Posted on May 01, 2019
May is National Osteoporosis Month. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both. As a result of this deficiency, bones become weak and brittle and are easily broken from falls or, depending on the severity of the disease, even from minor bumps or sneezes.
Our bones are alive and constantly growing, and they continually change throughout our lives, with some bone cells dissolving and new bone cells growing back in a process called remodeling. Amazingly, with this lifelong remodeling, our skeletons replace themselves about every ten years. But for people with osteoporosis, bone loss outpaces the growth of new bone. Bones become porous, brittle, and prone to fracture.
When viewed under a microscope, normal bone looks like a honeycomb, with small, tight “holes.” When osteoporosis is present, the spaces of the honeycomb are much larger than they are in a healthy bone, which is the result of less bone density and mass. As bones become less dense, they also become weaker and much more likely to break. It is recommended that you contact your healthcare provider and have a bone density if you break a bone after the age of 50.
There are several factors that are out of your control when it comes to developing osteoporosis. Gender, age, ethnicity, family history and body frame size all play a role in whether you may develop the disease. Women, particularly of an older age, are more likely to get it than men. White people, or those of Asian descent, people with one or more relatives who have had it or men or women with smaller body frames (less bone mass to draw from as they age) have a much higher likelihood of developing osteoporosis.
What Causes Osteoporosis?
There are many issues related to health, nutrition and lifestyle that increase the likelihood of osteoporosis. In general, doctors believe that a combination of causes is most often to blame.
Low estrogen in women. According to Paul Mystkowski, MD, an endocrinologist at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle and clinical faculty member of the University of Washington in Seattle, in general, the most common cause of osteoporosis is estrogen deficiency. Bone loss accelerates after menopause, when older women have a quick drop in estrogen. Over time, the risk of osteoporosis and fracture increases as older women lose more bone than they replace.
Younger women who stop menstruating — such as thin athletes or girls with anorexia – or women who have both ovaries surgically removed (bilateral oophorectomy) may also develop low bone density and osteoporosis.
Low testosterone in men. Men need both testosterone and estrogen for bone health; their bodies convert testosterone into bone-preserving estrogen. There is a clear consensus that when men are being evaluated for osteoporosis, they must have their testosterone levels checked.
Other hormone imbalances. Parathyroid hormone and growth hormone play an important role in regulating your bone density. They help orchestrate how well your bones use calcium — and when to build up and break down bone. However, too much parathyroid hormone, called hyperparathyroidism, causes calcium loss in the urine at the expense of bone. As you age, your body produces less growth hormone, which you need to build strong bone.
Lack of calcium. Without calcium, your body can’t rebuild new bone during the lifelong process of remodeling. Bones are the reservoir for two minerals — calcium and phosphorus. You need a constant level of calcium in your blood since many of your organs, especially your heart, muscles, and nerves, depend on calcium. When these organs demand calcium, they’ll steal it from the mineral storehouse in your bones. Over time, as you deplete the mineral reservoir in your bones, you end up with thin, brittle bones.
Sedentary lifestyle. People who spend a lot of time sitting are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than do those who are more active. Weight-bearing exercise and activities that promote balance and good posture are beneficial for your bones, but walking, running, jumping, dancing, racket sports, yoga and weightlifting seem particularly helpful.
Other causes of osteoporosis include a lack of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium, certain medical conditions and medicines, smoking and the consumption of two or more alcoholic beverages per day.
The good news is that your bone health is largely in your control. Many of the causes of osteoporosis are lifestyle factors you can change — like getting plenty of calcium, vitamin D, weight-bearing exercise to build strong bones and of course, quitting smoking. If bone loss is still a problem, ask your doctor about what you can do to correct any hormone imbalances or other medical causes of bone loss. Contact your CCHC provider at 252.514.4111 today to determine the next steps keeping your bones healthy.