To maintain strong bones, your body continually absorbs and replaces bone tissue. If your body cannot produce enough new bone to replace the old, you have osteoporosis (which means “porous bone”). Under a microscope, a bone with osteoporosis resembles a honeycomb with holes and spaces where new, healthy bone should be.
Brittle, weak bones are the main symptom of osteoporosis, a chronic condition that affects nearly 10 million Americans. Although women over age 60 are more vulnerable to developing osteoporosis, the condition can impact both men and women of all ages.
What is osteoporosis?
Because you cannot feel your bones weakening, osteoporosis is often a silent disease that is difficult for you to detect. A healthcare provider must diagnose osteoporosis. The first sign is typically a broken bone, usually from a fall. In severe cases, however, the broken bone can result from a simple cough or sneeze.
Other subtle signs include height loss or a curve in your upper back. If you are over 50 and notice either of these signs, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to prevent further bone deterioration.
Once you have osteoporosis, you're always at risk of broken bones from a simple fall, but treating it with the proper medication can help your bones become stronger. There are some things you can do to prevent bone loss from occurring in the first place, however. It all goes back to lifestyle and nutrition.
A healthy lifestyle can help prevent osteoporosis
Although osteoporosis is a serious condition that cannot be reversed, exercise and certain key nutrients can help prevent this condition and keep your bones strong. Here's what you need to do.
When you exercise, you're not only building strength and endurance — you're also building up the mass and density of your bones. The best exercises to prevent osteoporosis are:
- Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, hiking and stair climbing.
- Resistance exercises such as weight lifting and water aerobics.
- Flexibility exercises such as yoga, stretching and tai chi.
Always talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program, especially if you know you already have osteoporosis or low bone density.
Watch your nutrition
Eating the right foods is one of the best ways to keep your bones healthy.
- Get plenty of calcium. Adults need 1,000mg of calcium daily. Dairy products, salmon, leafy greens and dried beans are rich in calcium. If you aren’t getting enough calcium in your diet, talk to your doctor about supplements.
- Get enough vitamin D. To help your body absorb and retain calcium, you also need vitamin D. Adults need 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D daily. Fatty fish, beef liver, egg yolks and foods fortified with vitamin D are good sources.
- Reduce salt. There is a relationship between sodium intake and bone loss, particularly if you have high blood pressure. Salt also increases the amount of calcium you lose through your urine and sweat.
- Limit soda and alcohol. Sodas contain a mineral called phosphorus, which can increase your risk of bone loss. Alcohol may help prevent fractures when consumed in moderation, but too much alcohol reduces your body’s ability to absorb calcium. It also the production of hormones your body needs to create new bone tissue.
- Moderate your caffeine intake. Caffeine can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium. If you’re getting enough calcium, you can probably safely have about 300 mg of caffeine each day — that's about one or two cups of tea.
Many of these recommendations for bone health are also good for other parts of your body — your heart, your muscles and even your emotional health. If you’re younger, choosing a healthier lifestyle now has benefits that go beyond your bone health.
If you’re over 50 and wondering if you’re at risk for osteoporosis, your healthcare provider can help assess your risk and provide guidelines for reducing further deterioration. Contact Goshen Physicians Orthopedics and Sports Medicine for more information.