greater risk of bone issues. Smoking can effect the groups of cells responsible for bone remodeling. Smoking can also result in earlier menopause and a lower body weight, both of which are risk factors for osteoporosis.  another risk factor is exposure to heavy metals. Lead is but one example. Cadmium can also cause softening of the bones. High levels of animal-based protein in the diet, a sedentary lifestyle, being underweight, and lack of adequate nutrition can all increase your risk of poor bone health.

In the past, bone issues were actually accepted as a natural part of aging. With many medical advancements, seniors today can expect healthier lives. Doctors can diagnose osteoporosis, and recommend appropriate treatment. Seniors can take steps to prevent osteoporosis, and reduce the risks that accompany weakened bones and loss of bone mineral density.

How Osteoporosis Is Diagnosed

You should never wait until you are elderly, or have experienced broken bones to have your bone density tested. While you may show such notable signs as changes in your posture, loss of height, a curved back, sloped shoulders, or back pain, the early stages of osteoporosis do not always result in symptoms. The test is simple and painless. You should ask your doctor to evaluate you for loss of bone density.

Women who have reached age 65 and men who have reached age 70 should be tested. Any senior with special risk factors should have the test at age 50. X-rays are used to diagnose osteoporosis. The preferred method is Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DXA.

There are other diagnostic tools available to detect osteoporosis. Your doctor may choose to perform quantitative computed tomography, or QCT. Blood tests may also be performed to determine whether there are any underlying issues that need to be addressed or treated.

All of these diagnostic tests are completely safe. If you have not been tested for osteoporosis, make an appointment to discuss it with your personal physician. (S)he will choose the test that is appropriate for your particular situation.

How Osteoporosis Can Be Prevented

A more plant-based diet is one of the easiest ways to help avoid bone issues. Do your best to replace animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins. Legumes, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds, spinach, soy products, peas, beans, and lentils are all rich in dietary protein.

Although obesity is unhealthy for a variety of reasons, you need to avoid becoming underweight. If you need to lose weight, avoid restrictive weight loss diets that do not provide adequate nutrition.

You need a wide range of vitamins and minerals in your diet. Calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K are especially important. Do not consume soft drinks, and reduce the sodium in your diet.

Exercise is beneficial for bone strength and density. You can lose less bone in your hip and spine, and also reduce your risk of fractures. Weight-bearing exercise is especially beneficial. Depending on your current health and preferences, you can try jogging, walking, hiking, and climbing stairs. You can dance or play tennis. When you participate in these activities, your body is working against gravity.

Quality sleep also improves bone health. Cortisol levels in your body increase without adequate sleep. Calcium is leached from your bones when cortisol levels are too high. It is a myth that seniors need less sleep than younger people. Eight hours of sleep each night can help bones remain strong and healthy.

Stress also increases cortisol levels. You cannot eliminate all stress, but you can learn some stress-reduction techniques to help you relax. Devote time each day to reading, meditating, practicing yoga, or relaxing in a warm bath.

Natural sunshine increases Vitamin D in your body. You can have multiple benefits if you exercise outdoors. When your body absorbs this vitamin from sunlight, it helps your body absorb calcium.

Avoid Caffeine, Tobacco, and Alcohol

Common lifestyle habits can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. Caffeine consumption increases your output of urine which causes your body to lose calcium. Switch to naturally decaffeinated beverages, or switch to calcium-rich dairy drinks. Milk enriched with Vitamin D is the ideal beverage for bone health. If you do not like dairy products, look for Vitamin D enriched soy milk.

Avoiding smoking helps prevent osteoporosis or reduce its effects and risks. Do not smoke, and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke. Limit your alcohol consumption. New bone formation can be decreased if you drink more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Your risk of breaking bones in a fall also increases when you have been drinking.

Treatment For Osteoporosis

Many options exist for treating and managing osteoporosis. It can even be reversed in some instances. If you have been diagnosed by your personal physician, (s)he will recommend the approach that is right for you.

For many seniors, a nutritious diet can be helpful. Place special emphasis on calcium and include other bone-building nutrients in your diet. You need Vitamin K, Vitamin D, trace minerals, and magnesium. So do your best to add these to your diet.

Exercise can increase your bone mineral density and strengthen your bones. Resistance exercises, weight-bearing exercise, and aerobics are your  best options.

You may have heard of natural or alternative treatments for osteoporosis. However, you should not consider herbs and supplements appropriate treatments before consulting your doctor. Some natural products may help but talk to your doctor first.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), is a controversial treatment for osteoporosis. As seniors lose bone density after their normal hormone levels begin to decline, some doctors recommend hormone replacement therapy. Estrogen can be replaced in women, and testosterone can be replaced in men.

While bone density can be maintained with HRT, there are disadvantages with this method. Women who use estrogen therapy have a higher risk of breast and endometrial cancer. The risk of heart disease and blood clots can also increase. Make sure to discuss these potential issues with your doctor if (s)he has recommended hormone replacement therapy for your osteoporosis.

Bisphosphonates

Bisphosphonates are the most common type of medication prescribed for seniors with a high risk of bone fractures. They can be especially useful for this patients whose osteoporosis has already contributed to broken bones. The medications are available in both oral and intravenous forms. Both options have potential side effects. Oral medication can produce heartburn, abdominal pain, and nausea. The intravenous medications may produce lingering muscle aches, headaches, and fever.

Bisphosphonates should be limited to five years or less in most instances. When they are used on a long-term basis, serious complications may result While some of these risks are rare, they should be avoided altogether. Another reason to limit the use of medications is that the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research has stated low-risk seniors do not need long-term medications. This organization recommends oral medications be stopped after five years, and intravenous medications be stopped after three years. Patients in higher risk categories can use oral medication for ten years, or intravenous medication for six years.

Some seniors cannot tolerate the side effects of bisphosphonates, and may want to avoid the health risks associated with hormone replacement therapy. There are additional options for treating osteoporosis. You may wish to consider one of these other options, and discuss it with your doctor.

Denosumab and Teriparatide

Denosumab can improve bone density. It provides the most benefits to postmenopausal women. This drug is administered twice annually by injection. Teriparatide is also beneficial for aging women. It stimulates bone growth while also reducing the risk of fractures. The daily injections are usually given for two years. After treatment, the bone growth is preserved with another medication.

Just like other medical conditions, there is no one treatment that is right for everyone. Everyone should discuss options with their doctors, and make an informed decision. If you disagree with your doctor’s recommendation, you should request a second opinion. Treatment should be effective, yet not cause unnecessary side effects.

Osteoporosis Research

A great deal of progress has been made by the Osteoporosis Research Center in Omaha, Nebraska. They have concluded that Vitamin D and calcium supplements prevent fractures, contributed to the development of five different medications for treating osteoporosis, and discovered a gene mutation that may lead to the prevention of osteoporosis.

In the past, seniors risked serious complications from developing osteoporosis. Hip fractures, especially, could result in life-threatening complications. Limited mobility after a hip fracture could lead to pneumonia. Pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis were other possibilities. Even a vertebral fracture could result in chronic pain. An elderly person’s overall quality of life could be greatly reduced as a consequence of osteoporosis.

Today’s seniors need not experience these complications. Male or female, please visit your doctor and ask to be tested for osteoporosis. Make changes in your lifestyle so your bones stay strong and healthy.

Make changes in your home to reduce your risk of falls. Install railings in your bathtub and shower. Replace rugs with carpeting in the rooms and stairways. Light stairways and walkways properly. Consider LED lighting strips so you do not have to reach for light cords.

Osteoporosis does not need to be a fact of life, but you can live with it if you take proper precautions and cooperate with treatment. You never need to cope with broken bones during your elderly years and you can subsequently enjoy healthier lives.