Osteoporosis is defined as a decrease in bone mass and bone density, which may lead to an increased risk of fracture. More than 34 million Americans suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia and, generally, neither condition has visible symptoms. While the disease is complex and not all of its causes are known, in most cases osteoporosis is both preventable and treatable. Knowledge and awareness are the keys to prevention.
Genetics and Environment
Often women assume that if they have a family history of osteoporosis, they are doomed to the same fate. Genetic and medical risk factors include:
- Small/thin frame
- Age (over 45)
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Caucasian/Asian heritage
- Early or surgically-induced menopause
The truth is, while genetics may cause a predisposition, dietary and environmental factors play a major role. Lifestyle risk factors which deplete bone mass include:
- Eating disorders (or a history of)
- Low calcium intake
- Lack of vitamin D
- Frequent antacid use
- Tobacco use
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Frequent alcohol intake
- Excess caffeine intake
- Use of diuretics
- Prolonged use of progestin-containing contraceptives
- High hydrogenated fat consumption
- High salt intake
- Endocrine (hormone) imbalance
- High intake of refined/processed sugars
Testing and Diagnosis
There are several ways to measure bone density, but most medical professionals use and recommend dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). The test is painless and non-invasive. The best time to have a bone-density test is debatable. Physicians nay recommend baseline bone-density testing for patients as young as 40, particularly if there are risk factors present. But some insurance plans do not cover the test until much later, which causes women to hesitate.
There are few physical symptoms of bone loss in its early stages. More advanced cases involve back pain, loss of height, stooped posture, or fracture. It is important to weigh your genetic and non-genetic risk factors to determine if a bone-density test is right for you. Some healthcare providers offer DEXA bone-density screenings of the forearm or finger to evaluate risk for osteoporosis. These screenings can be a cost-effective way to assess risk levels, particularly in younger women.
Certain treatments may help increase bone mass. Patients who are able should engage in regular weight-bearing exercise such as walking or swimming. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D can also help maintain or even increase bone mass. Calcium supplementation is standard both as a preventative factor and in the treatment of osteoporosis. Prescription medications such as Fosamax may help reduce bone loss, but recent studies have shown that these medications may pose health risks when used long-term.
Edmond pharmacist Cari Denson often attends bone density screenings and counsels women on calcium supplementation. “There are a variety of sources of calcium, and it is important to choose the right form for optimal bone health.”
Denson recommends Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite concentrate (MCHC) to her patients due to its high rate of absorption. MCHC is derived from shaved bone and includes macrominerals, trace minerals, and collagen protein to promote bone growth. Other types of calcium, such as calcium carbonate, may be poorly absorbed and are hard on the digestive tract.
Denson points out that prescription drugs may interfere with the absorption of minerals such as calcium, particularly medications that reduce stomach acid. Consult a healthcare professional when choosing a calcium supplement.
Because osteoporosis is a silent disease with few, if any, symptoms in its early stages, awareness is critical. With early screenings and careful attention to lifestyle factors which can impact bone health, it is possible to delay or avoid the onset of bone loss.
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Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions. She holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in English from the University of Central Oklahoma. Shannon lives in Edmond with her husband and two daughters.