Osteoporosis, which literally means "porous bones", is the result of a long-term decline in bone mass which, in severe cases, causes the bones to break under the weight of the body. Particularly badly affected bones include the spinal vertebrae, the thigh bone and the radius (shorter arm bone). Over 25 million Americans may be affected by osteoporosis and 80 per cent of those are women. Although the problem also occurs in men, postmenopausal women are particularly susceptible, with around 35 per cent of women suffering from osteoporosis after menopause.

OsteoporosisSymptoms of osteoporosis

The symptoms of osteoporosis are often absent until fractures occur, although in some cases there may be a loss of height, a hunched back or back pain. Osteoporotic fractures affect 50 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men over 50. These fractures are particularly serious as demineralized bones shatter when they break and usually take longer to heal. Radiological examination can be used to measure bone mineral density and assess the risk of fracture.

Causes of osteoporosis

Around 35 per cent of women suffer from osteoporosis after menopause and, although it is less common, the problem occurs in a similar way in men. Osteoporosis is more common in Caucasians and Asians because they are often smaller boned.

Most of the bone loss seen in osteoporosis in women occurs in the first five to six years after menopause due to a decline in circulating female hormones and an age-related reduction in vitamin D production. Genetic factors seem to play a part in osteoporosis but behavioral and hormonal factors may be more important. Sufficient body fat and muscle are necessary to keep hormone levels high enough to maintain bone mineral content. Athletes and premenopausal women whose menstrual periods have stopped may also be at increased risk of osteoporosis due to alterations in their hormone levels.

OsteoporosisAdequate intakes of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and boron are also necessary. Diets high in dairy products, protein, sugar, alcohol, salt, caffeine- containing drinks and very high in fiber also seem to increase the risk of the disorder, most likely due to effects on mineral absorption and metabolism. People on weight-reducing diets are also at risk as they avoid foods high in bone- building nutrients.

Inactivity leads to an increased risk of osteoporosis, as does gastric surgery and certain types of medications such as corticosteroids.

Treatment of osteoporosis

The conventional treatment for osteoporosis is estrogen therapy but this is not suitable for some women due to the increased risk of breast cancer. Some women are treated with calcitonin, a hormone that inhibits removal and promotes formation of bone. It is available in injection forms and as a nasal spray. Intake of calcium and vitamin D must also be adequate. Newer osteoporosis drugs include alendronate, which inhibits bone breakdown; and raloxifene, a selective estrogen receptor modifier.

Exercise for osteoporosis

Regular exercise plays a vital part in preventing loss of bone mass. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging and yoga contribute to increases in bone density and prevention of bone loss. Exercise also helps build muscle mass which can help protect bones from injury. It also improves strength and flexibility, decreasing susceptibility to falls.

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Osteoporosis disease
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Vitamin D osteoporosis
Diet for osteoporosis
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