Top Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis literally means porous bone, and that describes exactly what this disease causes: weak, brittle bones that are more susceptible to breaks and fractures even from regular daily activities, such as coughing or lifting a bag of groceries.
Osteoporosis can greatly reduce quality of life, which is why it is so important to understand the risk factors for osteoporosis, so that smart lifestyle choices can be made to lower your risk of getting the disease. If osteoporosis is left untreated, it can cause fractures, breaks and prevent many of life’s normal activities.
Here’s everything you need to know about osteoporosis, its risk factors and what can be done to reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.
The first step is understanding how bones grow and evolve. Though you might think of bones as a static part of your body that are always there, in reality our bones are an ever-changing and living organ.
Bones naturally go through a process of breaking down and rebuilding. Early in life, our bodies accumulate bone density that will be with us throughout the rest of our lives, which is why during this window it is so crucial for children and adolescents to eat healthy diets, get exercise and get plenty of calcium.
After the age of 30, this process slows, and bone loss begins to happen faster than regrowth. (However, if you are past the age of 30 and thinking all hope is lost, this is not necessarily the case!)
Risk Factors for Developing Osteoporosis
In a normal day, you might not give much thought to your bone density and health, but when facing osteoporosis, your bone health suddenly demands your attention. After all, without strong, healthy bones to support your muscles and entire body, daily life as usual becomes challenging, if not impossible.
Osteoporosis can affect both men and women of all ages and backgrounds, however, in general, those of small size and weight, especially middle aged to older women tend to be at greater risk. Being white also tends to increase one’s risk of developing osteoporosis.
Outside of demographics, many risk factors can cause osteoporosis on their own or contribute to its development:
- Poor bone mass built up early in life
- Excess alcohol use (more than two drinks per day on a regular basis
- Race (if you are white you are at greater risk)
- Family history (in particular if you have had a mom or dad break a hip)
- A history of limiting caloric intake, such as with chronic dieters or those with eating disorders
- Frame size (smaller individuals tend to be at greater risk)
- Lack of calcium
- Lack of vitamin D
- Taking steroid and corticosteroid medications (such as in asthma inhalers, prednisone, or to treat seizures)
- Certain medical conditions like kidney or liver conditions, celiac disease, lupus, or cancer
- A sedentary lifestyle (particularly one lacking weight-bearing movements)
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What Can Be Done to Prevent or Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis?
If you find yourself identifying with several or many of the above risk factors, do not worry – all hope is not lost and our daily lifestyle choices and controllable factors like supplementation are still extremely important.
Making Proper Dietary Choices
Dietary choices play a huge role in preventing or reducing the risk of osteoporosis, which should be empowering since we are all in control of our daily food choices. Most people know the importance of calcium in building and keeping strong bones, but also make sure your diet includes plenty of high protein foods, leafy greens and enough calories in general for your bodyweight.
Monitoring Calcium Intake
When it comes to calcium, those under the age of 50 should be getting around 1,000 milligrams a day. This amount is very doable if you are eating a combination of many calcium-rich foods like leafy vegetables, soy products like tofu, calcium-fortified products, etc. If you struggle to get the daily amount, a supplement can be taken to make up the difference.
In addition to watching your calcium and eating healthy food, doing daily exercises that include weight bearing movements, putting pressure on the body (dancing, jogging, running) and impact-producing sports also play a huge role in keeping bones strong.
Getting Enough Vitamin D
Getting ample amounts of vitamin D is also essential. In fact, no matter how adequate your calcium intake is, your body cannot utilize the calcium without enough vitamin D. Most people assume they are getting enough from the sun, but in reality, many of us are low. Even if you are in a sunny climate, it is important to get a blood test to make sure levels are where they should be. If they are low, your doctor will prescribe a supplement that helps you reach the recommended 600 to 800 IU a day.
Take Control of Your Health
While many risk factors of developing osteoporosis may be unpreventable unfortunately (genetics, family history, certain necessary medications, or lifestyle choices in the past that you cannot undo), there are also many factors that you can control. The more you know about osteoporosis and its risk factors, the more conscious you can be to make sure your calcium, protein and vitamin D levels are where they need to be. You can also take steps to add in or continue weight-bearing, impact-producing exercises, and make sure it is a regular part of your life. Avoiding medications that increase risk should only be done under the supervision of your doctor who you should discuss your individual risk factor of osteoporosis with.