Osteoporosis: what’s the 411?

Posted by on Feb 19, 2010 in bone health, osteoporosis | 0 comments

Osteoporosis and low bone mineral density are well-known issues for menopausal women. As women enter the early stages of menopause, their bones lose their ability to retain their mass and manufacture new bone tissue, resulting in bone loss and increasing the risk for osteoporosis and its deleterious effects. What’s more, experts estimate that by the time a woman reaches the age of 50, she has a 40% risk of suffering a fracture due to osteoporosis for the rest of her lifetime. Besides the discomfort, hip fractures in women lead to a loss of mobility, a need for long-term care and even death. No bones about it; osteoporosis is no laughing matter.

Risk factors that contribute to a loss of bone mineral density are varied and include age, genetics, low calcium/vitamin D intake, body weight and menopause status. However, osteoporosis is a mixed bag and there are several underlying conditions that can also contribute to its severity:

  • Medications (e.g. heparin, anticonvulsants, progesterone, chemotherapy agents)
  • Parathyroid hormone (which regulates  how calcium is used in the body – released in urine, absorbed in diet and stored in bones)
  • Calcium imbalance due to excessive calcium excretion, aka “hypercalciuria,” Vitamin D deficiencies

Before I move into the land of boredom, there is a reason why I’m sharing some of the facts about osteoporosis, which BTW are readily available on the National Osteoporosis Foundation website (if you’ve not perused the site, I strongly encourage you to do so!): there is an indication that your practitioner might not be looking for these important secondary causes! Moreover, sometimes they are not even readily apparent.

Writing in the journal Menopause, researchers studying 204 menopausal women say that they’ve discovered that among the various factors that influence a woman’s risk for low bone density, several impact severity:

  • Low vitamin D levels (82% of women in this study had below optimal levels)
  • Elevated parathyroid hormone levels (35% of women in the study) — (leads to too much calcium in the blood and a loss of calcium from bones)
  • Unusually high calcium excretion (20% of women in the study)
  • High bone turnover rates (41% of women in the study) — (high bone turnover refers to an increase in  the breakdown, or resorption of bone without a compensation for the repair of bone, leading to compromised strength, thinning, brittleness and fractures)

There are a number of dietary and lifestyle strategies to prevent osteoporosis, including incorporating Vitamin D and calcium supplementation, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids into the diet, and increasing physical activity. More recent findings suggest that beer, onions and even flaxseed may be effective (although more research is needed). Meanwhile, if you’ve recently learnt that your bone mineral density is low (or that you’ve actually developed osteoporosis) you need to speak to your practitioner about some of these other markers. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the greater the likelihood that you can start incorporating treatment now to prevent further bone deterioration.

That’s the 411. No bones about it!

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