Osteoporosis Myths and Truths

Actually, the best time to think about osteoporosis is when you still have a chance to prevent this bone-thinning disease. Ideally, you should have a bone-friendly lifestyle beginning in childhood and throughout young adulthood, when your body is building bone mass rapidly. Your body stops building bone mass by your thirties, and after menopause, women may experience accelerated bone loss due to changes in hormone levels. Even though women have the greater osteoporosis risk, men can experience bone loss and fragile bones as well. You can help protect your bone health by learning about osteoporosis risk factors and prevention now.

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Studies have shown that doing certain types of exercises will reduce the curve associated with osteoporosis and help strengthen your back. You may also need hands-on manipulation of the area and, in some instances, a back brace or other interventions to help reduce the curve.

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About 75 percent of your bone mass is determined by heredity, while another 25 percent is related to the choices you make throughout your lifetime. A strong family history is just “a red flag to take preventive measures,” says Liselle Douyon, MD, clinical assistant professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. Whether you’re male or female, if osteoporosis runs in your family, ask your doctor about getting screened and making lifestyle changes that can best protect your bones in the future.

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Breaking a bone is not a normal part of aging; it’s a sign that you may have osteoporosis and that your bones need help. People who fall at ground level and fracture a hip have a much higher risk of having another fracture. While you may have broken bones during your life because of forceful trauma, fragility fractures occur as a result of an impact that ordinarily would not harm bone, such as falling on the ground or even twisting an ankle or wrist. If you’ve already had a fracture, you need to take extra steps to protect your bones.

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You do need to make changes — osteopenia progresses to osteoporosis. Some people with osteopenia may never develop osteoporosis, but a “wait and see” approach is not worth the risk of further damage to your bones. Now is the time to make changes, including taking a vitamin D supplement and a calcium supplement, being more physically active, eating a healthy diet, and giving up smoking and excessive drinking. You may also want to talk to your doctor about whether medications you are taking or other health conditions you have could be causing bone loss.

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“We don’t eat vitamin D-rich eggs and sardines like we used to, and we use sunscreen when we’re outside, which prevents us from getting vitamin D,” explains Douyon. Eggs and sardines are good dietary sources of vitamin D, but many people don’t include them in their diet. And sun exposure is a problem, not only because of the risk of skin cancer, but because at certain times of the year and in northern latitudes, people may not get enough of the sun’s rays to produce enough vitamin D. Reconsider your approach and take a supplement to help prevent osteoporosis.

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Douyon says that the most common question she gets from patients who have osteoporosis is whether the recommended medications are safe. “It’s important to know why you need to be on it. The end result of osteoporosis is fracture,” she says. “People lose their independence, and they can develop chronic pain in their backs. These medications can prevent long-term consequences.” Your doctor can recommend a safe dosage of medication for your needs. Even if you aren’t sure about taking medication yet, look at every aspect of your daily life to reduce the risk of falling.

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While taking your osteoporosis medications as prescribed is very important, there are a number of other things you need to do regularly to help protect your bones, including:

  • Stop smoking
  • Be physically active
  • Eat a healthy, varied diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Get enough vitamin D
  • Get enough calcium

 

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Men get osteoporosis, too, although less frequently than women. Most men will not get screened for osteoporosis until their seventies or eighties — if at all. As a result, men and their doctors often miss the signs of osteoporosis, such as a fracture or break that shouldn’t have occurred. And while a woman in the same situation might be screened for bone loss or prescribed osteoporosis medication, men often are not. So when it’s warranted, encourage the men in your life to get screened for osteoporosis.

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Exercise can indeed strengthen bones — the problem is that it does this more slowly than many people with osteoporosis need, so you cannot rely on exercise alone. But your bones definitely need weight-bearing exercise and resistance exercise to become stronger. For people with bone loss, other benefits of exercise include better balance, flexibility, and increased strength — all of which can help you avoid falling.

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