Women More at Risk
Osteoporosis affects more women than men because the hormone oestrogen plays a crucial role in the female body’s ability to use dietary calcium to build new bone. As a result, when you approach or are in menopause, the reduction in the body’s oestrogen production deprives bones of calcium. Some 20-30 percent of bone loss in women occurs in the first five years after menopause, a critical time when a precondition called osteopenia often develops.
Not Just the Elderly
Bone loss can also occur in younger women whose oestrogen levels have dropped due to the removal of their ovaries, and in athletes whose ability to produce oestrogen may be hindered by low levels of body fat.
Hormonal changes can also contribute to osteoporosis in men as can long-term use of medications such as anticonvulsants and corticosteroids.
Symptoms to Watch
- Back pain and, less commonly, pain in the chest, hip, wrist and pelvic area.
- Pain that is mechanical in nature, although it may appear spontaneously or be caused by effort or trauma.
- Loss of height (due to the compression of the spinal column).
- Increased tendency to suffer fractures after relatively minor falls.
Prevention the Best Medicine
Keep these eight bone-building tips in mind:
- Ensure the whole family eats calcium-rich foods on a daily basis. Anyone who is at risk should also consider taking a calcium supplement (choose one with important co-factors such as vitamin D and the minerals magnesium and silica).
- Avoid inactivity: Walk regularly, or work out. Weight-bearing exercise throughout life is especially important because it offers some protection against osteoporosis. Be sure to ask your doctor for guidelines on what and how much exercise is safe for you.
- Limit beverages that leach calcium from your bones. Restrict alcoholic drinks to one a day if you’re a woman, two if you’re a man. Draw the line at two cups of caffeinated coffee per day.
- If you smoke, quit. Tobacco interferes with your normal bone metabolism, contributing to osteoporosis.
- Make alterations to your home and office to prevent falls. Tack rugs down or use a slip-proof backing to lessen the chances of falls. Install handrails in key places, such as in the bath or shower.
- Don’t run for buses or trains. Rushing increases your chances of tripping.
- If you think you may be at risk of osteoporosis, discuss the possibility of bone density scanning with your GP. Men and women aged 70 and over are now covered for this on Medicare.
- Amenorrhoea (absence of menstrual periods) is associated with reduced oestrogen levels and increased risk of osteoporosis. If you are affected, work with your GP to identify the cause.
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