General Health Wednesday February 8, 2012

Osteoporosis: don't let your bones grow old before their time

It is a fact that our bones, as invincible as they may seem, reach their very best at the tender age of 30; then, apparently, it’s all downhill from there.

For some reason, we feel little surprise at the notion of breaking bones as it is hardly an uncommon phenomenon, but do we really think about the reasons behind these breakages? Are we just that little bit too clumsy? Are we sometimes unfortunate enough to fall victim to unexpected accidents? Or, is there something more going on for which we are responsible? Are we putting ourselves at risk of osteoporosis?

There are a variety of health and medical issues which bring the fragility of our bones into question, and in consideration that our skeleton fails to escape the ageing process anymore than the rest of the body, it is important to know how to keep bones as strong as possible, for as long as possible – before nature takes its course.

The basics

Osteoporosis is a disease which can affect bones by making them thin and fragile, and are therefore more liable to fracture (or break). Fractures can occur in various parts of the body, but the most common are in the hip, wrist, and spine. It can be hard to diagnosis, but osteoporosis testing is available.

Those most at risk are typically postmenopausal women due to a fall of oestrogen levels in the body, which can quicken the rate at which bone density decreases. It is estimated that half of women over 50 will suffer a fracture as a consequence of poor bone health! There is a great emphasis on women around the menopausal age to maintain healthy bones as, naturally, they are more likely to be affected by the disease, but are there people who more vulnerable to the disease, and are there those who may be putting themselves at risk of getting osteoporosis earlier than expected?

What is osteopenia?

(And why does Gwyneth Paltrow have it?)

Osteopenia is the early onset of loss of bone density, and in some cases can lead to osteoporosis, especially if it is not dealt with efficiently. The problem here is that it can be very hard to determine whether you have the condition or not, as most people will not be diagnosed until there is need to do certain tests or X-rays as a result of a seemingly random break.

This is what happened to actress Gwyneth Paltrow who discovered she had osteopenia from the results of a scan, having suffered a break in her leg. As she explains in a newsletter on her lifestyle website, Goop, "I suffered a pretty severe...fracture a few years ago (requiring surgery) which lead the orthopaedic surgeon to give me a bone scan, at which point it was discovered I had the beginning stages of osteopenia."

Though the reasons why the actress has this disease are mostly speculative, there are those who contribute the diagnosis to the various detox diets and strict exercise regimes she often follows. Simply being female, and, in particular, a slender one at that, posed Gwyneth with a higher risk of bone disease.

Those girls and women who put great pressure on their bodies to be thin need to be aware of the dangers that could befall them to avoid being diagnosed with bone disease so unnecessarily early. As both osteopenia and osteoporosis can be tricky to determine, there is all the more importance to keep our bones strong as part of our general health.

Protecting your bones

Depending on each individual case, there might be no need to take certain medications (such as bisphosphonates which sustain bone density) for these bones diseases. There are plenty of other ways to ensure that your body stays healthy as it grows older in order to protect your bones.

Keeping fit and healthy. Eating well and getting enough exercise is standard advice in looking after ourselves. Ensure you are eating the right foods, with the right vitamins in them, and keep active to make good use of your bones and to keep them strong. If we are already in poor health, the risk of bone disease is all the more evident.

Get enough calcium. You know when you mum said drinking milk was good for you? Well, it’s true. The equivalent to one pint a day is just the right amount of calcium to keep bones strong. (Calcium supplements are available).

Go out in the sun. Obviously, overexposure can be damaging to our health, but the best source of Vitamin D comes from the sun (as well as from certain food and drink). Enjoy it sensibly, and you’re bones will benefit from it. (Or, you could take supplements).

As supported by the National Osteoporosis Society, a charity dedicated to improving the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, "during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, when the skeleton is growing, it is vitally important to maximise bone strength. By ‘banking’ plenty of bone in these years, it puts the skeleton in a better position to withstand the bone loss that occurs as we get older."

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