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Osteoporosis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Osteoporosis
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What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is commonly known as brittle bone syndrome and impacts an estimated 3 million people per year in the United States alone. Osteoporosis is a condition that involves the reduction of bone density. This is not to be confused with osteopenia, which is more like the midway point between healthy bones and osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a dangerous condition because it creates brittle bones more likely to fracture or break. It occurs in both men and women, but more commonly in women, especially during menopause.

Once you have osteoporosis, you have it for life. In the beginning, loss of bone mass may not be as significant, but it generally increases with time. Symptoms are not obtrusive and it can be hard to detect. Some symptoms may include back pain and an eventual stoop or hunched over position due to weakened spinal strength. Osteoporosis must be diagnosed by a doctor, and although it cannot be ‘cured’, treatments are available.

Osteoporosis Symptoms

Stooped Posture

The effects of osteoporosis are slow and gradual, which is why your changing posture might be as well. Since it commonly affects the spinal column, an individual’s declining posture could be one noticeable symptom. A stooped or hunched over posture is commonly observed in individuals with osteoporosis, due to a lack of bone density in the spinal column. This increases risk factors for postural instability and falls (x).

Loss of Height

Loss of height may seem like an extremely odd symptom, but with osteoporosis, it’s possible. Since it decreases the density of bones, vertebral osteoporosis is highly likely. This means if the vertebrae become less dense and therefore smaller, it’ll appear as though an individual has lost height. Loss of height is another very gradual symptom often recorded over the course of time and perhaps not when first diagnosed with osteoporosis (x).

Back Pain

One of the worst symptoms is back pain. Back pain with osteoporosis is due to weakening vertebrae and, in some cases, vertebral fractures. Severe back pain can limit daily function and overall quality of life. It is a common symptom, but ranges in severity (x).

Easily Broken Bones

The hardest part about living with osteoporosis is that brittle bones make an individual highly susceptible to breaks and fractures. Sometimes even the slightest fall can cause a fracture, thus making it difficult to live everyday life. The most common fractures associated with osteoporosis are the femoral neck, fractures of the vertebrae and lumbar and thoracic vertebral fractures (x).

Other Symptoms

The symptoms listed above are the most common signs of osteoporosis. Loss of height and easily broken bones are especially noticeable, but since this is a progressive disease, these symptoms may not be apparent immediately. Other minor symptoms can include mood changes due to worsening condition. If you suspect osteoporosis, then you should talk with your doctor.

Osteoporosis Symptoms

Osteoporosis Causes

Loss of Bone Mass

Loss of bone mass or bone loss is exactly what it sounds like. In technical terms, it’s when the cellular events of bone formation are more than the quantity of bone formation. Loss of bone mass is a normal, human process, but excessive bone loss is the leading cause of osteoporosis. This can increase mortality, morbidity and mobility and decrease overall quality of life (x).

Loss of Bone Mass

As mentioned above, loss of bone is a natural occurrence that increases with age. Thus, it makes aging a common cause of osteoporosis. In addition, aging for females includes menopause, which significantly increases the risk for loss of bone because menopause reduces the ability to fight osteoporosis (x).

Family History

Osteoporosis is one of the conditions that can easily be linked to family history. In fact, not only does it increase the occurrence of osteoporosis, but those with a family history also show increased bone mineral density than those without. Higher loss of bone mineral density can lead to even weaker bones and increased risk of fractures (x).

Low Calcium Intake

If you feel that your regular calcium intake is low, then you may become a likely candidate for osteoporosis. Vitamin D and calcium are the two nutrients essential for bone health, but low calcium intake makes bones especially weak. Keep in mind that weak bones and osteoporosis in general greatly increase the risk of fractures, especially hip fractures. Calcium is well-tolerated and can be found in many daily food sources. Do your best to consume the recommended doses of calcium to possibly steer clear of osteoporosis (x).

Other Causes

Although family history and age are particularly common causes of osteoporosis, there are other risk factors that may play a role. For example, lowered sex hormones caused by a decrease in estrogen specifically during menopause can increase the risk of osteoporosis. In addition, ethnicity seems to play a role making it more likely for Caucasian and Asian people to develop the condition. Lastly, a history of commonly fractured bones increases the likelihood of having osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis Supplements and Remedies

Vitamin D

Vitamin D (and calcium) might as well be the kryptonite of osteoporosis. Taking these supplements is all about prevention. Vitamin D helps bones by allowing the body to absorb calcium and support muscles. Children and adults need vitamin D regularly. Common sources of vitamin D include various foods, sunlight and supplements.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K may not be the spokesperson for osteoporosis, but this forgotten nutrient can play an essential role for proper bone health and preventing osteoporosis. It is commonly found in dark, leafy greens, prunes, avocados and kiwi. Vitamin K can especially slow down bone loss for women after menopause and increase overall bone strength, therefore decreasing the risk of fractures. It has very specific dosages when taken as a supplement. Follow the table below for precise measures (x):

Age micrograms/day
Children under 18 75
Women 19+ 90
Men 19+ 120
Women pregnant or breastfeeding (19-50) 90
Women pregnant or breastfeeding (under 19) 75

Calcium for Osteoporosis

Calcium is even more essential for life. It is helpful for our bones, but it also enables the blood to clot, the muscles to contract and the heart to beat. It is also necessary for our teeth. As much as we consume calcium (or should be), calcium is constantly lost through the hair, skin, nails, urine and sweat. The body does not produce calcium, which is why significant amounts are needed to maintain health and prevent osteoporosis (x, x).

Magnesium

Magnesium has been a recent discovery as it pertains to bone health and osteoporosis. Now, research finds adequate amounts of magnesium may decrease the risk of bone fractures and the risk of developing osteoporosis is the first place. There’s some controversy about the supplementation of magnesium for those with already healthy magnesium intake. To understand the proper dosage necessary for osteoporosis, it’s important to speak with a professional first (x, x).

Other Remedies and Supplements

Preventing osteoporosis and decreasing its severity is often about taking health precautions beforehand. Although a healthy diet may not help when family history is involved, it’s still wise to consume recommended amounts of vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and even vitamin K. Another natural remedy is physical exercise/activity. Even something as simple as brisk walking can improve the effects of osteoporosis by helping build bone mass, and increasing balance and flexibility.

The Bottom Line

Osteoporosis is no mystery. Several million more people are affected every year. When it comes to preventing the condition, it all comes down to proper bone health, which is why these nutrients are so beneficial. Decreased bone strength from osteoporosis can severely hinder your quality of life by limiting mobility and living in constant pain. Do the most for your bones and take care of them proactively.

About the author

Chelsey Erwin


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