Often called the silent disease, osteoporosis is a frightening medical condition that causes the bones all over your body to slowly weaken, which often leads to fractures and other serious problems. There are about 10 million Americans diagnosed with this disease, while about 44 million have lower bone density and are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. (1)
Unfortunately, osteoporosis doesn’t usually have clear symptoms that are easy to recognize in the beginning. Moreover, women are four times more likely to suffer from osteoporosis than men, according to studies, (2) so it’s important for them to know about all the early warning signs that might progress into something far worse if left untreated. With that in mind, we’ll answer all the important questions about osteoporosis in our guide.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
When a person is healthy, his or her bones regenerate all the time, as old broken-down bone cells are replaced by new ones. This process, called remodeling, replaces almost 100% of your skeleton at a rate of about 10% per year. (3) This production of bone mass hits a peak after about 20 years and then deterioration slowly overcomes the rate of regeneration. Those who develop osteoporosis are more likely to have had less bone mass growth in their youth due to lifestyle, diet, and genes.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are many risk factors for osteoporosis split into subcategories and these include: (4)
Some risks for developing osteoporosis are unavoidable, including:
- Sex: Men are less likely to have osteoporosis.
- Age: Risk increases the older you are.
- Race: Being white or Asian carries a greater risk.
- Size: Having a smaller frame, means you have less bone mass in older age.
- Medical History: Having siblings or parents with the disease puts you at greater risk.
In relation to diet, osteoporosis will more often happen to people with:
- Low intake of calcium: Low calcium intake over a span of many years reduces bone density and causes early bone loss.
- Gastrointestinal surgery: Surgeries for losing weight or GI disorders tend to limit surface area for nutrient absorption.
- Eating disorders: Being underweight and drastically reducing food intake quickly starts to weaken bones.
Risk of contracting osteoporosis is increased with the following habits:
- Smoking: The exact mechanism is unclear, but tobacco use does cause weaker bones.
- Alcohol: The risk of developing osteoporosis is also increased by drinking two or more alcoholic beverages per day.
- Sedentary lifestyle: While weight-focused exercises and other activities promote bone health and strength, sitting and lack of exercise increase chances of contracting osteoporosis.
- Thyroid issues: An overactive thyroid or too much medication for an underactive thyroid can cause bone loss. Osteoporosis is also linked to overactive adrenal and parathyroid glands.
- Sex hormones: Bone loss is also related to lower production of sex hormones, such as estrogen in women during menopause.
Steroids and different medications
If used long enough, corticosteroid medications in injected or oral form such as cortisone create problems with bone regeneration. You are also at risk if you take medications for:
- Gastric reflux.
- Transplant rejection.
Finally, there is a connection between osteoporosis and certain medical conditions, such as:
- Celiac disease.
- Crohn’s disease.
- Cancer and lupus.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Liver or kidney disease.
- Blood or bone marrow cancer (multiple myeloma).
Common Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Sadly, once symptoms start to appear, you can be fairly certain that the condition is at an advanced stage. However, you should look out for the following signs and warnings:
- Frequent pain in your back caused by collapsed or fractured vertebra that pinches your nerves.
- Stooping and the slow loss of height.
- Painful bones in your neck and back.
- Sudden and unexpected bone fractures.
How to Prevent Osteoporosis Fractures?
The biggest danger of osteoporosis is the spine and hip fractures it can cause when you fall. Such an injury can lead to disability or death. Worse yet, it’s possible to break your spine even without falling if your bones are weak enough.
If you believe that you’re at risk, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Your physician can order a test to measure bone density, in addition to looking at your vitamin D and calcium levels. With that being said, it might be wise to add supplements to your diet, as well as eat fortified products and many leafy greens.
A doctor can also prescribe medications to prevent bone loss and strengthen them, but this can take time. While you’re waiting, you should think about hiring a trainer to show you beneficial exercises.