The Latest Osteoporosis Statistics
Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age—many reaching their mid-60s by the end of this decade—experts predict that the prevalence of the disease will increase with them.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 52.4 million Americans over the age of 50 had osteoporosis or low bone density—which puts them at increased risk for developing the disease—in 2010. While only about 12 million of them have osteoporosis now, an estimated 13.9 million people will have osteoporosis by 2020. And, about 80 percent of those affected are women.
These numbers are slowly, but steadily, increasing. In 2002, 43.6 million Americans over 50 who had osteoporosis or low bone mass. That means, in the past eight years, the number of affected Americans has increased by over 20 percent.
As osteoporosis becomes more and more prevalent, researchers are continuing to seek out best practices to combat the degenerative disease.
x-ray of a female hip bone
Scrutiny for Biophosphonates
For most people with osteoporosis, drugs called bisphosphonates (brand names include Actonel, Fosamax, and Boniva) are the first line of treatment. Known as antiresorptive drugs, bisphosphonates slow bone loss by disrupting osteoclasts—cells that break down bone as part of the normal bone turnover process—while only minimally interfering with bone-building cells called osteoblasts.
However, as the drugs become more common, doctors and researchers are finding that there are stronger side effects than first known, including thigh aches and fractures to the femur, the body’s largest bone.
This could be due to how biophosphonates disrupt the body’s ability to discard old bone. Therefore, some believe, the bones are weaker because the new bone created by treatment is built on top of older, weaker bone.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign stated in an article in Nutrients that dietary changes to include more natural sources or supplements of calcium and vitamin D should be the first course of treatment instead of merely biophosphonates. They believe that bones fortified with natural minerals and vitamins create a stronger quality of bone than biophosphonates.
Concerns About Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D supplements are often the first line of defense for bone loss, but recent research suggests that starting those supplements after an osteoporosis diagnosis may increase the risk of heart problems for elderly women.
Women who never began a calcium and vitamin D regimen but started after diagnosis ran a 21 percent higher risk of heart attack, and a 20 percent higher risk of stroke, according to the research published in the British Medical Journal. It is believe that this could be due to the increased calcium levels causing slow hardening of the arteries.
This study adds scrutiny to the long-held belief that calcium and vitamin D supplements do not have any adverse health effects, and it should raise concern for older women taking the supplements. If you have concerns related to this issue, talk to your doctor about your risks.
Looking into Genes
Researchers have found that the STAT1 gene may play an important role in osteoporosis for those with Chinese and Caucasian ancestry.
According to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, researchers believe that variations in the STAT1 gene—a protein related to bone metabolism and cell growth and survival—may be related to low bone density.
While research continues into the usefulness of the STAT1 gene and other genetic factors in osteoporosis, this discovery may some day lead to advancements in osteoporosis treatment.