Osteoporosis literally defined means "porous bones". It's a disease that affects 8.9 million Americans, the majority (80%, to be exact) being women.
Although it's not something we commonly think about, bones are actually living tissues. As such our bones are constantly undergoing a process called remodeling - right up until we arrive in our mid-30s, that is. Bone remodeling is a means by which old bone tissue dissolves and new bone cells form. As we age our bones lose calcium faster than it can be replaced, which results in a decrease in remodeling and, consequently, thinning bones. For those with osteoporosis, bones dissolve at a higher rate than they can form.
The greatest danger for those with osteoporosis is the possibility of osteoporotic fractures. Osteoporosis has become so commonplace that it's estimated that an osteoporotic fracture occurs once every three seconds. (Yiiiikes.) Bones with the highest chance of fracture are those in the spine, hip, and wrist.
Risk factors for osteoporosis
Unfortunately, as exemplified by the statistics above, women are at a much higher risk for osteoporosis than men. This is on account of the hormonal changes that occur after menopause when a decline in estrogen production increases the rate of bone loss. Not one of its commonly touted side effects, estrogen actually helps bones to retain calcium.
Another hormone condition that proves to increase the risk of osteoporosis in women is amenorrhea: the absence of menstruation during reproductive years. Amenorrhea is caused by low levels of estrogen which, just like menopause, effects the body's ability to hold on to calcium and for bones to remodel at a necessary rate.
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Other risk factors include:
- Lack of exercise
- Low levels of Calcium and Vitamin D
- Cigarette use
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- History of rheumatoid arthritis
- Low body weight
- Hypo and hyperthyroidism
The good news? Through a few simple lifestyle modifications, osteoporosis is largely preventable. Because, just like Hippocrates said, food is the best medicine, after all ;)