The incidence of osteoporosis is at an all-time high throughout the world and is expected to continue to get worse. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones of the body become weak and break easily. It is usually a chronic, long-term, degenerative condition in which it takes many years to develop and is most common in senior citizens. Osteoporosis is commonly seen in females however alarming rates of osteoporosis can now be found in inactive teenagers and young adults.
Osteoporosis is a silent condition and commonly goes undiagnosed until the bones literally break. The most common areas that are affected include the spine, wrist and hips. In many cases the break causes significant disability and poses a life-threatening scenario for many. Only one in three people can expect to return to their level of function after breaking a hip.
Osteoporosis symptoms in the spine
A kyphosis or significant hump in the upper spine may suddenly develop from the bones in the spine crushing or collapsing upon themselves. It is common to see this develop in an elderly individual and poses a significant health concern.
The spine surrounds and protects the spinal cord and nerves. The spinal cord and nerves control every function of the body – your heart to beat, lungs to breath, every organ to function and even your muscles rely on this life-giving system. Osteoporosis and fractures of the spine can impact nearly every condition known to man.
What are the risk factors?
Osteoporosis is a hormone related condition in which the calcium of the bones is leached away yielding them weak and prone to fracture. Known risk factors that can addressed through asking yourself some of the following questions:
• Have you lost overall height over the years?
• Have you gone through menopause?
• If you have gone through menopause, was it before age 45?
• Do you have a family history of osteoporosis?
• Do you have infrequent or fluctuating menstrual periods?
• Have you been immobilized for a long period of time?
• Do you smoke cigarettes?
• Do you have a history of thyroid disease, diabetes, heart or kidney disease?
What causes osteoporosis?
The density and thickness of bones is dependent on the overall health of your body. Bone cells are constantly being broken down, replaced and regenerated. This process is consistent throughout life. Deteriorating health, poor diet, lack of exercise, medication use and dysfunctional hormonal levels all wreck havoc on this process of cellular regeneration. When the bone cells are replaced with weaker ones -- osteoporosis develops.
The composition of a bone includes a high concentration of calcium. This calcium makes bones weak or strong. Bones reach their peak density around the third decade of life. At this point it is common for bone density to slowly decrease. The greater the bone strength early in life the longer it will take to develop disability related osteoporosis.
It’s vital that teenagers and young adults to have good nutrition and regular exercise. After the third decade (30 years) of life it is very common for individuals to gain weight, engage in less physical activity, experience overwhelming stress and contribute to the major risk factors associated with osteoporosis.
After menopause, the hormone estrogen diminishes throughout the body. This will cause the rate at which bones are broken down to increase while new bone production will reduce. The risk is increased if a woman has gone through early menopause, has her ovaries removed or has infrequent or inconsistent periods lasting six months or more.
Men can experience osteoporosis as well. The most common hormone imbalance that will increase their risk is low levels of testosterone. Testosterone is an important hormone for the strength of both muscles and bones. It is common for men to become less physically active as well thus creating weak bones and muscles.
Common risk factors for both men and women include:
•Long-term use of corticosteroid medication (painkillers)
•Low body weight
•Medical conditions that affect calcium absorption
What exercises should I do?
The best way to treat osteoporosis is to prevent it. Weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercises have been shown to make your bones stronger. Weight-bearing exercises can be low-impact or high-impact. High-impact exercises are most effective at building bone mass; however, they are also dangerous for individuals with osteoporosis.
It is classified a high-impact exercise when both feet leave the ground. Exercises such as jumping, running or jogging are the simplest high-impact exercise to perform. Jumping exercises such as plyometrics, high-impact aerobics and jumping rope are exercises that can significantly improve bone density.
It is classified a low-impact exercise when at least one foot is on the ground at all times. This is clearly the safest and most beneficial form of exercise for individuals with osteoporosis. Individuals that do not have osteoporosis and want to prevent it from occurring should minimally use a combination of low and high-impact exercise.
Walking, yoga, low-impact aerobics, stair climbing and weight-lifting are all safe exercises for an individual with osteoporosis.
One should engage in weight-bearing exercises three to four times a week for healthy muscles and bone density. Do not start off with high-impact exercise right away. Begin slowly and work up to more challenging exercises based on your fitness level. Check with your doctor or healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program.
What about my diet?
The safest diet is one that’s low in salt, rich in fresh vegetables and all natural. Include enough calcium and vitamin D from foods, and supplements if necessary. Make sure you are getting a minimum of 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight on your skin. Vitamin D is generated from the sun and aids in absorption of calcium. Limit caffeine and carbonated drinks.
The following foods should be avoided at all costs:
• Processed meats such as deli turkey and ham, and hot dogs
• Fast food such as pizza, burgers, tacos, and chips
• Processed foods that are in a can or box.
• Canned soups and processed vegetable juices
• Baked products that includes breads and breakfast cereals
This column is directed by your questions, comments and inquiries. The health advice provided is in collaboration with the World Health Organization’s and the International Diabetes Federation’s goals of prevention, maintenance and natural treatment of disease. The advice is for educational purposes and does not necessarily reflect endorsement.
Visit their websites: www.who.int www.idf.org
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