Diseases such as cancer and diabetes get more publicity, but other lesser-known illnesses are also major threats. For example, osteoporosis.
In the United States, 10 million people have osteoporosis, with perhaps 34 million at risk with low bone mass, says Angelo Capricchione, MD, a fellowship-trained endocrinologist at Bingham Memorial Hospital. He is also board certified in the treatment of osteoporosis, diabetes, and thyroid disorders. Dr. Capricchione encourages you to do all you can to protect yourself from the fractures and disability that osteoporosis brings.
Following are six important facts you should know about osteoporosis.
1. What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue, typically as a result of hormonal changes, or deficiency of calcium or vitamin D.
2. Does osteoporosis only target older women?
Not too long ago, the disease was considered a natural part of aging among women. Today, scientists realize osteoporosis can affect people at any age, men and women both. And it is no longer considered “natural” or unavoidable. Osteoporosis is largely preventable, but it is also treatable.
3. You’re young. Should you worry now?
Maintaining bone health is a lifelong process that begins in childhood. To the development of osteoporosis, poor bone growth in early years is as serious as bone loss in later years.
4. What should you do first?
Start with good nutrition. That is essential for good bones. Calcium is the nutrient most important for reaching peak bone mass and for preventing and treating osteoporosis. Only about 25 percent of boys and 10 percent of girls between age 9 and 17 are getting the recommended amount of calcium. Their diets are too low in dairy products, fruits, and vegetables and too high in low-calcium beverages such as sodas. Older adults are advised to consume 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams a day of calcium. Studies suggest that only about 50 to 60 percent of adults get enough calcium.
5. What about taking supplements?
Calcium and vitamin D supplements can help many people. The preferred source of calcium is dietary, but supplements may be necessary for people who don't get recommended intake from food.
6. What can someone do to prevent bone loss?
Physical activity is necessary for building and keeping strong bones through adulthood. Early in life and into the middle years, weight-bearing exercise helps you achieve peak bone mass. Resistance and high-impact workouts probably provide the most benefit. In older adults, even past the age of 90, exercise can be crucial. Not only can it slow bone loss, it can also increase muscle mass and strength twofold or more, decreasing the risk of falls and fractures.
In the five to seven years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 20 percent of her bone density. Some men are also at risk. However, if you are found to have bone loss, treatments are available.
How far we’ve come
Although it’s not exclusively a female condition, osteoporosis is much more prevalent in women than in men. Office visits for the bone-thinning disease have increased fivefold in the past 10 years, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. This indicates more women are seeking diagnosis and treatment.
In addition, women are more aware than ever of the impact that choices made early in life can have on their future bone health. They’re also recognizing the importance of early detection through bone density testing—vitally important because osteoporosis has no symptoms. Many medications are available now that can help slow or even stop the progression of osteoporosis.
Need a Screening?
Guidelines call for all women to get screened for osteoporosis in their 60s, however, you will want to start talking to your doctor about bone density testing in your 50s. Some men need testing too. Ask your doctor if you should schedule this test.
Angelo Capricchione, MD, is a fellowship-trained endocrinologist at Bingham Memorial Hospital, and is board certified in the treatment of osteoporosis, diabetes, and thyroid disorders. If you think you’re at risk or need a screening, please contact Dr. Capricchione’s office at (208) 785-3865. He is always welcoming new patients in Blackfoot and Pocatello.