Courtney Adams
Courtney is a science writer and communication specialist at LifeOmic that strives to make others excited about health and science.

Courtney Adams
Courtney is a science writer and communication specialist at LifeOmic that strives to make others excited about health and science.

What is osteoporosis and who is at risk?

Osteoporosis is a common bone condition that affects the overall strength of the bones in your body, making them weak and brittle. It’s caused by a loss in bone density, meaning your bone (osteo-) becomes porous (-porosis). The older you are, the more at risk you are for osteoporosis.

Around 54 million people in the United States either have osteoporosis or are at a high risk of developing it. Anybody can develop osteoporosis, but it is more common in older individuals. It’s also more common in women. In fact, about 50% of women and 25% of men over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.

Because osteoporosis makes bones porous, bones become weaker and more likely to break. So, it doesn’t take a bad fall to break a bone— just standing or walking can cause bones to break. Ribs, hips, wrists and bones in the spine are at a higher risk of breaking from routine activities. 

Bone with osteoperosis medical anatomy concept as a strong healthy and normal spongy tissue against unhealthy porous weak skeleton structure due to aging or illness.
Osteoporosis is caused by a loss in bone density, meaning your bone becomes porous. The left side of this picture shows a strong and healthy bone tissue, while the right side shows an unhealthy, porous bone structure.

Why should I care about bone health?

Bones have a lot of duties within the body. Most of your blood cells are made within the bone marrow— the spongy part of your bone. Your bones are also big storage banks! They store important minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, which can go into the bloodstream when needed. They also store fat, which can be broken down for energy. Bones do much more than protect our internal organs and work with our muscles to allow us to move! It’s important that we take care of them so they can continue to take care of us.

Why does Osteoporosis happen?

Your strong bones are made of living tissue, and that tissue is made up of cells. The cells inside your bones are constantly being broken down while new bone cells are also being formed. For the first few decades of your life, the rate at which new bone is made outpaces the breakdown process. This causes overall bone mass to increase. 

You reach peak bone mass at about age 30. The processes of bone breakdown and creation tend to level out for the next 20 years or so. But as you age, these processes begin to tip in the other direction. The breakdown of bone begins to outpace the creation of new bone, and the overall density of bone begins to decrease. 

Therefore, age is a large contributing factor to the development of osteoporosis. After you’ve reached your peak bone mass, it begins to decline about 1% per year. Menopause increases bone mass decline by 2% per year. This is because the hormone estrogen contributes to bone strength. During menopause, estrogen levels drop significantly, speeding up bone loss. A family history of osteoporosis also increases your risk of the disease.

Senior woman listens seriously as her physical therapist sits with her and holds a model of the human skeletal system. The therapist is discussing the affects of osteoporosis in posture and the reason for resulting pain.
Age is a large contributing factor to the development of osteoporosis. Menopause can accelerate bone loss.

Other risk factors that are out of your control are having a low body weight and a small-boned frame. Additionally, overactive thyroid, parathyroid or adrenal glands, hormone treatment for breast or prostate cancer, weight loss surgery, organ transplant, celiac disease or some blood diseases may increase your risk for osteoporosis. Lastly, some medications can impact bone health and increase your risk. 

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis and how do I know if I have it?

Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because it has few symptoms. Most often a fall will result in a diagnosis. To determine if you have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing it, your medical provider can use a DEXA scan. A DEXA scan assesses your bone density. 

Can I prevent osteoporosis?

Some controllable risk factors include physical inactivity, smoking, consuming too much alcohol and your overall diet. A diet low in calcium, Vitamin D, and nutritious fruits and vegetables can contribute to developing osteoporosis. 

If you have not reached your maximum bone density, the most important thing you can do now is to build up your bone bank. If you’ve already reached your peak, you can work on slowing the progression of bone density loss and thus preventing osteoporosis.

Healthy lifestyle on ketogenic diet, eating clean keto food good health dietary in heart dish with aerobic body exercise, gym workout training class , weight scale and sports shoes in fitness
A healthy lifestyle that includes natural food, aerobic exercise and resistance training can slow down the loss of bone mass.

How can I slow down bone density loss?

If you’ve been working on your fitness, being mindful of the food you are consuming, and maybe sleeping more, you’re probably aware of the impact these healthy habits have on controlling blood sugar, improving your memory and focus and maintaining a healthy blood pressure. But did you know that you’ve also been helping fend off bone density loss? 

Here are a few other strategies that might also help:

Up your calcium and vitamin D intake

When you don’t consume enough calcium, your body responds by taking it out of your bones. The recommended amount of calcium varies by age group: Adults need about 1,000 mg or 3-4 servings of calcium-rich foods per day. Women older than 50 should have 1,200 mg of calcium a day. 

Some great sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Sardines
  • Calcium-fortified foods (soymilk, tofu, orange juice, some cereals and breads)

Your bones need vitamin D in order to store calcium. The recommended amount of Vitamin D for a person who is not otherwise deficient in vitamin D is at least 600 IU a day. Persons over 70 years old need 800 IU a day. 

Some great sources of vitamin D include:

  • Fatty fish
  • Fish oils
  • Egg yolks
  • Milk
  • Some cereals

Your health care provider may also suggest you take supplements containing calcium and vitamin D as you get older. 

Foods rich in vitamin D on a wooden table
Your bones need vitamin D in order to store calcium. Get it from fatty fish, eggs, mushrooms, milk, etc.

Get moving

Exercise can help make your bones strong, especially strength and resistance training. By applying forces to your body through sports, weight-bearing exercises and other physical activity, you not only build muscle and strength which can help prevent falls, you also actively decrease the amount of bone density loss. Work on balance and coordination to prevent falls, especially if you already have osteoporosis or are at an increased risk of developing it. 

Climbing stairs, walking, dancing or hiking are great weight-bearing exercises. For resistance, you can use resistance bands or other weights. Any exercise is good exercise, so if you want to swim or cycle instead, that’s great! However, try to incorporate some activities on your feet that will apply forces to your body.

Get enough sleep and eliminate bad habits such as smoking

Not getting enough sleep, specifically in postmenopausal women, has also been linked to an increase in bone density loss and a higher risk of osteoporosis. Inadequate sleep can also increase inflammation, and thus your risk for osteoporosis.

Reducing inflammation encourages healthy bones, so sleeping well, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, lowering stress, and moving more can all help!

There is no cure for osteoporosis. In combination with medicine, the lifestyle changes above can help slow the progression of the disease. Without treatment, bone density loss will continue to worsen.