Osteoporosis is a disease that makes bones porous, which weakens them and makes them more susceptible to fractures. Often a person has no symptoms or pain, so the disease may not discovered until a bone breaks.
Osteoporosis is a natural part of the aging process. Throughout our lifetime, our bodies naturally replace old bone mass with new. When we are young, bone growth exceeds loss. New bone production slows as we age, however, and by the time we reach our late 20s, loss begins to exceed growth.
Loss of bone mass is accelerated in women when they reach menopause. According to the Cleveland Clinic, women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. It is often thought of as a “woman’s disease.” However, at around age 65, men and women begin to lose bone mass at the same rate.
Osteoporosis is “a significant threat to more than 2 million men in the United States today,” according to the Cleveland Clinic, which estimates that one-fifth to one-third of all hip fractures occur in men. Six percent of men over 50 will suffer a hip fracture as a result of osteoporosis. Spinal fractures occur about half as often in men as in women.
Fortunately, osteoporosis is both preventable and treatable. The Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends several lifestyle changes that can help us reach peak bone mass and continue building it as we age.
The first of these is adequate calcium and vitamin D intake. NIH recommends daily intake of 1,000 mg for men ages 51–70, and 1,200 mg for women, beginning at age 51, and for men ages 70 and older. The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 600 IU for all adults up to age 70, and 800 IU for those over 70.
Other preventive measures include not smoking and not drinking more than three ounces of alcohol a day. NIH also advises avoiding medications that cause bone loss or inhibit absorption of calcium and vitamin D. Engaging in weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, hiking, climbing stairs and dancing, helps bones become stronger.
For those already affected by osteoporosis, the same health, nutrition and exercise recommendations apply. The NIH also suggests taking measures to prevent falls, which increase the likelihood of bone fractures and breaks. Preventative measures include using a cane or walker for stability, and wearing flat rubber-soled shoes. Keep stairs and walkways clear of clutter, tape down throw rugs and extension cords, install grab bars in the bathroom, and make sure all rooms and outdoor areas are adequately lit, both day and night.
The Cleveland Clinic is holding a health talk, Aging Essentials for Men and Women, on Sept. 30, 6:30–8 p.m., at the Chagrin Falls Family Health Center. Osteoporosis will be one of the topics. Call 216-444-3641 for more information, and to register.
As always, consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet, medications, or exercise routine.