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Preventing Osteoporosis

On the left is normal bone and the right is osteoporotic bone tissue.

Bones are actually living tissue that is constantly changing. Bones develop and strengthen from birth until young adulthood, being the densest in our early 20s. Remodeling is a term used to describe the aging process of bones with bone cells dissolving bone matrix called resorption and new bone cells depositing osteoid called formation. Factors causing an increase in this remodeling will lead to a more rapid increase in loss of bone mass and increase the fragility of bones.

        Osteoporosis is another name for porous bone. This disease occurs when the bone’s density and quality are reduced because bone loss is greater than bone growth. Bones become more brittle and the risk for fracture increases when porous bones become fragile. Osteoporosis occurs gradually and progressively, without any symptoms.

        Both men and women are at risk for osteoporotic fractures with one in three women compared to one in five men around the world. Most commonly, these types of fractures occur at the hip, spine and wrist, and their likelihood of occurrence increases with age. Fractures can be serious, often requiring surgery and loss of independence. A Dowager’s Hump can result from spinal fractures causing a stooped posture and abnormal outward curvature of the upper back.

        We should be aware of risk factors for the development of osteoporosis. Some can be changed while others cannot, but all may indicate the need for earlier screening and proactive measures for prevention. Risk factors include age, being female, family history of osteoporosis, a previous fracture, ethnicity, menopausal, rheumatoid arthritis, and long-term steroid use. Modifiable risk factors are alcohol intake, smoking, poor nutrition, vitamin D deficiency, low dietary calcium intake and lack of exercise.

        Osteoporosis diagnosis is simple and noninvasive with a bone mineral density (BMD) test. Based on medical history and age, a provider will determine when such a test should be ordered. The DEXA scan measures spine and hip bone density and is the most common technique utilized for diagnosing osteoporosis.

        Osteoporosis increases the risk for a fracture, but lifestyle changes can help prevent having one. Because bone mass acquired in youth helps to determine the risk of osteoporotic fracture later in life, it is never too early to prevent the development of osteoporosis.

        Children and adolescents should engage in regular exercise, maintain adequate levels of vitamin D, and have proper nutrition and adequate calcium intake. The higher the peak bone mass, the lower the risk for osteoporosis.  Statistics show a 10 percent increase in a child’s bone mass reduces the risk of an osteoporotic fracture during adulthood by 50 percent.

        As adults, we want to lower the rate of remodeling. To do so, adults should ensure adequate nutrition and calcium intake, maintain a good supply of vitamin D, engage in weight-bearing activities, avoid smoking (including second-hand smoke), and limit alcohol intake.

Dr. Leta M. Vaughan, DNP, CNM, is a nurse practitioner with WomanCarePC. For more information, call 847-221-4800 or visit