As a child, a broken bone can be placed in a cast to heal. But as an older adult, a broken bone can be fatal, due in large part to the bone-robbing condition of osteoporosis.
“Healthy bones are constantly rebuilding themselves,” says Michael Rafferty, D.O., family practice physician at Holy Redeemer Hospital. “Osteoporosis results if more calcium is absorbed by the body than replaced, causing weak bones and an increased risk for breakage.”
He continues: “A woman’s risk for a hip fracture is equal to the risk for breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers combined.”
An Age-Old Issue
Women acquire most of their bone mass in their 20s. After this age, bone mass decreases. And after the first few years of menopause, lower estrogen levels cause even more bone loss.
One in four women older than age 50 has osteoporosis, which occurs most in postmenopausal Caucasian women, with one in seven at risk of eventually suffering a fracture. The frequency of hip fractures increases exponentially with age, particularly after age 70.
“Other risk factors include smoking and being on certain medications for long periods of time. These include treatments for arthritis or steroids to treat asthma,” says Dr. Rafferty. “Also, check family photos for older relatives who have a hump or curved upper back. Personal history also increases your risk for osteoporosis.”
Five Steps to Better Bone Health
You can take steps to fortify your bones:
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D, which keep the bones strong. Get at least 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D a day. Postmenopausal women need 1,200 mg of calcium and 600 to 800 IU of vitamin D. An 8-ounce glass of milk provides 300 mg of calcium and 100 IU of vitamin D.
- Do not smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation. Tobacco and excessive alcohol contribute to bone loss.
- Exercise regularly. The best are weightbearing activities, such as walking, basketball, or tennis. But strength training also builds strong muscles, which are linked to strong bones. Experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.
- Talk with your health care provider. Find out if there are other things you can do based on your particular health care needs.
- Take bone density screenings and medications if needed. Women at high risk or people ages 65 and older need to be screened every two years.
Beating Brittle Bones in 15 Minutes
“There are several medications available for treating osteoporosis,” says Stephen Kessler, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist at Holy Redeemer Hospital. “The newest treatment, for those suffering from the early stages of osteoporosis, is an injection just once a year for 15 minutes. This can help increase bone density and protect and strengthen bones.”
This intravenous solution provides protection from fracture, including the hip, spine, and even other bones, for a year.
“But medication can’t work alone,” says Dr. Kessler. “It’s important to be aware of osteoporosis risk factors, receive regular screenings, exercise, and eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.”
Good food sources include low-fat dairy products; salmon with bones; green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli; eggs; milk; and calcium-fortified breads, cereals, and juices. Calcium supplements also may help, if