A Guide to Osteoporosis

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition where a person gradually loses bone material especially calcium, so that the bones become gradually more fragile and brittle.

What causes Osteoporosis?

As middle age approaches the bones very gradually begin to lose their density. This loss or thinning of
the bones continues as we get older.

This process speeds up in women in the 10 years after the menopause. This is caused by a reduction in the oestrogen produced by the ovaries. Some people are more at risk in developing osteoporosis than others:

  • Oestrogen deficiency. Early menopause (before 45) or hysterectomy
  • Lack of exercise. Exercise keeps the bones strong. Long illness and bedrest speeds up the process of osteoporosis.
  • Poor diet. A diet which does not contain enough calcium can encourage osteoporosis
  • Gastric disorders. Certain disorders of the stomach and gut may cause reduced absorption of
    nutrients including calcium.
  • Heavy smoking. Tobacco lowers the oestrogen level in women and may also cause early menopause
  • Heavy drinking. High alcohol intake reduces the ability of the body to make bone.
  • Water tablets. Some diuretics (used to lower blood pressure) may cause the loss of calcium in
    the urine.
  • Family history. Osteoporosis seems to run in some families.
  • Previous fractures. This may indicate a weakness in bones especially if the spine is affected.
  • Small stature/skeleton. Small, slender people may be more at risk as their mineral stock is small to start off with and as they get older any loss of calcium is more apparent.
  • Other possible causes are: High protein diet, too much sweets, lactose deficiency, stomach ulcer, stress, pregnancies and lactation, heavy periods, thyroid/parathyroid problems, steroids and other drugs, antibiotics, poor sunlight, poor water, some vitamin deficiencies ie Vit C, D, sodium fluoride and magnesium.

What can you do to prevent or slow down osteoporosis?

Unfortunately if you are already suffering from advanced osteoporosis there is very little you can do to reverse or change this situation especially if you are over 70. So prevention is better than cure for this disorder.

  • Have a healthy diet. Eat lots of milk based products which are low in fat (if milk does not upset your stomach!). Other foods: Fish, bread, seeds esp sesame/tahini, low fat yoghurt, green vegetables and salads with lots of lemon juice, brown rice,
  • Take regular supplements with calcium and vitamin D
  • Take regular exercises
  • Stop smoking
  • Drink in moderation
  • If you have an early menopause speak to your doctor. HRT may be one of the options you can consider. There are some natural plant remedies which may help to stimulate your hormones. For these you will need to see a qualified medical herbalist.
  • If you already have osteoporosis you may be advised to take drugs such as; Etidronate (Didronel), Alendronate (Fosamax) with Calcium & Vit D.
  • Calcitonin injections may be prescribed by your specialist if he thinks you need them.

How do I know I have osteoporosis?

Unfortunately you cannot tell that you have osteoporosis until it becomes severe and by this stage is usually too late to reverse the damage. If you are at a high risk group in one of the above categories then you may ask your GP to send you to a hospital for a special bone scan, called DEXA.

If you have any of the following then you may also suspect osteoporosis and you should seek advice:

  • Generalised aches and pains
  • Constant back pain
  • An abnormal curve in your back or loss of height
  • Bone fractures following an apparent minor injury
  • Muscle spasms
  • Or any of the conditions mentioned above.

Finally

Leading an active healthy life and maintaining a diet with lots of calcium is the best way of preventing osteoporosis. Taking regular exercises is possibly the best policy in the long term. If you are not sure how to go about setting up an exercise and nutritional programme speak to your doctor or Osteopath