Osteoporosis: Bone up on causes and early warnings

Representational image, courtesy: SoftSheep/Shutterstock

Every year World Osteoporosis Day is observed on October 20. Are you aware of the fact that our bone tissues get old over the time, break down and are constantly in the process of renewing themselves? Fractured bones heal faster at a young age, and the speed of the repair process slows down after a person attains the age of 20. Human beings mostly reach their peak bone mass by the age of 30. Ageing causes the bone to lose its strength, much faster than the pace at which it gains toughness.

The manner in which a person acquires bone mass during childhood is a determining factor that underscores his/her chances in developing osteoporosis at a later stage. The stronger the bone gets, the lesser are its chances of being vulnerable to the disease. High bone strength is often governed by hereditary factors.

Factors that lead to the disease

Many factors contribute to the health condition called osteoporosis, some of them can be easily controlled and others not. Women, unlike men, stand a higher risk of developing the disease. Age is also a factor as the risk of getting osteoporosis increases with age. The risk factor is also higher in people hailing from the continents of Europe and Asia and also among the offsprings of parents with a broken hip or spine. Short men and women are also more likely to have fragile bones and they tend to lose bone density.

Hormones play the villain

The hormonal levels in the body also influence osteoporosis. The deficiency of sex hormone will tend to weaken the bone. The decline in estrogen production in postmenopausal women may lead to the disease. Treatments for prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women will lower the testosterone and estrogen levels respectively, and may ultimately set the stage for osteoporosis.

Increase in thyroid hormone levels is also a villain. Studies show that bone thinning happens when thyroid is overactive or while taking medicines for underactive thyroids. Parathyroid glands and endocrine glands have a strong association with osteoporosis.

Food for thought

Life-long intake of food low in calcium content increases the risk of bone thinning and fracture, as it weakens the inner strength of bone. The weakness caused due to the consumption of less amount of food would also lead to bone loss. Abdominal surgeries, performed mostly for gastric issues or weight loss, quite often affects the body's ability to absorb nutrients, including calcium, and subsequently affects the bone health.

Drug-induced osteoporosis

Bone tissues, as mentioned earlier, are constantly renewing themselves. The process is bound to go off track when certain drugs that can inhibit the rebuilding capacity of the bone cells are administered into the body. Corticosteroids that are prescribed for treating epilepsy, cancer, organ rejection after transplant and gastric reflex, and injections will build a barrier to bone renewal.

Influenced by medical problems

People who are experiencing celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney-liver related issues, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis are prone to the risk of osteoporosis.

A couple of lifestyle factors also have a role to play. A fair amount of physical activity helps to maintain good bone health. For instance, a person who leads an inactive life, sitting long hours are more likely to develop osteoporosis than his counterpart who walks around.

It is possible to improve bone health through weight-bearing activities and aerobics. Walking, running, jumping, dancing, weight-lifting are a few low-impact exercises that would enhance bone strength. Mind you, heavy alcohol use makes the bones brittle.


Bone injury, especially in the hip or spine, is the most complex manifestation of osteoporosis. Hip fracture is the most devastating form of osteoporotic fracture. The hip bone gets broken mostly during a fall, and such cases have an increased risk of death during the first year after the accident or render the person physically crippled for the rest of the life.

It is not necessary that a person needs to experience a fall to realize that he/she is osteoporotic. Quite often, it manifests in the form of debilitating the small bones called vertebra that are part of the spinal column, and sometimes topple the arrangement of the bones that are stacked on top of each other, causing excruciating back pain and loss of height.

Steps to be taken to protect bones

Eat plenty of nutritious food daily and do regular exercise. Use less-fat dairy products to get the best of calcium for the body. Include dark green leafy vegetables, mackerel, sardine and soya in the diet. Make pulses, which are rich sources of calcium, and orange juice part of diet plan. Take calcium supplements only in case the body is not able to get sufficient amount of calcium from food.

It is noteworthy that excess calcium level in the body would lead to kidney stone formation. Medical experts feel there is a plausible connection between excess calcium level and cardiac issues.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in enhancing the bone strength as it aids the body in absorbing calcium. Cod liver oil, freshwater fish, red snapper and a few dairy products are known to have high levels of Vitamin D.

Is exercise good or bad?

Exercise for any age group always aids in building strong bones, increases the bone density and prevents bone loss. But the maximum benefits of good exercise can be achieved only by those serious-minded who religiously make it a part of their life.

Choose exercise regimes that strengthen the body and practise balance exercise methods. The first one bolsters the muscles of the hands and upper back region. It is best to practise walking, jogging, running, climbing stairs, skipping etc to strengthen the bones of the legs, hip region and lower back.

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