Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bone tissue to thin and become less dense. This produces weak bones that are more susceptible to fracture. Osteoporosis shows very few symptoms and can progress to advanced stages without presenting any problems. So it’s often not discovered until your weakened bones fracture and break. Once you have a fracture as a result of osteoporosis, you’re more susceptible to another.
These breaks and fractures can be debilitating. Most often, your weakened bones aren’t discovered until after a catastrophic fall that results in a broken hip or back. These injuries can leave you with limited or no mobility for several weeks or months.
The cause of osteoporosis is unknown. However, we do know how the disease develops and what it does to your bones.
Think of your bones as living, growing, and ever-changing entities of your body. Imagine the outer part of your bone as a case. Inside the case is a more delicate bone with little holes in it, similar to a sponge. As you develop osteoporosis and your muscles begin to weaken, the holes in the inner part of your bone grow larger and more numerous. This causes the internal structure of your bone to weaken and crumble. If you fall when your bones are in this state, they won’t be strong enough to sustain the fall and they’ll break or fracture.
Menopause marks the permanent end of monthly periods and fertility. According to the National Institute on Aging, most women start menopause between the ages of 45 and 55.
As women near and then begin menopause, their estrogen levels begin to fall. Estrogen acts as a natural protector and defender of bone strength. The lack of estrogen contributes to the development of osteoporosis.
Decreased estrogen levels are not the only cause for osteoporosis. Other factors may be responsible for weakened bones. When these factors are combined with decreased estrogen levels during menopause, osteoporosis may begin or develop faster if it’s already present in your bones.
The following are additional risk factors for osteoporosis:
Before age 30, your body creates more bone than you lose. After that, bone deterioration occurs more rapidly than bone creation. The net effect is a gradual loss of bone mass.
Women who are petite or thin have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis compared to women who are heavier or have a larger frame. This is because thinner women have less bone to lose compared to larger women. The same is true for men.
Existing Bone Density
When you reach menopause, the greater your bone density, the lower your chance of developing osteoporosis. Think of your body as a bank. You spend your whole life building or “saving up” bone mass. The more bone mass you have to lose at the start of menopause, the less quickly you’ll “run out.” That’s why you should encourage your children to actively build bone density in their younger years.
If your parents or grandparents had osteoporosis or suffered a fractured hip as a result of a minor fall, you may be at a greater risk for developing osteoporosis.
Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. This is because women tend to be smaller and usually weigh less than men. Women over the age of 50 have the greatest risk for developing the bone disease.
Caucasian and Asian women have a greater chance of developing osteoporosis. In addition, Caucasian women are twice as likely to suffer a hip fracture as the result of a fall, compared to black women.
A variety of treatments can help stop the progression of osteoporosis. Here are some steps you can take to prevent bone deterioration:
Take calcium and vitamin D supplements
Calcium can help build strong bones and keep them strong as you age. The National Institutes of Health recommends that people aged 19-50 get 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day, or 400 international units (IU). People over 50, especially women, should get at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day, or 400 to 800 IU. If you can’t get adequate calcium through food sources like dairy, talk with your doctor about supplements. Both calcium carbonate and calcium citrate deliver good forms of calcium to your body.
Vitamin D is important for healthy bones, as your body can’t properly absorb calcium without it. The average person produces all the vitamin D they need in a day just by being in the sun for 20 minutes. For people concerned with skin cancer or for those who wish to get their vitamin D in other ways, supplements are available. People over age 50 should get at least 600 IU of vitamin D every day.
Ask your doctor about prescription medications and injectable bone-building agents
A group of drugs called bisphosphonates help prevent bone loss. Over time, these medicines have been shown to slow bone loss, increase bone density, and reduce the risk of bone fractures in the event of a fall. Selective estrogen receptor modulators, or SERMs, are a group of drugs that have estrogen-like properties. They’re sometimes used for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. A study in Best Practice & Research Clinical Rheumatology showed SERMs can reduce the rate of fractures as a result of falls by up to 50 percent.
Make weight-bearing exercise part of your fitness routine
Exercise often does more for building and maintaining strong bones than medication does. Exercise makes bones stronger, helps prevent bone loss, and also speeds up recovery in the event of a bone fracture. Walking, jogging, dancing, and aerobics are all good forms of weight-bearing exercise.
Talk to your doctor about hormone therapy
Hormone therapy can help prevent bone loss as a result of decreased estrogen during perimenopause and menopause. Additionally, hormone therapy treats some other symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. However, hormone therapy isn’t for everyone. It may not be the correct treatment option if you have a personal history of or are at an increased risk for:
- heart attack
- blood clots
- breast cancer
Talk to your doctor for more information about this treatment option.
Women going through menopause have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis, but there are many ways to slow it down and fortify your body against it.