Osteoporosis: What Every Woman Needs to Know
When you hear the word osteoporosis, you probably imagine a frail, elderly woman. But the truth is that the condition affects approximately 54 million Americans, calculates the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF).1And when you have low bone mass, your bones become more fragile and you may be more likely to experience a fracture — typically in your hip, spine or wrist.1
It’s often referred to as a “silent disease” because there are few signs or symptoms of the condition until you actually break a bone. That’s why it’s important to take preventative steps to reduce your risk of developing brittle bones.
Crucial Bone-Building Years
While you may think that your skeleton is made up of solid, unchanging bones, the truth is that your bones are made of living, growing tissue.1 If you look at it under a microscope, it looks like a honeycomb.1
What happens during the bone-forming years of childhood and early adulthood is critical to your long-term bone health.2 During this time, you’ll continue to build bone until you reach your peak bone mass (the maximum amount of bone tissue you’ll have) somewhere between the ages of 20 and 30.2 After that, you slowly start to lose bone mass. The gaps and spaces in your “honeycomb” tissue start to grow bigger, weakening the structural integrity of your bones.
Are You at Risk?
While osteoporosis may affect people of all ages, there are certain factors that may make you more prone to this bone disease. The Mayo Clinic lists the following:2
- Age: Once you’ve reached your peak bone mass in your 30s, the rate in which your body creates new bone begins to slow down. At the same time, you continue to break down bone tissue, thinning the bone.
- Sex: Women are more likely to have weak, brittle bones since women generally have lower peak bone mass than men. Plus, menopause puts women more at risk. Thanks to the drop in estrogen levels, bone loss increases in post-menopausal women.
- Family history: If your parent or sibling has the condition, you’re more likely to experience it, too.
- Bone structure: If you have a small body frame and are thin, you may have a higher risk, because you have less overall bone mass in your body.
How to Protect Your Bones
Thankfully, there are several preventative measures you can take to minimize the loss of bone mass:3
- Fill up on calcium. Since calcium is a key mineral for building bones and maintaining bone health, it’s important to stock up your body’s stores. Luckily, there are plenty of calcium-rich foods to choose from like dairy products (think milk and cheese), green, leafy veggies (like kale, broccoli and bok choy), tofu, and canned fish (like sardines with bones). Women between 19 and 50 years old need approximately 1,000 mg of calcium per day.
- Don’t forget your D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb all the calcium you take in. Vitamin D can be found in items like egg yolks, mackerel, salmon, tuna and fortified foods like milk. Plus, your skin makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Women between the ages of 19 and 70 need 600 IU of vitamin D per day.
- Exercise. It’s not just good for your heart, but it’s important for strong bones too. Regular weight-bearing exercise like running, hiking and dancing, as well as strength training may help slow bone loss.
- Eat a healthy diet. Bone health isn’t just about calcium and vitamin D. Magnesium, zinc, protein and vitamins C and K are also important for strong bones. Eating a varied diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables, can help you fill up on these essential nutrients.
- Don’t smoke. If you need another reason to quit, smoking may reduce your body’s calcium stores, not to mention decrease the amount of estrogen in your body, which is key for bone health.
- Talk to your doctor. If you’re concerned about the health of your bones, talk to your doctor. And always consult your physician before taking supplements. Your doctor can help you determine the right dosage and warn of any interactions with other prescription drugs you may be taking.
While you may not often think about the health of your bones, don’t take it for granted. There are many preventative measures you can take to protect your bones and help make them stronger.
- “What is Osteoporosis and What Causes It?” National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/
- “Osteoporosis — What are your risks?” Mayo Clinic. March 9, 2017. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/in-depth/osteoporosis-risks/art-20304597
- “Osteoporosis fact sheet.” Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. July 16, 2012. https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/osteoporosis.html