Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to gradually become porous, thin and weak. Of the 10 million Americans that are currently suffering from osteoporosis, 8 million (or 80%) are women.
Osteoporosis occurs when bone is not replaced as quickly as it is broken down. When you’re young, the body makes new bone quickly and your bone mass increases. In your mid to late 20’s, your bone mass production peaks. By your mid-30’s however, bone mass starts to gradually decrease as bones begin to lose calcium, the mineral that gives them strength.
Experts think that women are more susceptible to the disease for a variety of reasons. Women tend to have smaller, lighter frames and less bone density than men. Hormonal changes associated with menopause speeds up the process of bone density loss as well. Scientists believe this is caused by a reduction in estrogen production which appears to keep calcium in the bones. Women can lose as much as 20% of their bone density during the five to seven years following menopause which can or may directly lead to osteoporosis.
While some bone density loss is part of the natural aging process, women who have a family history of the disease are at greater risk. Lifestyle choices are also a factor. Women who smoke, consume more than a moderate amount of alcohol and have a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
Consider these recommendations regarding lifestyle habits from The National Osteoporosis Foundation:
- Calcium is essential to building strong, dense bones early in life and keeping bones strong and healthy later in life. About 99% of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth. The body does not produce calcium, so if your body does not get the calcium it needs from foods or supplements, it takes it from your bones. Recommended daily amounts of calcium for women under age 50 is 1,000 mg daily. For women age 50 and older, 1,200 mg daily.
- Vitamin D plays a very important role in protecting your bones. Calcium cannot be absorbed without it. Inadequate amounts of vitamin D contributes to bone loss, lower bone density and makes bones more susceptible to breakage. Sources of vitamin D are foods, sunlight and supplements.
- Fruits and vegetables that provide magnesium, potassium and vitamin K are good for bone health. Magnesium regulates active calcium transport and has been shown to increase bone density. Potassium plays a vital role in bone health by increasing bone density and neutralizing acids that deplete bone. Consistent evidence suggests that vitamin K not only increases bone mineral density but also appears to positively affect calcium balance.
- Protein, particularly from dairy sources, is necessary for bone health.
- Activities such as walking, yoga, tennis and weight bearing exercises strengthen both muscle and bone. Exercise slows bone loss and improves your balance which can help prevent falls.
- Smoking is bad for the bones as smokers absorb less calcium. Smoking also lowers the amount of estrogen in the body.
- Alcohol, in excess, robs bone formation as it prevents calcium absorption.