Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease in which the process of building up the bones falls behind the process of breaking them down, resulting in more brittle bones. As the bones lose mass and density, becoming more porous, they become more prone to fracture at the slightest trauma (even a sneeze), and can cause changes in posture and loss of height.
So what puts someone at risk for osteoporosis? The first factor is age: bone density begins to decrease around the age of 30 in everyone, as a natural part of the aging process. This process can spike, however, in the 50’s and 60’s as hormone levels fluctuate as well – women in menopause are particularly susceptible.
In fact, women are at a higher risk in general; they have naturally lighter bones than men to begin with, and they have, on average, a longer life span, which gives them more time to develop osteoporosis. Both women and men with smaller, more petit frames have a higher risk than their larger counterparts – because they have less bone to begin with, any loss of tissue is more significant.
Family history is an important factor: you’re more likely to develop the condition if people in your family have a history of it, or showed signs such as easily or frequently broken bones. Ethnicity also plays a role; caucasian women are more likely to have osteoporosis than black or Hispanic women.
Lifestyle can have an affect on the development of osteoporosis, too. Smokers and people who drink heavily are both causing more damage to their bones with these substances, weakening them and making them more likely to fracture. Getting sufficient exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise, and eating a nutritious, balanced diet has been shown to decrease the risk of osteoporosis, while those who don’t do either are more likely to develop it. Exercise and a diet high in vitamins and minerals (calcium and vitamin D are particularly important) not only strengthens bones and the muscles that support them, they also keep weight in check; excess weight puts more stress on the bones.
Osteoporosis is debilitating and painful. If you notice increased frailty, changes in posture, or experience a fracture, consult your doctor for testing and treatment.
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