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The inside story on osteoporosis

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Bone is a living tissue. It has a tough outer shell and a porous inside. During life, bone tissue is continually replaced and repaired. Osteoporosis can develop when calcium leaves the body faster than it enters. Bones can become thin and lose density, which reduces their strength and rigidity. If bones become weak and brittle, they break easily.

When osteoporosis occurs

As you get older this loss of bone density occurs naturally and can happen in women after menopause. Oestrogen, the female hormone produced by the ovaries, helps bones to take up calcium. After menopause, the drop in oestrogen levels causes less calcium to be absorbed by bones, and more to be lost by the body.

Men are also susceptible to osteoporosis as they get older. This table shows how the risk of osteoporosis increases with age:

Average risk of a fracture occuring due to osteoporosis over the next five years

Age Group Males Females
60-64 6% 9%
65-69 7% 10%
70-74 10% 15%
75-79 17% 25%
80-84 36% 50%

 

The signs of osteoporosis

Fractures of the wrist, hips, spine or other bones

A fall or hard knock, and sometimes doing routine things like bending, lifting or just getting up from a chair can cause fractures. This happens because brittle bones have trouble supporting body weight.

Loss of height

As the vertebrae of the spine weaken they compress and the spine curves.

How to know if you’re at risk of getting osteoporosis

The following increase your risk of developing osteoporosis:

  • Being immobilised in bed for long periods
  • Being thin
  • Having a diet high in salt
  • Having a diet low in calcium
  • Early menopause – often caused by having your ovaries removed
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Family history of osteoporosis or fractures
  • Irregular periods
  • Long term use of some medication including steroids
  • Smoking

People with the greatest risk of getting osteoporosis include:

  • Older women
  • Young women who exercise to extremes, have few periods, have a low body-weight or a low calcium intake
  • Men over the age of 60 – especially those who smoke, have low testosterone levels or who have a high intake of alcohol

Talk to your Unichem Pharmacist if you have one or more of the above risk factors.

Preventing osteoporosis

Bone reaches its peak density when you are between 30 to 35 years old. Making sure you have as much bone density as possible before then helps to prevent osteoporosis. Exercise and a varied diet with plenty of calcium helps you maintain bone mass. Keeping your weight within a healthy range also helps to maintain bone mass.

Osteoporosis and physical activity

Weight-bearing physical activity which puts moderate stress on bones may stimulate new bone growth. These activities include walking, tennis, jogging, yoga, dancing, cycling, golf and low impact aerobics. Physical activity is also important for the maintenance of a healthy body weight.

Try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, preferably every day of the week.

Osteoporosis and diet

Calcium in your food helps to keep your bones strong. When your body does not get the calcium it needs from the food and dairy products you eat, it uses up calcium stored in bones. Eating food high in calcium throughout your life helps maintain good bone mass. Milk products are one of the best sources of easily absorbed calcium.

Vitamin D also helps your body to absorb calcium. Most people get enough vitamin D through general exposure to sun. About 20 minutes each day is recommended but avoid direct sunlight exposure between the peak UV time of 10am – 4pm. People who are house-bound, elderly people who live in care and women who wear veils for religious or cultural reasons may need to take vitamin D supplements. Talk to your Unichem Pharmacist or doctor about the supplements that are right for you.