Osteoporosis is a bone disease that occurs as a result of excessive bone loss. When this happens, the bones become weak and brittle, making them more likely to break. For people with osteoporosis, even minor slips and falls can lead to fractured bones. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), healthy bones resemble a honeycomb when viewed under a microscope. But with bones affected by osteoporosis, holes in the bone are much larger than normal. The bones themselves are more porous and less dense.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), over 40 million Americans either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to bone loss. The NOF reports that about one in two women and up to one in four men aged 50 and older will break a bone because of osteoporosis. In some cases, osteoporosis can affect the spine. This can lead to poor posture and a hunched appearance.
Causes for Osteoporosis
A variety of factors can cause osteoporosis and bone loss. Because women have less bone tissue than men, they are more susceptible to bone issues. Growing older, having a small body frame, and having a family history of osteoporosis all increase the risk.
The good news is that osteoporosis can be prevented. According to the National Osteoporosis Society, diet and exercise can help maintain bone health and strengthen bones in the long run. Calcium and vitamin D play a vital role in preventing bone loss, as well. (About 99% of the body’s calcium is located in bones and teeth.) Weight-bearing exercises like dancing, hiking, tennis, jogging and aerobics are also thought to strengthen bones.
For those who have already experienced some degree of bone loss, drugs called bisphosphonates can help in slowing its progression. (Boniva is a popular bisphosphonate.) According to the NOF, osteoporosis is behind two million broken bones and $19 billion in related costs each year.