Why does bone health matter?
Our bones support us and allow us to move. They protect our brain, heart, and other organs from injury. Our bones also store minerals such as calcium and phosphorous, which help keep our bones strong, and release them into the body when we need them for other uses.
There are many things we can do to keep our bones healthy and strong. Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, getting plenty of exercise, and having good health habits help keep our bones healthy.
But if we don’t eat right and don’t get enough of the right kinds of exercise, our bones can become weak and even break. Broken bones (called fractures) can be painful and sometimes need surgery to heal. They can also cause long-lasting health problems.
But the good news is that it is never too late to take care of your bones.
What is osteoporosis?
There are many kinds of bone diseases. The most common one is osteoporosis (AH-stee-oh-por-OH-sis). With osteoporosis, our bones become weak and are more likely to break. People with osteoporosis most often break bones in the wrist, spine, and hip.
Our bones are alive. Every day, our body breaks down old bone and puts new bone in its place. As we get older, our bones break down more bone than they put back. It is normal to lose some bone as we age. But, if we do not take steps to keep our bones healthy, we can lose too much bone and get osteoporosis.
Many people have weak bones and don’t even know it. That’s because bone loss often happens over a long period of time and doesn’t hurt. For many people, a broken bone is the first sign that they have osteoporosis.
Who gets osteoporosis?
There are many things that can increase your chances of getting osteoporosis. These things are called “risk factors.” Some risk factors are things you can control, and some things are outside of your control.
Risk factors you can control:
- Diet. Getting too little calcium can increase your chances of getting osteoporosis. Not getting enough vitamin D can also increase your risk for the disease. Vitamin D is important because it helps the body use the calcium in your diet.
- Physical activity. Not exercising and not being active for long periods of time can increase your chances of getting osteoporosis. Like muscles, bones become stronger – and stay stronger – with regular exercise.
- Body weight. Being too thin makes you more likely to get osteoporosis.
- Smoking. Smoking cigarettes can keep your body from using the calcium in your diet. Also, women who smoke go through menopause earlier than those who don’t smoke. These things can increase your risk for osteoporosis.
- Alcohol. People who drink a lot are more likely to get osteoporosis.
- Medicines. Certain medicines can cause bone loss. These include a type of medicine called glucocorticoids (gloo-ko-KOR-ti-koids). Glucocortiocoids are given to people who have arthritis, asthma, and many other diseases. Some other medicines that prevent seizures and that treat endometriosis (en-do-me-tree-O-sis), a disease of the uterus, and cancer can cause bone loss, too.
Risk factors you cannot control:
- Age. Your chances of getting osteoporosis increase as you get older.
- Gender. You have a greater chance of getting osteoporosis if you are a woman. Women have smaller bones than men and lose bone faster than men do because of hormone changes that happen after menopause.
- Ethnicity. White women and Asian women are most likely to get osteoporosis. Hispanic women and African American women are also at risk, but less so.
- Family history. Having a close family member who has osteoporosis or has broken a bone may also increase your risk.
Am I really at risk?
Because more women get osteoporosis than men, many men think they are not at risk for the disease. Many Hispanic and African American women are not concerned about their bones either. They believe that osteoporosis is only a problem for white women. However, it is a real risk for older men and women from all backgrounds.
Also, people from certain ethnic backgrounds may be more likely to have other health problems that increase their risk for bone loss. If you have one of the following health problems, talk to your doctor about your bone health:
How do I know if I have osteoporosis?
Since osteoporosis does not have any symptoms until a bone breaks, it is important to talk to your doctor about your bone health. If your doctor feels that you are at risk for osteoporosis, he or she may order a bone density test. A bone density test measures how strong – or dense – your bones are and whether you have osteoporosis. It can also tell you what your chances are of breaking a bone. Bone density tests are quick, safe, and painless.
What can I do to make my bones healthier?
It is never too early or too late to take care of your bones. The following steps can help you improve your bone health:
- Eat a well-balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, and foods and drinks with added calcium. Good sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and milk with vitamin D. Some people may need to take nutritional supplements in order to get enough calcium and vitamin D. The charts below show how much calcium and vitamin D you need each day. Fruits and vegetables also contribute other nutrients that are important for bone health.
- Get plenty of physical activity. Like muscles, bones become stronger with exercise. The best exercises for healthy bones are strength-building and weight-bearing, like walking, climbing stairs, lifting weights, and dancing. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise each day.
- Live a healthy lifestyle. Don’t smoke, and, if you choose to drink alcohol, don’t drink too much.
- Talk to your doctor about your bone health. Go over your risk factors with your doctor and ask if you should get a bone density test. If you need it, your doctor can order medicine to help prevent bone loss and reduce your chances of breaking a bone.
- Prevent falls. Falling down can cause a bone to break, especially in someone with osteoporosis. But most falls can be prevented. Check your home for dangers like loose rugs and poor lighting. Have your vision checked regularly. Increase your balance and strength by walking every day and taking classes like Tai Chi, yoga, or dancing.
How can I join a research study?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducts research studies all over the country in which people take part as volunteers. These studies help uncover new risk factors and treatments for osteoporosis and other diseases.
There are many benefits to being part of a research study, such as getting related medical care at no charge and, in some cases, help with travel and other costs. Also, study volunteers are seen by a team of experts and are often among the first to receive new treatments ahead of the general public. Many volunteers take part in the research simply because they want to help others with the same disease, both today and in the future.
More information on research is available from the following websites:
- NIH Clinical Research Trials and You was designed to help people learn more about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate. Visitors to the website will find information about the basics of participating in a clinical trial, first-hand stories from clinical trial volunteers, explanations from researchers, and links on how to search for a trial or enroll in a research-matching program.
- ClinicalTrials.gov offers up-to-date information for locating federally and privately supported clinical trials for a wide range of diseases and conditions.
- NIH RePORTER is an electronic tool that allows users to search a repository of both intramural and extramural NIH-funded research projects from the past 25 years and access publications (since 1985) and patents resulting from NIH funding.
- PubMed is a free service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine that lets you search millions of journal citations and abstracts in the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, and preclinical sciences.
Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Oregon is an award-winning, board-certified orthopedic group located in downtown Portland Oregon. We utilize both surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors and congenital disorders.
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Our expert physicians provide leading-edge, comprehensive care in the diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions, including total joint replacement and sports medicine. We apply the latest state-of-the-art techniques in order to return our patients to their active lifestyle.
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