Osteoporosis – Preventing Bone Loss
Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become less dense, making them more fragile and easier to fracture and break. Osteoporosis is a particular concern for women because women are more likely than men to have osteoporosis are. There are two reasons for this:
- Women never build as much bone mass as men do during development.
- Women lose bone mass when they experience a drop in estrogen levels during menopause. Estrogen slows the loss of bone mass by improving our absorption of calcium from the intestinal tract.
Although osteoporosis is most common in women who have gone through menopause, many conditions, treatments, and diseases may result in osteoporosis as one of the side effects. This is called Secondary Osteoporosis.
Causes of secondary osteoporosis include:
- Kidney disease
- Underactive sex glands
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Some types of cancer
- Removing the part of the stomach that absorbs calcium
- Certain medicines
Can I help prevent osteoporosis?
Yes, there are things you can do to help prevent osteoporosis. To maintain the right amount bone mass it is important that you understand the effects of other conditions and are aware of what you can do to reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- Things you can do include:
- Limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Avoiding smoking
Eating a diet that builds bones:
- Vitamin D
- fruits and vegetables
- Getting regular, weight bearing exercise
How do my bones lose their density?
The following are behaviors and conditions that can contribute to bone loss:
Smoking – Research shows that smokers tend to go into earlier menopause. Women who smoke produce less estrogen, than those that do not. Older smokers have 20 to 30 percent less bone mass than nonsmokers. There may also be direct toxic effects of smoking on the bone.
Having an early surgical menopause (removal of both ovaries) without estrogen therapy – Losing estrogen earlier than normally expected increases your bone loss at a younger age.
Taking corticosteriods and antacids containing aluminum – These products may interfere with calcium absorption.
Diseases of the small intestine, liver, and pancreas – These conditions may prevent the body from absorbing adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D from the intestine.
Some cancers – Lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma
Chronic diarrhea from ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease – This causes calcium loss through feces and potentially low vitamin D levels.
Surgical removal of part of the stomach or small intestine – This affects calcium absorption.
Hypercalciuria – This is a condition where one loses too much calcium through the urine.
Early menopause (before age forty) – The earlier you stop producing estrogen, the more likely you are to lose calcium.
Ethnicity – Asian and Caucasian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than black or Hispanic women are.
Low weight – Women with less body fat make less estrogen, which makes the bones less dense. They are also more vulnerable to fracture with falling because they have less “padding” on their body.
Women with eating disorders (yo-yo dieting, starvation diets, binge/purge eaters) – When there is not enough calcium in the bloodstream through diet, the body will take what it needs from the bones. These women also have lower weight.
Family history of osteoporosis – Studies show that women who have a mother with a hip fracture are more prone to hip fracture themselves.
Amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycles) in childbearing years – This condition typically affects:
- women athletes who do endurance activities
- ballet dancers with low body weight and intense exercise.
Studies show that women with amenorrhea have 20 to 30 percent less bone mineral content than those with regular cycles have. The condition is associated with faster bone reabsorption seen with estrogen deficiency and low body weight as well as a potential negative effect from higher cortisol levels associated with physical “stress”. Athletes – Athletes have a low percentage of body fat needed for menstruation, while excessive exercise releases B-endorphin, which researchers believe may suppress estrogen circulation.
Lactose intolerance – Since so much calcium is in dairy foods, this is a significant risk factor
Teenage pregnancy – When a woman is pregnant in her teens, her bones are not yet fully developed. She can lose bone mass unless she has an adequate calcium intake of roughly:
- 2,000 mg a day during the pregnancy, and
- 2,200 mg a day while breast-feeding.
Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) – This condition may predispose to osteoporosis by putting unequal stress on the spine.
Talk to your healthcare provider
A combination of healthy high calcium diet and regular exercise is the best way to prevent bone loss. Contrary to popular belief, both of these things are equally important. Taking calcium supplements is not enough on its own.
For more information on osteoporosis, talk with your healthcare provider.
- What Women Need to Know – The National Osteoporosis Foundation, 2013.
- Osteoporosis – NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, 2013.
- Secondary Osteoporosis – International Osteoporosis Foundation, 2013.
- Osteoporosis and Menopause – The Hysterectomy Association, 2013.
- Female Athlete Triad: Problems Caused by Extreme Exercise and Dieting – American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2009.
For more information:
Go to the Osteoporosis health topic.