What is osteoporosis?
'Osteo' means bone, and 'porosis' thinning or becoming more porous, so osteoporosis literally means 'thinning of bone.' It is commonly confused with the word osteoarthritis, which is a form of arthritis that results in breakdown of the cartilage covering the ends of bones. In contrast, osteoporosis is a condition where bone itself breaks down. Bones then become thin, brittle and easily broken. For example, sneezing can cause a person's rib to break or stumbling can lead to fracture of one of the bones in the spine.
Hip fractures are also common in people with osteoporosis, and can lead to immobility and hospitalization.
What causes osteoporosis?
There are many factors that are involved in causing osteoporosis. Having a combination of factors present increases a person's risk of bone loss and osteoporosis:
Bone is a living tissue that is continually growing and being removed. Bones usually reach their maximum mass when people are in their mid-thirties. At about age 40, more bone is removed (about 1% per year) than is made, and so the bones start to become weaker. In women the bone loss may reach 3 - 5 % per year during the first five to six years after menopause.
Some people with osteoporosis have other family members with it, which suggests that heredity may be a factor. Heredity also plays a role in a person's body type; having a small frame and bone structure may increase the chances of getting osteoporosis.
Lack of exercise
Because bone is a living tissue it needs exercise to stay strong. Normally through the activities of daily living such as walking, bending, stretching, and exercising, forces are imposed upon the bones. Bone responds to these forces by restructuring itself and becoming stronger. If you are not active your bones will become weaker over time because there is nothing for them to respond to. For example, if you had to wear a cast on a broken leg, the complete inactivity or immobility of that leg could result in rapid bone loss in the area. If you do not engage in regular activity and exercise throughout your life you could be more at risk of developing osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis can also be linked to changes in hormones. Hormones are substances produced by the body that help different organs run normally.
Certain hormones, such as estrogen, allow women to get pregnant. Estrogen is also a hormone that is important to maintaining bone strength. Once a woman enters menopause her estrogen levels fall. This affects how her bones process calcium and may lead to a more rapid loss of bone. For the first five or six years following menopause a woman can lose 3% to 5% of her bone density each year. In men, low levels of the hormone testosterone may have the same effect.
Engaging in strenuous training and sporting activity can also induce hormonal changes. Despite the building of bone that occurs naturally during exercise, the hormonal changes caused by very strenuous activity may result in net bone loss.
Bones need nourishment from calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorous. A poor diet lacking foods that contain these vitamins and minerals contributes to bone loss. Foods rich in calcium are especially necessary to maintaining healthy bones. Dairy products are a good source of calcium.
Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine-containing products such as tea, coffee or some sodas can stop your body from absorbing calcium. Smoking also contributes to bone loss.
Some medications, when taken in high doses, can influence how your body deals with calcium and so contribute to bone loss. These medications include cortisone/corticosteroids, anticoagulants, thyroid supplements, and some anti-convulsive drugs.
Other illnesses or diseases, such over-active thyroid, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis may also cause bone loss. A disease such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia can cause changes in a person's estrogen level and lead to osteoporosis.
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