Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle — so brittle that a fall or even mild stresses such as bending over or coughing can cause a fracture. Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine.
Bone is living tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn’t keep up with the loss of old bone.
Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races. But white and Asian women, especially older women who are past menopause, are at highest risk. Medications, healthy diet and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weak bones.
There typically are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. But once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you might have signs and symptoms that include:
- Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
- Loss of height over time
- A stooped posture
- A bone that breaks much more easily than expected
Your bones are in a constant state of renewal — new bone is made and old bone is broken down. When you’re young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone and your bone mass increases. After the early 20s this process slows, and most people reach their peak bone mass by age 30. As people age, bone mass is lost faster than it’s created.
How likely you are to develop osteoporosis depends partly on how much bone mass you attained in your youth. Peak bone mass is partly inherited and varies also by ethnic group. The higher your peak bone mass, the more bone you have “in the bank” and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age.
To maintain strong, healthy bones, you need a diet rich in calcium throughout your life. One cup of skim or 1 percent fat milk contains 300 milligrams of calcium.
Besides dairy products, other good sources of calcium are salmon with bones, sardines, kale, broccoli, calcium-fortified juices and breads, dried figs, and calcium supplements. It is best to try to get the calcium from food and drink.
For those who need supplements, remember that the body can only absorb 500 mg of calcium at a time. You should take your calcium supplements in divided doses, since anything more than 500 mg will not be absorbed.