The word osteoporosis literally means "porous bones." It occurs when bones lose an excessive amount of their protein and mineral content, particularly calcium. Over time, bone density, and therefore bone strength, is decreased. As a result, bones become fragile and break easily. Even a sneeze or a sudden movement may be enough to break a bone in someone with severe osteoporosis.
Bone is a living tissue that is constantly being renewed and broken down throughout your life. During childhood and early adulthood, more bone is produced than removed, reaching its maximum mass and strength by the mid-30s. After that, bone is lost at a faster pace than it is formed, so the amount of bone in the skeleton begins to slowly decline.
The disease can affect any bone, but the most common locations are the hip, spine and wrist. Breaks in the hip and spine are of special concern because they almost always require hospitalisation and major surgery.
Osteoporosis occurs most often in older people and in women after the menopause. It affects nearly half of men and women over the age of 75. Women are about five times more likely than men to develop the disease. They have smaller, thinner bones than men and they lose bone mass more rapidly after the menopause (usually around the age of 50), when they stop producing estrogen, which is a bone protecting hormone. In the five to seven years following menopause, women can lose about 20% of their bone mass. By the age of 65 or 70, though, men and women lose bone mass at the same rate. So as you get older, bones become more fragile and are more likely to break.
The way you live your life plays a part in keeping your bones strong. Eating meals that contain a wide variety of foods from the four main groups is essential. These are fruit and vegetables; carbohydrates like bread, potatoes, pasta and cereals; milk and dairy products and proteins like meat, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds. A healthy balanced diet will help provide all the vitamins, minerals and energy you need to live life to the full and keep your bones healthy and also reduce the risk of other chronic diseases.
Calcium is vital for strength and rigidity in teeth and bones. The daily recommended amount is 700mg and most people should be able to get enough through healthy eating. Calcium rich foods are dairy products like cheese, milk, yoghurt and fish. For example 1 oz of hard cheese contains 240 mg of calcium.
Calcium is a mineral that is an essential part of bones and teeth. It is used for treatment and prevention of low calcium levels and resulting bone conditions including osteoporosis (weak bones due to low bone density), rickets (a condition in children involving softening of the bones), and osteomalacia (a softening of bones involving pain).
The bones and teeth contain over 99% of the calcium in the human body. Calcium is also found in the blood, muscles, and other tissue. Calcium in the bones can be used as a reserve that can be released into the body as needed. The concentration of calcium in the body tends to decline as we age because it is released from the body through sweat, skin cells, and waste. In addition, as women age, absorption of calcium tends to decline due to reduced estrogen levels.
Vitamin D is essential to help your body absorb calcium. The daily recommended amount is 400 IU (International Units) or 10 micrograms. The action of sunlight on the skin is the best source of Vitamin D, but as we know, sunlight is not always in plentiful supply in the UK! When possible, between May and September, expose bare skin to ten minutes of sunshine once or twice a day, without sunscreen and of course taking care not to burn.
This will help your body produce enough Vitamin D to see you through the winter. The other main source of Vitamin D is your diet. Vitamin D is oil soluble, which means you need to eat fat to absorb it. It is naturally found mainly in fish oils, fatty fish, and to a lesser extent in beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. For example 1 oz of salmon has 80 IU or 2 micrograms of Vitamin D. However, many older or frailer people may benefit from supplements of both Vitamin D and calcium.
Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium in the body, which is needed to keep bones and teeth healthy.
Regular weight bearing exercises also help to keep your bones strong. This is any exercise where you are supporting your own weight, e.g. jogging, aerobics, dancing, tennis and brisk walking. Other exercise like swimming, gardening, golf and Tai Chi can help maintain balance and coordination.
If you have any concerns or simply wish to know more, talk to your GP or contact the National Osteoporosis Society 01761 471 771 or 0845 130 3076.
This information was taken with permission from the NHS Choices website.