When it comes to bone health, the statistics are scary: half of all postmenopausal women and one quarter of men will break a bone in their lifetimes due to osteoporosis, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
But this low bone density disorder also strikes younger women at an alarming rate, due to “secondary osteoporosis,” which results from certain chronic diseases, medications and lifestyle choices.
A recent Loyola University Medical Center study found that secondary osteoporosis affects more than 50 percent of premenopausal women.
According to Dr. Pauline Camacho, an endocrinologist and co-author of the study, “When I find a younger patient with osteoporosis, there is likely to be a secondary cause, and if that cause isn’t treated, they will continue to lose bone even if they are on osteoporosis medications.”
Such findings have doctors urging women of all ages to be aware of the risk factors involved, get screened earlier and adopt key strategies to improve bone health. Whether you’re 20 or 70, here’s how you can make an impact:
Since the adequate intake and proper absorption of certain vitamins and minerals makes a big difference in bone health, it’s important to know which nutrients you should focus on and how to best obtain them. Eating a balanced diet of dairy, fish, fruits and vegetables will provide you with adequate supplies of calcium and vitamin D, which are the building blocks of bone health.
Great sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, salmon and sardines with the bones included, various green vegetables, and foods that are calcium-fortified.
Experts also recommend being aware of how certain foods and drinks interact with calcium, potentially inhibiting absorption or contributing to bone loss. Alcohol should be limited to 2-3 drinks per day, and coffee/tea held to 3 cups or less. Some studies also link colas to bone loss.
Exercise is essential to building and maintaining healthy bones. Even if this hasn’t been a regular habit in the past, starting a fitness routine at any point in your life can help.
You should always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you’re specifically concerned about fractures or have other health conditions that should be assessed first. There are specific types of exercises that can help strengthen your bones, and the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends a balanced approach to exercises the benefit bone health, including:
Weight-bearing exercises — These exercises are performed while maintaining a vertical position, which makes your body work against gravity.
High-impact exercises include activities such as jogging, jumping rope, dancing and playing tennis.
Low-impact types include activities such as walking and using stair-step machines.
Though activities such as bicycling and swimming are wonderful for cardiovascular health, they don’t support your weight, and therefore don’t offer the same bone-building benefits.
Muscle-strengthening exercises — Examples include lifting free weights, using weight machines and making use of exercise bands.
Yoga and Pilates can also help improve muscle strength, but some positions may not be safe if you’re already at significant risk for fracture. In such cases, a physical therapist is the best person to recommend positions that are safe for you.
Exercises that promote balance, posture and function — These offer multiple benefits, such as muscle strengthening, better spine integrity, enhanced performance of daily activities that help you remain independent, and better balance — a key factor since falls are a big contributor to osteoporosis-related fractures.
Screening tests for bone density were previously recommended for all women over 65 years of age, and between 60-64 years if they had certain risk factors.
But with the recent trends found in younger patients, new guidelines recommend that women younger than 60 get bone density scans if they have risk factors that increase their chances for a fracture in the next 10 years.
Such risk factors include having parents who had fractures, being Caucasian, having a history of smoking, alcohol abuse and having a slender frame. The most common tests include DEXA scans of the hip and spine and ultrasound of the heel. Both are non-invasive and painless.
When findings indicate that treatment is warranted, drug therapies such as bisphosphonates, hormones and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMS) have been proven to decrease the risk of fractures.
Unfortunately, osteoporosis is often first diagnosed after a fracture has occurred — but it doesn’t have to be this way. By increasing awareness and using preventative treatment measures, you may avoid future fractures and the negative consequences that osteoporosis can bring. Don’t wait!