Preventing Brittle Bones: What to Know About Osteoporosis and Bone Fractures
Your bones are the support beams of your body. When these beams are weakened, the whole structure is compromised. This structural decay often goes unnoticed, which is why osteoporosis is known as a silent disease.
Bone is living, growing tissue made up of collagen and calcium. Collagen provides the bone’s structure and calcium fortifies the tissue, this combination makes bones both strong and flexible when bearing weight. Our bones continually renew themselves, removing old bone mass and forming new bone. From birth to approximately age 30, formation exceeds bone removal – but once our bones have peaked in density, our bones begin to shrink in overall mass. This change of rate in bone renewal plays a part in the development of osteoporosis.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is the condition of having low bone mass or deterioration of bone tissue. Approximately 54 million people in the U.S. either have osteoporosis or are at high risk of developing osteoporosis. While preventable and treatable, it can lead to an increased risk of fracture.
“In 2005, 2 million Americans suffered osteoporosis-related fractures that cost 17 billion dollars,” said Scott Peery, PA, from the Fracture Liaison program at the Institute of Clinical Orthopedics and Neurosciences for Desert Care Network. “Those numbers are expected to increase to 3 million fractures at a cost of 25 billion dollars by 2025.”
At the Fracture Liaison Program, Peery works with a team of colleagues to make sure fracture patients are not overlooked and receive the appropriate care they need.
“By responding to initial fractures, we can reduce the likelihood of recurrence,” Peery said.
As we age, risk factors for osteoporosis and fractures increase, especially in women. Once menopause begins, bone loss occurs quickly and bone mass will continue to drop post-menopause. Other risk factors include:
- Older age
- Smaller body size
- Ethnicity, (especially those of Asian, African-American, Caucasian or Hispanic heritage)
- Being female
- Lowered testosterone or estrogen levels
- Low calcium and/or vitamin D intake
- Use of calcium-depleting medications
- Excessive alcohol use
- Cigarette smoking
Small changes in lifestyle and nutrition can help reduce your risk. For example, calcium intake is paramount to bone health regardless of age. An adequate calcium supply can help prevent osteoporosis and slow bone deterioration. This is especially important for older adults who are more likely to be taking calcium-depleting medications.
Excessive alcohol intake increases risk of bone loss and fracture due to both malnutrition and an increased risk of falling. Cigarette smoking is related to lower estrogen levels in women and early onset of menopause.
“Women also account for 71% of fractures,” Peery said. Despite this fact, most women who experience a bone fracture do not receive osteoporosis services like medication or bone density testing. “This failure to take medications or utilize bone density testing was then associated with a 62% increase in risk for a second fracture for women over 80,” Peery said.
Fortunately there are many treatment options available! Some programs may include a prescription that slows bone loss or increases bone density. Other programs focus on nutrition, exercise, and fall prevention education.