There are certain issues we all expect to appear as we get older – basic aches and pains, a lack of energy, maybe a drop in our vision and hearing abilities. In many cases, these problems are partially due to aging but also partially within our control. The same is true with another common issue in aging: osteoporosis.
You can start taking steps today to prevent or minimize osteoporosis. It all begins with educating yourself, so explore this guide to osteoporosis and what you need to know.
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What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease in which your bone density and bone mass are too low. It causes your bones to become brittle and thin, so they’re more prone to fractures.
Osteoporosis is a very common condition, affecting as many as 2.3 million Canadians. It usually occurs in seniors, especially postmenopausal and perimenopausal women, although it is common in older men as well.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a tricky condition because it doesn’t generally cause symptoms in your day-to-day life. In fact, most people don’t know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone.
If you have osteoporosis, you may develop bone fractures from falls and incidents that wouldn’t normally be severe enough to break a bone, like a fall from a standing height or lifting heavy objects. People with osteoporosis most often have fractures in their vertebrae, hips, or wrists.
In some cases, you may even have osteoporosis-related fractures that you don’t know about. That is especially true for compression fractures in your vertebrae because these can happen even if you didn’t fall or have a known injury. Those unknown fractures can cause back pain, a loss of height, or a stooped posture.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
For the most part, osteoporosis is caused by aging. Like other cells in your body, your bone cells are constantly being shed and replaced by your body’s natural processes. As you get older, though, your body produces new bone cells at a slower rate – too slow to keep up with your loss of old bone cells. This slowly reduces your number of bone cells, making your bones thinner and more fragile.
There are also other factors that can contribute to osteoporosis by speeding up your bone cell loss or slowing down your bone cell production, such as:
- Lower levels of certain hormones, especially estrogen in women, testosterone in men, and thyroid hormones
- Malnutrition, specifically a diet low in vitamin D, calcium, or protein
- Gastrointestinal illnesses or gastrointestinal surgeries like weight loss surgery
- Long-term use of certain medications like some cancer medications, anti-seizure medications, and medications for gastric reflux
Complications of Osteoporosis
The primary reason that osteoporosis is a problem is the bone fractures. It can cause frequent or severe bone fractures that are painful and affect your comfort and mobility. As you get older, one of the most important ways to stay healthier for longer is to remain active, and fractures from osteoporosis can make this difficult.
Treatments for Osteoporosis
If you develop osteoporosis, what are the next steps? To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor may perform a bone density test to measure how thick and dense your bone tissue is. When they have confirmed your osteoporosis, they will design a treatment plan for you which will typically combine prescription medications with lifestyle changes to strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of fractures.
There are a variety of medications that are designed specifically to help osteoporosis, such as by helping your body create new bone cells more quickly. Some are oral prescription medications, and some are injections you will receive on a regular basis. Your doctor will be able to choose the best medication or combination of medications for you based on your osteoporosis progression, your medical history, and other factors.
Hormones play a large role in your body’s bone tissue and ability to form new bone cells. For example, estrogen contributes to bone formation, so when a woman’s estrogen level drops dramatically during menopause, osteoporosis tends to take hold. For that reason, some people can improve their osteoporosis through hormone therapy which restores their levels of certain hormones or improves their hormonal balance. Hormone replacement therapy can restore estrogen levels in women and testosterone levels in men, and both of these hormones will affect osteoporosis.
Lifestyle Changes for Osteoporosis Prevention and Reduction
Many risk factors for osteoporosis are outside of your control, like genetics, the size of your frame, your hormones, and so on. There are several risk factors that you can control, though, and making certain lifestyle changes and choices can help you maintain stronger, healthier bones.
Getting regular exercise helps so many different functions and aspects of your health, and that includes your bone health. In particular, you can minimize your risk for osteoporosis by getting plenty of weight-bearing exercises like walking and running as opposed to non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming or cycling. The impact and weight of these types of workouts will trigger processes in your body that strengthen your bone tissue.
Chronic heavy drinking affects your bone health and increases your risk for osteoporosis or for more severe osteoporosis. If you drink alcohol, keep it in moderation. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines suggest that women drink no more than two drinks per day and no more than 10 drinks per week, while men should drink no more than three drinks per day and no more than 15 drinks per week.
Your body relies on the nutrients you take in for the ingredients it needs to create bone cells. This means that if you aren’t giving your body what it needs, it will produce fewer bone cells and contribute to osteoporosis. It’s important to maintain a balanced diet, especially one that meets your daily needs for calcium and vitamin D.
If you already have osteoporosis, you should find ways to not only strengthen your bones but reduce your risk of falling and accidents so you are less likely to break a bone. This can include using stabilizing items while you walk like railings, walkers, or canes, as well as doing exercises that improve your balance.
Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis and Osteoporosis Complications
Osteoporosis is a condition that should be on everyone’s radar. The earlier you start strengthening your bones, the more bone mass you’ll have when your natural bone cell production starts to drop. If you believe you may have osteoporosis or if you want to start minimizing your risk factors today, SRx is here to help. Schedule a a call with your nearest SRx team today to start taking control of your bone health.