Osteoporosis is a disease that affects both men and women, though women at about twice the rate as men. Combined, there are approximately 54 million Americans age 50 and older now living with osteoporosis or low bone mass. But the National Osteoporosis Foundation predicts that this number will grow by a million a year over the next decade.
“Osteoporosis is a process where the bones lose their strength,” said Dr. Cristina Beato, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Beato, a former Acting Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services in President George W. Bush’s administration, said osteoporosis is a product of aging but can also “happen early in life.”
Osteoporosis targets all ethnic groups but not equally. In a study conducted by the New Jersey Department of Public Health, it concluded that approximately one in ten Hispanic women over age 50 suffers with this disease. But nearly 50 percent of Hispanic women over age 50 will have low bone mass. The same study showed that three percent of Hispanic males age 50 and over have osteoporosis and 23 percent have low bone mass.
Women and particularly menopausal women are especially susceptible to osteoporosis. When estrogen or hormone levels go down or when there are no or infrequent menstrual periods bone mass is weakened. But other factors contributing to osteoporosis are family history and lifestyle, says Beato.
Beato said smoking is “the biggest negative” impacting women and osteoporosis. Women who smoke should stop immediately, she said. Tobacco has been linked to loss of bone density because it negatively compromises bone cells. The more a woman smokes, the higher her risk of bone fracture as she ages.
On the surface, osteoporosis may seem more inconvenient than dangerous but that is actually not the reality, said Beato. A simple fall for someone with osteoporosis---one easily recoverable in youth---can result in a broken bone for someone with osteoporosis or low bone mass. It is estimated that a third of all women as well as one in five men with osteoporosis will break a bone because of this disease. And broken bones, especially a hip or spine, can lead to long-term disability and a decline in quality of life.
This is a disease that results in an estimated two million broken bones each year, said the NOF. The cost for repairing broken bone damage among Hispanic is estimated at $2 billion per year by 2025. But despite the fact that there is no cure for osteoporosis, there are basic things that can be done to manage it.
“Go back to basics,” said Beato. Don’t smoke, eat healthy and get exercise, she said. Doing these very simple things would result in osteoporosis “not being as prevalent.” There are also things you can do to strengthen your bones. Good core body strength “will help the spinal column,” and lessen back pain.
In postmenopausal women or men who are approaching age 70, there are signs and symptoms that may indicate osteoporosis. They include back pain, loss of height, stooped posture or a bone fracture that you may have thought was just a simple bruise or minor injury.
Those worried about osteoporosis or loss of bone mass should speak with their health care specialist. But another way of addressing osteoporosis is through diet and calcium intake. Calcium is the mineral that strengthens bones and is also one of the easiest ways of self-maintenance.
Calcium strengthens bones and teeth. It also plays an important role in heart health and blood clotting. Doctors say we should all try our best to meet daily intake requirements for calcium. Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese and calcium-fortified cottage cheese are recommended. Green, leafy vegetables including broccoli, kale and collard greens are also good for boosting calcium levels. Fish and nuts, especially Brazil nuts and almonds, are also recommended.
There are also drugs that doctors may recommend altering the impact of osteoporosis. One family of drugs is bisphosphonates. They’re said to stop the loss of bone, but they do not rebuild. The New York Times recently reported on a newly approved drug for osteoporosis. Romosozumab whose brand name is Evenity is said to rebuild bone without breaking it down.
But short of drugs, said Beato, common sense and personal responsibility about health is the best start for those dealing with osteoporosis as well as others approaching the age when it most often begins to surface. “Usually if you eat nutritiously, maintain your weight and don’t smoke, you will maintain the integrity of your bones.” A long life is good,” she said. “A long quality of life is also good.”