PREVENTION IS KEY
Osteoporosis: the silent disease that weakens your bones
Osteoporosis Disease: Osteoporosis is a bone-weakening disease that does not show symptoms until it may be too late. The good news is that it can be prevented and stopped with a healthy lifestyle and medical supervision. We offer you all the keys to achieve it.
Many people think that if they had osteoporosis, they would know it because they would notice bone or muscle pain. But the reality is very different: osteoporosis weakens bones, makes them brittle, and increases the risk of fractures without you even realizing it. And even at an early age.
OSTEOPOROSIS, A COMMON AND DANGEROUS DISEASE
Osteoporosis is known as the “silent disease or epidemic.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO).
But it is not only this. It is a disease that is not given importance. According to a survey carried out by a biopharmaceutical company, only 30% of us prioritize this disease. It is known that 1 in 4 people who break their hip dies within a year after the fracture happens.
WHAT IS OSTEOPOROSIS?
The WHO defines osteoporosis as “a systemic disease, characterized by a decrease in bone mass and a deterioration of the microarchitecture of bone tissue that increases its fragility, with the consequent increase in the risk of fracture.”
FIRST SYMPTOMS OF OSTEOPOROSIS
The problem is that there are no first symptoms because, by the time when you find the bone, it is already affected. As Doctors research, “although it is believed to cause pain, the truth is that when you have osteoporosis, the bone does not hurt. Some patients do not know that they have it until a bone fracture or vertebral crush occurs”.
And, far from what you might think, it is unnecessary to take a big hit or suffer a spectacular fall. “Sometimes a simple sneeze, a slight movement, or a cough cause the break,” adds the expert. The most common fractures caused by osteoporosis are those of the wrist, spine, and hip.
MENOPAUSE AND HORMONAL CHANGE INFLUENCE OSTEOPOROSIS
Although this disease can begin at an early age, even from 30, it usually appears from 55, after menopause, when estrogen levels.
Female sex hormones with a protective action on bone mass – decrease considerably and, together with the loss of calcium from the bones typical of aging, accelerate bone mass loss.
HOW OSTEOPOROSIS IS DIAGNOSE
There are several methods to diagnose it:
- Bone densitometry. It is a painless test, similar to an X-ray scan, that measures bone density in the lumbar spine, hips, and wrist. The result determines if the value is standard or, on the contrary, you have osteopenia –low bone mass–, osteoporosis, or severe osteoporosis.
- Genetic test. It is using as an adjunct to diagnosis. The test detects possible alterations in the genes related to bone loss. It allows us to know if hormone replacement therapy will slow down bone mass loss during menopause.
- 3D reconstruction. It will enable applying virtually different forces, almost like which an individual is subjected to their lifestyle. In this way, the patient’s bone’s real resistance is understood, and an early diagnosis of the disease is formed.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR OSTEOPOROSIS
- Early menopause If you have had early menopause –before 40 years old– or early –before 45– pay special attention. According to research from the Skane University Hospital (Sweden), women who stop menstruating early are twice as likely to develop osteoporosis. This is because menopause reduces the level of estrogen, the hormone that takes care of our bones.
- Be over 45 years old, as we add years, the chances of developing osteoporosis multiply. According to experts, from 30, we lose approximately 1% of bone mass per year. The cause: they no longer regenerate in the same way. From the age of 40, bone loss can reach up to 5% annually.
Especially in the period between 5 to 10 years after the onset of menopause. For this reason, osteoporosis is more common between the ages of 50 and 65.
- Being low in weight. Being very thin – with a body mass index (BMI) less than 20 – can lead to osteoporosis development. According to experts, body fat enhances estrogen production, the female sex hormones involved in bone generation.
- Neither is being overweight good. According to a study by Harvard Medical School (USA), an excess of abdominal fat means that if you have more fat in your bone marrow, it can hinder the new bone formation and weaken the existing one.
- Use of corticosteroids. These drugs, used to treat asthma, arthritis, allergies, or psoriasis, can decrease the number of osteoblasts and the cells responsible for bone formation if taken for long periods.
- Family background. 70% of Bone mass you can discover genetically. If your mother, sisters, aunts, and grandmother have had osteoporosis, your chances of having it increase. The good news is that your lifestyle habits determine the other 30%, so taking care of yourself is your best insurance.
- Being a smoker, Smokers’ bones lose density and are more prone to fractures. The cause: Smoking prevents the proper metabolism of estrogens, the female hormones that protect bone health.
- Thyroid problems or diabetes, chronic kidney, or liver failure. Osteoporosis also appears associated with some disorders and diseases. If, for example, your thyroid produces excess hormones – you have hyperthyroidism – your metabolism speeds up, and the rate of bone loss increases. Likewise, suppose you have diabetes, chronic kidney or liver failure. In that case, your bones suffer to a greater extent from the inhibition of bone formation and, therefore, your bone weakness increases and, unfortunately, with it, the possibility of suffering fractures.
PREVENTION IS THE KEY TO AVOIDING OSTEOPOROSIS
The three pillars to avoid osteoporosis are proper diet, sunbathing for a reasonable amount of time, and exercise.
- What to eat to prevent. You have to eat a healthy diet, in the style of the Mediterranean diet and not think that calcium does not come only from dairy products but also from nuts, such as almonds; cereals, such as oatmeal or rice; seeds, such as poppy or sesame seeds; or vegetables, mostly green leafy ones.
- Walking, the best exercise to prevent osteoporosis. It is easy to practice and does not need equipment or spend gym fees to be done daily. Therefore, doctors highly suggest walking. In general, to strengthen the bone, an exercise that makes you work against gravity is recommended, such as walking, going up and down stairs, riding a bike, doing weights, dancing. This rules out water sports. And although a little impact helps fix calcium in the bone, high impact sports (running, jumping, tennis) are not suitable either.
- A must go to the sun. Sunlight allows us to synthesize vitamin D when its rays affect our skin, but, unfortunately, it is prevalent to have a deficiency of this vitamin since, apart from the sun, few foods provide it. They do so in low proportions (only fish fatty, mushrooms, butter). Doctors usually advise 15 minutes of sunbathing all year without sun protection. Still, a study by the Polytechnic University of Valencia found that this depends on the year’s season. Thus, for example, in summer, it is enough with about 10 minutes of exposure to the sun of 25% of the surface of our skin (and better if it is the belly); but in winter, it may take 130 minutes with an exposure of 10% of the skin surface.
TREATMENT OF OSTEOPOROSIS
Your doctor will review your medical history, family history, and risk factors. If he thinks your bones may be weak, he will do densitometry. Depending on the result, if it considers it necessary, it will look for the drug that best suits your needs.
- Supplementation. If the bone becomes weak (osteopenia) or if you have other problems, such as lactose intolerance, for example, your doctor may prescribe calcium supplements. You can also prescribe vitamin D supplements. In any case, supplementation is under constant review as studies are coming out that question its effectiveness, such as an international investigation in which the Valdecilla Health Research Institute (Cantabria) has participated. And published in the British Medical Journal, which has concluded that “interventions aimed at increasing bone mass and muscle function are more likely to prevent fractures than widespread calcium and vitamin D supplementation.”
- Hormone replacement therapy. When the disease has already been notified, or the densitometry advises it, other drugs may be recommended. Among the most common are hormone replacement therapy, which compensates for estrogen loss during menopause – and bisphosphonates, which decrease fracture incidence.
- Other drugs. Other drugs are shown in additional specific cases, like denosumab, which blocks and reduces bone breakdown and increases bone density, or strontium ranelate, which increases bone mineral density and reduces the danger of fracture.