Osteoporosis prevention

Prevention is the best medicine for this silent disease

by Kristine Burnett

With age comes bone loss. More specifically, with age comes an increased risk of osteoporosis.

A musculoskeletal disease marked by a decrease in bone mineral density, osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle. The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as many as 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men face the risk of an osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime.

“Osteoporosis is most common in postmenopausal women as a reduction in estrogen production directly affects bone density,” says Daniel Wright, MD, medical director of Medical Imaging at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City West. “While men don’t develop osteoporosis as frequently as women, there is mounting evidence to suggest that the risk of osteoporosis for men is greater than previously believed.”

Dr. Wright says underlying medical conditions, specifically those that limit one’s ability to retain nutrients vital to bone health, increase the risk of osteoporosis. Similarly, prolonged use of steroid medications is known to decrease bone mineral density, ultimately leading to osteoporosis.

Because osteoporosis is a silent disease that generally doesn’t become evident until a fracture occurs, screening is paramount.

“All postmenopausal women over age 65 and postmenopausal women under 65 who have suffered a suspicious fracture, have a family history of osteoporosis or other known risk factors should undergo a DEXA scan,” Dr. Wright says. “Men should begin screening at age 70.”

The DEXA scan or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan is a medical imaging test that measures bone mineral density to help physicians assess an individual’s bone strength and fracture risk. According to Dr. Wright, muscle strength  parallels bone strength.

As is often the case, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to osteoporosis.

Dr. Wright says the trifecta of osteoporosis prevention includes eating a well-balanced diet, performing weight bearing exercises to build muscle and spending about 15 minutes in the sun three times a week to ensure adequate vitamin D. “Sunshine converts vitamin D to its active, useful form, which is essential to calcium absorption,” he says.

One’s calcium source also matters.

“It is best to get calcium in dietary form and not through supplements unless absolutely necessary,” Dr. Wright says. “Studies have shown that calcium supplements can do more harm than good in the healthy population, linking increases in stroke, myocardial infarction and even death to calcium supplements.”

Since calcium supplements aren’t natural, they do not produce the same metabolic effect as getting the nutrient in its original food form.

So what can you eat to ensure adequate calcium intake? Dr. Wright recommends a well-balanced, plant-based diet that includes calcium-rich leafy greens such as spinach or kale. “It’s not hard to get enough calcium in a balanced diet,” he says. In addition to greens, Dr. Wright cites beans and other legumes, nuts and grains as good sources of phytates, which help combat osteoporosis.

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