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Osteoporosis & Osteopenia Risk Factors & Tips

Osteopenia refers to bone mineral density (BMD) that is lower than normal peak BMD but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become porous and fragile from mineral loss. Osteoporosis treatment is often introduced after the disease process has caused considerable damage. It progresses painlessly until a fracture occurs - typically in the wrist, hips or spine. While any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, the hip and spine are particularly vulnerable.

We begin to lose calcium from the bones early on in life-around age 30 for white males and black females, and around 18 for white females. Recent studies suggest that girls may start losing calcium from their bones as early as age 13. Black males do not, as a rule, suffer from osteoporosis.

Here are the primary risk factors for osteoporosis and ways to prevent the condition:

Sedentary Lifestyle
The strength of our bones depends very much on the amount of physical activity we build into our lives. Regular, weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running, hiking and weight training all help to drive calcium into the bones.

Drinking Carbonated Beverages
The phosphates in most sparkling drinks cause calcium to be leached from the bones.

Too Much Coffee or Tea
Caffeine is a diuretic drug, increasing the flow of urine and associated loss of calcium and other minerals. (Adding milk to coffee or tea may partially offset this wastage.)

Menopause
Following menopause, when female hormone levels wane, calcium is leached from the bones. (Estrogen helps the bones to retain calcium.) Surgical menopause (removal of the uterus and ovaries), also precipitates calcium loss.

Use of Certain Drugs
Chronic use of anti-inflammatory steroids, excessive doses of thyroid medication or anticonvulsive drugs can contribute towards bone loss.

Thin, Small Build
Caucasian women with fine bone structure have an increased risk.

Not Enough Calcium in Your Diet
The recommended daily intake of elemental calcium is 1,200 mg a day for adult women, between 1,500 and 1,800 mg a day if you are pregnant or lactating, and 1,500 mg a day if you have passed menopause. It is also important to include magnesium and vitamin D in your diet to help the absorption of calcium. (Many calcium supplements are now formulated with magnesium and vitamin D.)

Preventing Falls

Preventing falls is particularly important for people with osteoporosis since falls increase the likelihood of fracturing a bone in the hip, wrist, spine or other part of the body. In addition to the environmental factors listed below, falls can also result from impaired vision and/or balance, chronic diseases that impair mental or physical functioning and certain medications such as sedatives and antidepressants. It is also important to note that alcohol and certain medications do not mix well and can result in dizziness and loss of balance. If you have osteoporosis, it is important that you be aware of any physical changes (aches, loss of vision and hearing, etc.) you may be experiencing that may affect your balance or the way you move. These changes should be discussed with your doctor or other healthcare practitioner.

Some tips to help eliminate the environmental factors that lead to falls include:

When Outdoors

  • Use a cane or walker to increase stability.
  • Wear rubber-soled shoes to improve traction.
  • Walk on grass when the sidewalks are slippery.
  • In winter, consider carrying salt or kitty litter to sprinkle on icy sidewalks.
  • Use carpet runners to increase traction in slippery outdoor areas such as patios.

When Indoors

  • Keep rooms clutter-free, especially the floors.
  • Mop up floor spills. Highly polished floors can become particularly slippery if wet.
  • Wear supportive, low-healed shoes.
  • Avoid walking in socks, stockings, or slippers. Use footwear with "skid-proof treads."
  • Make sure that carpets and area rugs have skid-proof backing or are tacked to the floor.
  • Make sure that stairs have handrails on both sides and that stairwells are well lit.
  • Install grab bars on bathroom walls near tub, shower, and toilet.
  • Use a rubber bath mat or appliques in shower or tub. Clean often to remove slippery soap-scum.
  • Keep a flashlight with fresh batteries beside your bed.
  • If you use a step stool to access hard to reach areas, make sure it is sturdy with a handrail and wide steps.
  • Consider using a cordless phone to avoid having to rush to answer the phone. Carry it with you so that you can call for help if you do fall.
  • There is no need to rush to answer the phone, open a door or reach for things as rushing can decrease your ability to balance

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