Osteoporosis - a progressive disease of the bones literally meaning porous bones - happens when a person loses too much bone, makes too little bone or sometimes both. In this condition, which commonly affects middle-aged and elderly women, the bones become weak and brittle. With osteoporosis brittle bones, the sufferers become extremely vulnerable to fractures even after minor accidents and falls. The susceptible points are the hips, spine and the wrists. Other symptoms may include severe pain in the hips and back, loss of height and at times a stooped posture, due to the bones of the spinal column becoming weak and compressed.
Throughout life, our bones are constantly being replaced. Cells known as osteoclasts eat away into the existing bone, thereby releasing calcium into our blood stream. Simultaneously, cells known as osteoblasts form the new bone and deposit calcium into it. When you are young and healthy, there is equal activity between these two types of cells and thus the bone mass and structure are maintained. With advancing age, we tend to lose more calcium from our bones than what is put back into them and our bones begin to lose density.
Not surprisingly, women are at a greater risk than men of developing osteoporosis. To begin with, they have less bone mass and on attaining menopause, they lose the hormone oestrogen, which slows down bone loss. Though postmenopausal women are at the risk of getting osteoporosis brittle bones, some younger women too like marathon runners, dancers and gymnasts, and those who eat very poorly are also likely to suffer from osteoporosis. A low body weight aggravates the risk of osteoporosis as it puts less stress on bones and stress improves bone density. You might be surprised to know that your body fat also promotes oestrogen production.
Make sure that you eat a healthy diet
There is an increasing evidence to suggest that eating more calcium-rich foods, especially during childhood and adolescence, is an excellent way to prevent or at least minimise the extent of osteoporosis. Because the density levels of calcium during adolescence are of particular importance to ensure maximum bone density and strength in adulthood and later years, it would be sensible and prudent on the part of parents to encourage their youngsters to have plenty of calcium-rich foods in their daily intake, like milk and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin D is required by the body to absorb calcium. The main source of this vitamin is the action of sunlight on the skin; however, it is also present in some foods like eggs and oily fish and in some fortified foods like margarine and some breakfast cereals.
Magnesium the mineral is also very important in the uptake of calcium and magnesium rich foods are nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, root vegetables, egg yolks, whole grains, dried fruit and garlic.
The consumption of alcohol and salt should be reduced because both are known to hasten calcium loss. People who drink too much alcohol are particularly vulnerable because they tend to be both poorly nourished and accident-prone, which leads to a correspondingly greater risk of developing osteoporosis brittle bones. Your caffeine intake should not exceed 3-4 cups of coffee in a day, as caffeine removes calcium from the bloodstream. This risk is greater if you are a smoker or an alcoholic. Fizzy drinks (carbonated drinks) are also known to leach minerals from the bones.
There are some drugs that have been associated with bone loss, when prescribed in high doses. These include Prednisone, mainly used in the treatment of asthma, arthritis and other inflammatory diseases and some anti-seizure medicines. An increased intake of protein or salt can also increase the loss of calcium from the body as well.
Regular, but not excessive, exercise from a young age is another extremely essential preventive measure against osteoporosis brittle bones. Bones respond to the stresses and strains involved in exercise by becoming denser and therefore stronger. People troubled by osteoporosis are also advised to do some form of exercise because regular physical activity helps to prevent mineral loss from the bones and also improves overall strength, muscle tone and balance. This is so important for the elderly as it minimises the chances of falling. Any individual, who has been inactive for a number of years, should always begin with a gentle form of exercise like walking or swimming.
The treatment of osteoporosis aims to slow down or prevent the bones from becoming weaker. Many postmenopausal women are seen to benefit from hormone replacement therapy, which replaces waning stores of oestrogen. However, oestrogen is known to have its drawbacks and can have serious side-effects. Any woman considering hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or other conventional treatment, should thoroughly weigh the balance of risks and benefits and then make the decision.
Studies have shown that many adults look for complementary or alternative therapy for their health problems. In the case of osteoporosis brittle bones, complementary therapies like acupuncture, herbal remedies, diet modification, and various nutritional supplements have been found effective and can often be had in conjunction with prescribed medicines for additional relief, or if a person prefers.
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NB. This information is in no way intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are unsure as to the suitability of any of the products or recommendations with regard to your condition please consult your doctor. If your doctor does not approve of complementary medicine it may be helpful to find one who does.