Osteoporosis is a condition in which bone density is lost, leaving bones weaker and more likely to fracture. One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will experience bone fractures due to weakened bones.
Bone tissue is alive and constantly changes throughout life. Older bone tissue is broken down and new bone tissue takes its place. In adults, up until the age of about 35, this process is balanced; the broken down tissue and the new tissue are more or less equal so bone denisty remains the same.
After the age of 35 this balance is lost. New bone tissue is not produced at the same rate as old bone tissue is lost. Bones start to become less dense and weaker.
Your bones will not look any different from the outside, but the honeycomb structure inside the bone can start to break down, with the holes in the honeycomb becoming larger.
Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis because bone loss increases for several years after menopause. Also, women tend to have smaller bones, which means less bone loss will have more serious consequences.
Osteoporosis is not exclusive to women – though this is a common misconception. One in five men will break a bone over the age of 50 due to low bone strength. Men often do not get diagnosed quickly because of the belief that it is a women’s problem.
Can I prevent osteoporosis?
Genes play a key role in deciding how much bone we store and strength of bone in later life, but you can assist the process by eating a healthy diet and by exercising.
If you eat healthily and exercise in youth you will lay down more bone tissue and bones will be stronger when they start to lose density later in life.
Exercising later in life is also important. You can to some extent increase bone density with weight-bearing exercise as bone tissue reacts to forces put upon it by growing stronger.
Exercise is also important as it will strengthen muscles and increase stability as you age, meaning you are less likely to have falls that can lead to bone loss.
Weight-bearing exercise includes exercise that use your body weight, such as jogging, as well as resistance exercise, pushing against some resistance, and weight training.
The importance of vitamin D
Healthy bones need calcium, and to absorb calcium your body needs vitamin D. We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight – so it should not be a problem for us here in Spain.
But, if you wear sunblock all of the time you may not get your vitamin D requirements. Ten minutes of sunlight on your face or arms twice a day without sun cream should be sufficient. To safeguard your skin against skin cancer and premature ageing, only top-up your vitamin D when the sun is not at its hottest.
As we get older we lose some of our ability to synthesise vitamin D through the skin, so even if you are getting enough sunlight you may not be getting your vitamin D requirements. Supplements can be taken to boost vitamin D if you are older or prefer to stay out of the sun.
How do I know if I have osteoporosis?
If you have suffered fractures or have signs of compression fractures, such as back pain, loss of height or curvature of the spine, you may have osteoporosis. There are a number of tests that your doctor can order to aid diagnosis. These include X-rays, blood tests, bone density scans, MRI, CT scans and bone biopsies.
Treatment for osteoporosis
There are drug treatments that can slow the course of osteoporosis. They do this either by slowing bone loss or by speeding up bone rejuvenation.
For more information on osteoporosis visit the National Osteoporosis Society website.